The ultimate guide to the watch bezels

All watches have a bezel, they many look very different, but every watch has one and needs one. So what is a bezel you may ask, well its simply the outer ring surrounding the crystal of the watch.

And although it really is that simple, there’s a vast range of bezels available in various colours, materials, patterns, and they can have lots of different functions. They are mostly made out of steel, aluminum or ceramic but they can be made of other metals too. There’s literally a bezel to suit everyone. In this blog we will go over every type of bezel and its functions so that you can get a clear idea of which bezel would best suit your needs.


Firstly let’s start with the basics…


What is the best material for a bezel?

As mentioned above, bezels are most commonly made from stainless steel, aluminum, and ceramic. So let’s take a look at all three to see which one really is best.


Stainless steel.

This has been the staple material of bezels since the 1970s when the use of steel started to overtake the use of precious metals. The material quickly became a popular choice amongst watchmakers thanks to the material's strength, durability and clean look against the watch casing. These factors allowed it to be the dominating material for bezels to this day.

But steel does still have its disadvantages, the main one being that it is susceptible to scratching. Not ideal for your favourite timepiece. Although, on the flip side, steel watches can be polished very easily so its easy to correct such wear with today's equipment.


Despite this, if your steel bezel was to become damaged beyond the point of repair, it is less of an expense to get it replaced compared to that of a ceramic bezel for example. Another thing to consider with a stainless steel bezel is that it will have some fair weight to it. Some people like some weight to their watch, but if you are an athlete or a diver, this may not be the best suited material.


Aluminium.

Aluminum is basically a cheaper alternative to stainless steel, and although this is great for those who don’t want to splash out, it does mean that you are losing some durability. Aluminum also gives that clean look, is very lightweight, and is easy and cheap to replace if it were to get damaged. If you’re the kind of person who likes their watch to stay looking brand new, aluminum may not be the best choice as its very likely to scratch and discolor over time.


Ceramic.

Ceramic is the new kid on the block in the bezel world. Some of the earliest, commercialised ceramic bezel watches were introduced by Omega in the 80s, but the concept never really took off due to the material being too expensive to mass produce. However, this issue got overcome and in the recent years ceramic bezels have really taken off - to the point where major brands, like Rolex, have even started to create their own ceramic material (Cerachrom).


Ceramic not only looks amazingly colourful and shiny, but it is also extremely robust and scratch resistant. Rolex in particular decided to switch to the material as they said it increases the longevity of their watches, as the colour never fades. Ceramic is also a lot more lightweight than its rivals, however the cost is definitely a lot heavier. The material is also susceptible to cracking or chipping if it is accidentally hit or dropped on a hard surface, and would be quite pricey to replace. But don’t worry too much, it’s very rare that a person will crack their ceramic.


So now that we have covered the materials, let's delve into the different functions a bezel can have.


Plain/Stationary bezel

These are the most basic types of bezel, which do not rotate and their only real purpose is to keep the crystal secure and maybe add some extra style to the watch. This was really the only type of bezel to exist until the 1950s, when watchmakers realised extra functions could be added to the watch via the bezel.

They can be plain and simple, but some may have diamonds, gems or engravings added purely for aesthetic reasons.


Dive bezel/Count-up bezel

A dive bezel, also known as a count-up bezel, is characterised by its rotation and the 0-60 minute increments going around the circumference. The reason it’s called a dive bezel is due to the fact that they are heavily used by divers, in order for them to keep track of how long they have been under the water, so they don’t depleted their oxygen stores. Watches with these types of bezels are also used a lot by athletes, as they can use the bezel to time themselves when running or swimming etc.


The count-up bezel has minute increments ranging from 0-60 (meaning it can only time up to an hour), with the 0/60 usually being marked with an arrow, which is in-line with the 12 on the clock face. The bezel is used by turning it counterclockwise, so the arrow is lined up with the minute hand. This will then show the user how much time has elapsed from that point, allowing divers to easily know what time they need to come up from under the water, or showing a runner how long it’s taken them to run a lap.


A very clever safety mechanism, aimed mainly at divers, means that the bezel can only be turned counterclockwise, because if the bezel was accidentally turned, the time would only be shortened, thus the diver would have more oxygen left than anticipated, rather than being left with none whilst still under the water.


Countdown bezel

A lot of the time, count-up and countdown bezels are put in the same group, however if you know the details behind each, you would know that they deserve to be acknowledged individually. The countdown bezel is definitely similar to the count-up bezel, as it is also rotates and has minute increments, however instead of counting from 0-60, it counts down from 60-0.


The 60/0 on the bezel is usually marked by an arrow in-line with the 12 on the clock face. This bezel can be mainly found on sports watches, and military watches, but surprisingly they are not suitable for diving watches. This is because the bezel is bidirectional, unlike the count-up watch, which could lead to accidental additional time being added on. This could be lethal for divers.


