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What Is a Watch Bezel?

A watch bezel is one of the most important elements of the watch design, at least for those that actually contain one.

By

Team Bezel

April 12, 2022

/

6 min read

Different watch bezels as seen on pieces from Panerai and Omega

What Is a Watch Bezel?

If you're new to the watch world, you may not be familiar with the all the different components which make up a watch. A watch bezel is one of the most important elements of the watch design, at least for those that actually contain one. Bezels are often limited to certain categories of watchmaking or pieces which feature a certain function. Read on below to learn more about how watch bezels contribute to the overall anatomy of a timepiece, the different bezel types available, and how to make use them.

Need to calculate units? Choose a slide rule bezel. Navigating the globe? Use a compass bezel. Counting down to race time? Try a yachting bezel.

A watch bezel refers to the outer ring that surrounds the crystal glass to keep it in place, protected, and stylishly adorned. Watchmakers originally agreed that this addition was the easiest way to introduce new functions without modifying the watch movement, an often complex and costly undertaking. Some are built with a rotating ability so that users can keep track of time elapsed. These are particularly popular among members of the scuba diver community, who rely on them to time both decompression stops, and how much air they have remaining. For this reason, timepieces featuring this functionality are commonly referred to as diving watches.

Rotating bezels can move clockwise, counterclockwise, or bidirectionally, meaning they can go both ways.

Of course, the world of watch bezels extends a lot further than that. Below, we'll walk you through some of the most popular types available along with how to read them.

Different Types of Watch Bezels and How to Read Them

Rolex rotating bezels, as featured on the brand's Submariner dive watches

Plain Bezel

Plain bezels are common additions to most watches, though they are largely decorative. Some contain branded patterns and other decorative elements. Because they do not rotate, they cannot be used to perform any kind of time calculations. With that in mind, watches fitted with a plain bezel should not be used for elapsed time functionality.

Countdown Bezel

The countdown bezel is a popular style that reads counter-clockwise. It is in a lot of ways similar to a dive watch, except it features a graduated 60-minute scale that allows users to "count down" from zero to sixty.

These watches can be used by anyone interested in this feature, who can make use of a countdown. Runners can use a countdown bezel on their watch to see how quickly they can complete a race. Meanwhile, when in the hands of members of the military, this watch bezel can be used to calculate when a missile is to be launched.

Count-Up Bezel

The count-up bezel is almost entirely identical to the countdown bezel, except it contains a reversed scale. Instead of starting at the 60-minute mark, the bezel counts up from zero. These pieces are synonymous with the dive watch bezel.

Dive Bezel

As mentioned above, dive bezels run a zero marker for up to 60 minutes, and ultimately functions as a safety feature. If a diver seeks to stay underwater for 30 minutes, they can simply set the zero marker to the minute hand. Every point reached from zero will indicate elapsed five minute increments. That means by the time the minute hand gets to the sixth point (6 points x 5 minutes = 30 minutes), the diver should be wrapping up their time spent underwater.

Dive bezels are usually unidirectional bezels, meaning that they only move in one direction. This ensures that the bezel can't be moved in the other direction, like on a bidirectional bezel, as that could confuse the amount of oxygen and time remaining a diver has, and ultimately lead to unfavorable circumstances. When even one minute increments can be life changing, it's important to ensure accuracy.

Decimal Bezel

The decimal bezel is recognized by its equal 100-marking scale spacing. It's also often called the "decimeter." This watch bezel is celebrated for allowing the user to quickly convert a time measurement into a decimal or percentage, affording a unique technical function.

To determine these kinds of calculations, all you need to do is check where the hour hand is pointing at on the bezel. For instance, at 3:00, the hour hand should be pointing at the 25th decimal, meaning 25% of a 12-hour period has elapsed.

Slide Rule Bezel

Slide rule bezels looks unique, complex, and calculative. They feature a rotatable outer ring that can be moved counterclockwise. The slide rule is used for multiplication and division. First introduced during the 1950s, these pieces were traditionally used by pilots to determine flight time, measure speed, fuel consumption, and distance.

Because slide rule bezels do not contain decimals, users should either expect rough results, or have a general idea of the desired answer to what they're trying to calculate.

Telemeter Bezel

Telemeter bezels are less common than most bezels and can be used to measure the distance between a physical subject and an audible event. Typically, it's used to determine the distance between the person wearing it and a sound source that can be seen and heard, like lightning. In that case, you'll need to start the dial as soon as you see the flash and stop it once you hear thunder to indicate how far away the storm is.

Compass Bezel

The compass bezel contains north, west, east, and south indicators to help determine where you need to go. These devices can come in handy when we don't have access to computerized alternatives.

Tachymeter Bezel

The tachymeter bezel is used to read the speed of an object based on the amount of time traveled, using a tachymeter scale. Say, for instance, you want to see how many units per hour your car can go within a certain range. All you need to do is start the chronograph timer the moment your car starts and release it after you've traveled the necessary distance. See the calculated time on the bezel to determine your speed.

GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) Bezel

The GMT bezel allows you to simultaneously track time in different zones. All you need to do is simply rotate the bezel marker to 12:00 and set the GMT hand to the reflect the desired time zone. GMT bezels often contain two different colors to indicate day and night. Rolex is particularly famed for their "Pepsi" and "Coke" bezel inserts found on the GMT hand touting GMT Master models, which feature detailing in red and blue, and black and red.

Pulsometer Bezel

Pulsometer bezels were popular during the 1920s but today are exceedingly rare. Doctors used to use these pieces to measure a patient's pulse. To do so, they would engage the chronograph once close enough to track an individual's heartbeat and count the beats as the chronograph hand traced the pulsation scale. Once the desired amount of time has elapsed, stopping the chronograph determines the number of beats per minute. 

Yacht Timer Bezel

The yacht timer bezel is similar to the dive bezel and is designed for boat racing, or as its more formally referred to in yachting circles, regatta racing. All you need to do is simply rotate the bezel on the watch to reflect the number of minutes until a race is about to begin. This helps ensure you don't cross the starting line before the race begins.

Conclusion

Though not often found on luxury timepieces, watch bezels serve distinct and varied purposes. To find a watch that contains the bezel best suited for your needs, look to Get Bezel. With us, you can shop from thousands of watches without worrying.

Our team of experts verifies numerous touchpoints on every watch before it gets to you; no more "shopping the seller." Find your next watch today, and buy with trust.

FAQ

Each type of bezel serves a specific purpose

Where is the bezel on a watch?

A watch bezel refers to the outer ring that surrounds the crystal glass to keep it in place. It has no relationship with the watch's primary time function. Some are built with a rotating function so that users can keep track of time passed.

What is a rotating bezel on a watch?

A rotating watch bezel can be used to calculate elapsed time. They are most popular among divers, allowing them to determine the amount of time remaining before running out of oxygen, though they can also be used by anyone in need of a countdown timer.

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