Guide to Watch Bezels: What They Are, How to Use Them
One of the most common parts of a wristwatch is also one of the most misunderstood – watch bezels. What are watch bezels? And how are you supposed to use them?
The answer is simpler than you might have imagined.
In this post, we’ll explain what a watch bezel is and cover its purpose. Finally, we’ll conclude by listing four common types of watch bezel and how to use each.
First thing’s first, what is a watch bezel?
What is a Bezel on a Watch?
The simple answer is that a watch bezel is a ring of material (usually either ceramic or metal) that secures the watch crystal in place. Watch bezels can be fixed, decorative pieces, or bezels can provide functionality like a countdown timer, GMT indicator or even a compass. Often, watch bezels rotate and feature markings relevant to their function.
Our 51-30 Chrono watch is an excellent example of a rotating timer bezel.
Next, let’s take a closer look at what bezels on a watch are generally used for and where they come from.
What is the Purpose of the Bezel on a Watch?
The purpose of a watch bezel depends on the watch. All bezels, whether fixed or rotating, keep the watch crystal in place. Additionally, rotating bezels can also serve as timers, dual time zone indicators, compasses and more. Utility-based watch bezels feature specific markings relating to that watch’s purpose (for example, cardinal directions around a compass bezel).
Rotating watch bezels are most associated with dive watches. And the history of diving watches is closely tied to that of rotating bezels.
While the history of watch bezels goes back as far as the 1930s, it was really in the 50s that things started to take off. The 1950s was when rotating watch bezels and the dive watches that sported them became widely available and more popular.
Diving watches existed before the introduction of watch bezels that rotate, but it was this new feature that took them to a new level of utility. Now, divers could experience a new level of accuracy in timing their (potentially fatal) ascent back to the ocean’s surface.
4 Common Types of Watch Bezel
The bezel is one of the most widely varying and defining parts of a watch. There are many different types of watch bezel, but below we’ve listed four of the most common.
Continue reading to learn how to use these watch bezels.
Countdown Timer, aka Timing Bezel
The countdown timer or timing bezel is the watch bezel type we described above. Traditionally, the countdown timing bezel was a hallmark feature of dive watches. Today, this type of bezel is a common design choice that gives its wearer an “adventurous” appeal.
These bezels include markings from 60-0 that correlate to minutes in an hour, and typically rotate in only one direction.
To use a timing bezel, rotate the bezel until the arrow matches up with the minute hand of the current time. Then, you can use the markings along the edge of the bezel to track time remaining. It’s literally that simple.
GMT Watch Bezel
GMT here stands for “Greenwich Mean Time” and owning one of these watch types allows you to track the hour in multiple time zones.
The GMT bezel is marked with 24-hour indicators that can be rotated to correlate to any time zone in the world. Using a GMT bezel is extremely easy.
To use the GMT bezel, first calculate the time difference between your location and the location you wish to track. Then, rotate the bezel so that zero lines up with where on your watch the new 12 o’clock will be.
For example, people in New York (EST) are three hours ahead of people in California (PST). So, a person in California would rotate the GMT bezel clockwise until the zero aligns with 3 o’clock.
Compass watch bezels are another common style popular among adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts. This type of bezel has markings indicating the cardinal directions of north, south, east and west.
Unlike countdown timing bezels, compasses can be rotated both clockwise and counterclockwise.
To use a compass watch bezel, you’ll need to first orient yourself. In the Northern Hemisphere, users of this type of watch should rotate the bezel so that the “south” indicator is directly between 12 o’clock and the hour hand. Next – to get a direction reading – keep the watch horizontal while positioning it so the hour hand points at the sun.
People in the Southern Hemisphere though, should center the “north” marking between the hour hand and the 12 o’ clock marking to set up the compass bezel.
It's recommended to calibrate the compass bezel position every hour.
Tachymeter watch bezels are definitely the most complicated style of bezel we’ve covered so far—so buckle up. This type of bezel can be used to calculate speed, and will almost always include a chronograph because you will need to track time.
To use the tachymeter watch bezel, you’ll need to know elapsed time. For example, to determine speed between Point A and Point B, you’d start the chronograph as you were leaving/passing Point A and then stop it again upon arrival at Point B.
Next, you’ll need to know the distance traveled over the tracked time to solve for speed.
If the distance between Point A and Point B from above is 1 mile and it took 45 seconds to travel, find the point on the tachymeter that aligns with the 45-second mark to determine the speed. In this example, that equals 80mph.
Feeling overwhelmed? That’s okay. As with most things, practice makes perfect. Start using your bezel today and by tomorrow you’ll be ready!