Cosmograph Daytona 116500LN 004

The "Triple Crown": Rolex updates three true classics

While many brands employed a conservative approach to this year's Baselworld, Rolex pulled out all the stops with significant redesigns of some of it most legendary models. Watchonista was impressed…

By Simon de Burton

There was no shortage of doom and gloom being forecast during the build-up to Baselworld, but anyone who was there will probably agree that there was as much of buzz as ever throughout the halls around the Messeplatz - much of which, as far as I could make out, emanated from the booths of sister brands Rolex and Tudor.

Elsewhere on Watchonista, you can read about Tudor's well-received, bronze-cased interpretation of its already very successful heritage Black Bay dive watch which offers buyers on a budget a genuine 'in house' chronometer for a remarkably low price.

Baselworld 2016, more than small improvements to key models

But those who have graduated to the products of the 'Crown' had even more to be excited about with the introduction of new versions of not just one but three of the most celebrated sports watches Rolex has ever produced: the Cosmograph Daytona, the Air-King and the Explorer.

We have become used, over the years, to Rolex making small improvements to key models across relatively large periods of time. But Baselworld 2016 saw some fairly marked changes to each of the aforementioned three 'classics'.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona

Cosmograph Daytona, a Superlative Chronometer

The most significant of the trio, perhaps, is the Cosmograph which loses its now-familiar engraved metal bezel in favour of a far more high-tech Cerachrom component that is - even die-hard 'vintage' fans must surely agree - considerably more legible than the old one, and a great deal more resilient, too.

Until now, you had to buy a Cosmograph Daytona Everose (launched in 2011) if you wanted a non-scratch bezel, but the new design actually harks back to the 1965 model that featured a bezel fitted with a black Plexiglass insert. Indeed, the new 116500 reference - which can be had in a choice of black or white lacquer dials - seems to have more of a vintage look to it than its predecessor, despite being more technically adept.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona on the wrist

Most notably, the new Cosmograph benefits from the Crown's 'Superlative Chronometer' certification that it redefined last year - so now the movement is COSC tested, cased and then tested again to the Rolex standard that guarantees accuracy to minus/plus two seconds per day. Essentially, 'twice' the accuracy required for the COSC.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King

New ‘Air King’

The usually conservative designers at Rolex have been quite radical, too, in their treatment of the celebrated Air-King which disappeared back in 2014 in its old, 34mm guise.

The replacement model gets a 40mm case, some jazzy Rolex green detailing to the seconds hand and brand name, and a gold Rolex coronet. And if the look seems familiar, that's probably because you've seen pictures of the identically-liveried analogue clock fitted to Bloodhound SSC, the jet-powered land speed record attempt car which is sponsored by the brand.

'Air-King,' meanwhile, is written in the old '50s font and the dial layout takes the form of a '3,6,9' configuration with a prominent minute scale which is said to be for 'navigational time readings'.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King

In truth, the Air King's aviation links have always been a bit of a mystery to me - it was introduced in 1945, allegedly to celebrate the achievements of the Rolex Oyster-equipped Houston Expedition which made the first flight over Everest, and the record return flight from London to Melbourne by aviators Owen Cathcart-Jones and Ken Waller.

But those feats were carried out 1933 and 1934 respectively. Perhaps a Watchonista reader explain the 11-year time-lag?

The Explorer with longer and thicker hands

One watch that shouldn't need any explaining, however, is the third of the new trio - the beautifully understated, ever-popular Explorer. Launched in 1953 to mark that year's ascent of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (who carriedboth Rolex Oyster and Smiths watches) the Explorer remains the entry-level Rolex 'professional' watch  - and now gets a new 'Chromalight' luminosity treatment that leaves a long-lasting blue glow.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer

The hands are also slightly longer and thicker, but the sensible, 39mm case size introduced in 2010 remains.

And so it should.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer

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