How did this Rolex get past QA? Revisiting the suspicious case of the ‘Double 9’ Air-King… How did this Rolex get past QA? Revisiting the suspicious case of the ‘Double 9’ Air-King…

How did this Rolex get past QA? Revisiting the suspicious case of the ‘Double 9’ Air-King…

Andrew McUtchen

Editor’s note: It seems to be yet another sub-sub-sub-culture within the watch collecting community. And that is the people that get some kind of a kick out of Rolex imperfections. I suppose, in lots of ways, it makes sense. They are so rare as to be freaks of nature. Recently, a new Oyster Perpetual model with misplaced double batons has been doing the rounds. While it is treated, naturally, with a very high does of skepticism, for a few days there, it was everywhere. But this one, that was first uncovered last year, is certified legitimate and next level curious. How could something so detectable, so obvious, have slipped past QA? Revisiting the confounding case of the ‘Double 9’ Air-King…

It’s a modern-day escape from Alcatraz, where the escapee is a defect on a watch that makes it to market, and Alcatraz is the Rolex manufacture. That, I suspect, is flattering Alcatraz.

Rolex Air-King with double nine defect 116900
Rolex Air-King with double nine defect
Rolex Air-King 116900
A Rolex Air-King the way it should look

Because, the fact that a modern Rolex with a defect you can actually see even exists is unthinkable to the point of immediately being suspected as a hoax.

But here it is. Not only does a ‘double nine’ Rolex Air-King 116900 — with a nine where the ‘3’ numeral should be — allegedly exist in the wild, it’s been captured by Watchfinder & Co., who used the occasion to do a proper exposition on just how extraordinary that fact is.

Rolex Air-King with double nine defect 116900

To summarise the excellent post by Watchfinder & Co., here are three key reasons the ‘double 9’ Rolex Air-King 116900 is practically a miracle:

  1. Rolex now has fully verticalised production. Unlike in other eras, when accidents would happen, “from mild nuisances like deviation in fonts and design, to full-on critical failures like extreme paint discolouration and cracking lacquer”, a third-party supplier cannot be blamed.
  2. Rolex’s QA processes may even exceed “NASA’s JPL”: “From the iris scanner-protected automated stock system, its 60,000 storage compartments patrolled and operated just by robots; to the controlled environment zones where the watches are assembled, clean rooms free of dust and humidity … and, of course, the quality control testing using COMEX-designed pressurised tanks and high-resolution imaging machines that scan every watch for even the smallest flaw — Rolex has got quality covered.”
  3. In addition to evading machines, the error evaded people, too: “The person assembling the dial didn’t notice it, the person assembling the case didn’t notice it, the person quality checking the watch didn’t notice it — and you can kind of see why. It blends in rather well.” Rumour has it that both the seller and the buyer also didn’t notice it; the error was reportedly pointed out by a friend.

Rolex Air-King with double nine defect 116900