Countdown bezels are used by setting the arrow to the time the event will finish/start. When the relevant hand reaches the arrow, that’s when the event should finish/start. They can be useful when timing a workout, or for timing air strikes by pilots.


GMT bezel/ World time bezel

The GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) bezel is used to tell the time of two separate time zones using only one watch.


The GMT bezel became highly desirable when Rolex released the iconic GMT-Master - a watch that was inspired when Pan Am Airline requested so from Rolex, so that their pilots could easily tell the time in the countries they the flying to, as well as their home time. Because of its origin, it’s only fitting that watches with this kind of bezel are mainly used by pilots, but the casual globetrotter would also get some good use out of this.


The bezel has 24 increments, marking the 24 hours of the day. Watches with a GMT bezel are also accompanied by a GMT hand which is usually distinctive from the other hands, and tells the 24 hour time corresponding to the bezel. A lot of GMT bezels are coloured half and half, as shown by the picture above, to make it easy to distinguish between AM and PM.


To use the bezel, you turn it counterclockwise if the time zone you want to track is ahead of your local time, and turn it clockwise if its behind your local time. If you were traveling somewhere that has a time zone 5 hours ahead of your local time, you would turn the bezel 5 times counterclockwise. Now the GMT hand will act as an hour hand for the second time zone shown on the bezel.


Tachymeter bezel

The tachymeter bezel is primarily used to measure speed of an object over a fixed distance, but it can also measure other things too. These bezels are found mainly on racing, or motorsports watches due to their primary function of calculating speed.


The tachymeter bezel converts elapsed time (in seconds), to speed. However what is really special about the bezel is that the fixed distance can be in meters, kilometers or miles etc. as long as the calculations are consistent.


To use the bezel, you simply make sure the chronograph is set to 0, then press the chronograph button to start to stopwatch. When the race or the thing you are timing has finished, press the button to stop the stopwatch and then simply read the scale on the bezel which is in-line with

the second hand, and that will tell you your speed in the relevant units. If you wanted to calculate very slow or very high speeds, it can get a bit more complicated so you’re best to research that further.


Decimal bezel

The decimal bezel is used to measure time, however the bezel has 100 increments going around it. This is for the purpose of making the conversion of time into a decimal much easier.


These watches are mainly used by scientists, or engineers. To use the decimal bezel you simply time the event with chronograph, and then use the decimal scale to convert the time the event took into a decimal.


Telemeter bezel

The telemeter bezel is used to measure the distance between the user and a distant object or event. These bezels are not commonly used today as they have little function in the modern world, however their main use today is for calculating how far away a lightning strike is. Originally, they were commonly found on military watches for the use of soldiers who would need to know how far away a bomb explosion, or air strike was from them.

Let’s say you wanted to know how far away a lightning strike was away from you. You would simply press the chronograph button as soon as you see the lightning strike, and then you press it again to stop the stopwatch when you hear the clap of thunder afterwards. Then you see where the second hand lines up with the telemeter scale, and this will tell you how far away the lightning strike was. This works on the principle that light travels faster than sound.


Compass bezel

The compass bezel is quite self-explanatory, and it’s mainly used by hikers and climbers. The bezel marks North, East, South and West.


To use the compass you hold the watch, horizontally and line the hour hand up with the position of the sun. The point in between the sun and the 12 o’clock position is South. When you know this you just have to adjust the bezel accordingly, so the South marking is in the correct position, then the rest will all fall into place.



Yacht-Timer bezel/Regatta bezel

Watches with a yacht-timer bezel or a regatta bezel are primarily used by sailors or yacht racers, for regatta races (hence the name). More specifically, its purpose is to tell the racer how much time there is before the start of the race.


To use the yacht-timer bezel to mark the start of a race, you simply line the 0 point of the bezel up with the minute hand, and then use the bezel and the minute hand as a countdown timer for the race start.


Pulsometer bezel

The pulsometer bezel is used by doctors and nurses to determine a patients heart-rate. Watches with a pulsometer are less common today, as there is much more accurate and efficient technology to do the job, but when these watches first arrived in the 1920s, they would have made revolutionary changes to medical diagnostics.


To use the pulsometer, you start the chronograph by pressing the chronograph button, then count the amount of heart beats indicated on the watch (for the watch shown below, you would count 30 beats as indicated at the top of the watch), then stop the chronograph when you have finished counting. Then simply look at where on the pulsometer scale the seconds hand is pointing, and this is the patients BPM (beats per minute).


Slide rule bezel

The slide rule bezel is a complicated bit of kit. They were originally designed to aid aeronautical navigation. They can calculate a vast range of things such as: logarithms, fuel consumption, distance, speed, time etc.


Watches with a slide rule bezel definitely look impressive, but it may take a while to master the use of one to its full potential. The bezel has both rotating and fixed aspects to help you carry out the calculations.


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