5 Types of Watch Bezels and How to Read Them

First, let’s go over what a watch bezel is for those who are not familiar with the various parts that make up watches. The watch bezel is the ring surrounding a watch that holds the crystal in place above the dial. Depending on the watch, they can be made from a variety of material. The most common are steel and ceramic, but some pieces use more expensive metals like silver or gold. Now that you understand what a watch bezel is, we can move on to the history of them.

This history is somewhat unclear, but sometime around the 1950’s, watch companies began adding additional information to their bezels. They already had a basic function and an aesthetic appeal, but this shift brought a whole new level of utility. In the modern era, there are many auxiliary functions a bezel can be crafted to carry out. We explain the five most common bezel styles below.

5 Types of Watch Bezels and How to Read Them 01 Infographics

1: GMT

GMT bezels allow the wearer to keep time in two different time zones at once. The way it does this is by engraving a 24-hour timescale on the bezel, which is in addition to the typical 12-hour scale on the dial. While all GMT bezels have this, there are two different variants for actually keeping the time. First, your watch might have a GMT hand that tracks the time without you having the move the bezel. Second, you might have a bezel that rotates and no additional hand. Typical types of people who use GMT watch bezels are pilots and those who do a lot of business in other time zones.

front view of Rolex GMT Master II Ref. 116719BLRO-0002 watch

2: Elapsed Time

While certain watches have a chronograph to carry out the function of precise timekeeping, many of them do not. What an elapsed time bezel does it make it easy for you to count seconds or minutes passed, rather than needing to do arithmetic in your head. All you do is turn the bezel until zero matches up with the current time. These types of watch bezels are frequently found in dive watches due to a diver’s need for exact timekeeping. One fun fact about these bezels is that they only turn clockwise. This is a safety feature for divers who rely on their bezel to time how much oxygen they have left. If they bump their watch and the bezel shifts, it will tell them that they have less time, rather than more.

front view of Seiko Prospex Ocean Special Edition watch

3: Compass

Some watch bezels come with compasses drawn on them. They will feature indicators of North, South, East, and West, and often will have markings in between those indicators for more precise measurement. To use one of these, you need to orient yourself correctly. The best way to do so is by using the sun. First, remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Next, figure out if the sun is rising or setting. Last, orient yourself so that east or west is pointed at the sun. You now know which direction to head. These types of bezels are most often used by outdoor adventurers.

front view of Seiko Prospex Land watch

4: Countdown Timer

This type of watch bezel is the exact opposite of the elapsed time style. To use it, you need to match the number you want to count down from on the bezel to the current time. One use of this bezel is the ability to synchronize with others. This watch bezel comes in handy for people that work in aviation or the military. One more function is for runners or bikers who may want to time their workout.

front view of Nixon black dial watch

5: Tachymeter

The Tachymeter bezel is almost always found on watches with a chronograph because its function is to convert distance into speed, and vice versa. A chronograph is a very common watch feature that functions as a stopwatch. What the tachymeter does is let you find the unknown distance or speed, given that you have one of them already and combine it with time elapsed. One example of this is if you are a race-car driver and you travel for one mile in thirty seconds. Using these two metrics, you can find how fast you were going on your bezel. That number would be 120 MPH. This type of watch bezel is a favorite of driving enthusiasts and pilots.

front view of Tag Heuer Formula 1 black dial watch

In the world of timepieces, you have a significant amount of choices. The most common are brand, price range, materials and style, but there are a few critical decisions that fly under the radar. One of them is watch bezel type. You don’t want to end up with a watch bezel that is of no use to you. When choosing your next watch, think about the utility and aesthetics of watch bezels and decide which serves your needs best. When you do, you will be one step closer to purchasing the perfect watch for your needs.

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