Anatomy of the Watch Bezel: A Complete Guide

Before we pull the trigger on purchasing a watch, we always take note of things like its case shape and bracelet material. However, another important component that can either make or break a watch is its bezel.

Along with the dial, the watch bezel plays a pivotal role in the aesthetic of the whole model. Offering both form and function, the watch bezel is a crucial component that should not be overlooked. If you want to know more, read on as we discuss all you need to know about watch bezels, how they function, and some of the most iconic bezel designs in watchmaking history.

What is a Watch Bezel? 

A watch bezel is best described as a ring, affixed to the top of the watch case, that surrounds the watch’s dial. It sits on top of the watch crystal and helps to keep it in place. The watch bezel is considered one of the most versatile components of a timepiece. This is particularly because numerous variations of it exist.

Watchmakers use specific materials such as steel, aluminum, and ceramic to craft the bezel. Oftentimes, the watch bezel is then treated with other metals such as gold or silver for design and durability purposes.

A Brief Background on the Evolution of Watch Bezels

There really is no exact date as to when the watch bezel was first created or identified as part of a watch. Nevertheless, its evolution throughout the years is quite evident. What initially started out as a fixed, decorative component soon became a way to add more utility to a timepiece. Many well-known brands like Rolex and Omega have actually pioneered a number of the innovative bezels we have today.

For example, in the 1930s, Rolex was one of the first manufacturers to attach a rotating bezel to a watch, the Rolex Zerograph. At the time, the brand did not know that this ingenious complication would eventually become a fundamental part of diving watches in the future. In the same decade, TAG Heuer released a selection of timepieces featuring a variety of decorative bezels. This further cemented the idea that watch bezels were becoming a more prominent design and utility element in timepieces.

Over the years, manufacturers have gone out of their way to create new and innovative bezel complications. These impressive bezels have changed the watchmaking game forever. Today, there are numerous kinds of watch bezels, all with different functions and features, for you to choose from.

What Are Watch Bezels Made From? 

Technological advancements in watchmaking mean that there are a variety of materials which watchmakers can choose from when it comes to crafting a watch bezel. Different bezel materials offer different advantages, which we will now go through in detail.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is one of the most prevalent materials used when creating timepieces. As such, it is little surprise that stainless steel bezels are quite common as well. There are two main reasons why manufacturers choose to go with stainless steel over other metals: durability and aesthetics.

In terms of reliability and robustness, stainless steel is the most viable option when it comes to watch bezels. It is highly resistant to scratches and corrosion. A stainless steel bezel is thus able to withstand much of the wear and tear that comes with frequent use and a harsh environment. While stainless steel is prone to discoloration, it is a material that is guaranteed to last. Using stainless steel ensures that your watch bezel will remain in one piece no matter what.

In terms of aesthetics, stainless steel has an appealing, lustrous sheen that is remarkably close to precious metals like silver. It also boasts a very versatile look, which allows watchmakers to experiment and play around with the design of the watch. For instance, stainless steel bezels work extremely well with two-toned watch cases.

Aluminum 

Aluminum bezels are also quite popular in the watchmaking industry. Aluminum is often compared to stainless steel, especially since it is just as abundant and practical. One strength of aluminum is that it is a more lightweight alternative, so it wears less heavily than a stainless steel bezel. It also mixes well with different coatings and pigments.

However, a downside of aluminum is that it is known to be less sturdy than stainless steel. It is also quite reactive to different environmental exposures, and can be corroded if used for extended periods of time.

Ceramic

Despite being the newest material on this list, ceramic is an increasingly popular choice when it comes to making watch bezels. Ceramic is extremely robust and is known for exhibiting excellent scratch-resistant properties that exceed those of stainless steel and aluminum. This is great in ensuring the watch bezel remains pristine, even after years of use. Furthermore, ceramic is also lighter in weight, making it more ergonomic and comfortable to wear.

However, ceramic has its fair share of cons as well. When too much pressure is applied to a ceramic bezel, it can be susceptible to some chipping or breaking here and there. Ceramic is also much more expensive than stainless steel or aluminum.

Which Material Makes the Best Bezel? 

As mentioned, each material has its advantages and disadvantages. People have to take into account different factors when deciding which watch bezel material to go with. For instance, a stainless steel bezel is a classic. It is ideal for those who prefer durable watches that age well.

Aluminum bezels, on the other hand, are perfect for those seeking a more lightweight watch option. Finally, ceramic bezels are great for those who prefer stylish watches that will not suffer too much abuse. At the end of the day, your choice of preferred bezel material boils down to personal preferences.

Types of Watch Bezels

Now, let us move on to the most frequently-seen types of watch bezels and how they function. 

1. Fixed/Plain Bezel

Seiko-5-Sports-Fixed-Bezel

The original watch bezel, a fixed or plain bezel is the most basic type. This type of watch bezel primarily functions as a decorative component. Aside from helping to keep the watch crystal in place, the fixed bezel does not have any additional functions or features. Watchmakers frequently use fixed bezels when they want to show off certain design elements such as embedded jewels, inscriptions, and the like.

A contemporary example of the fixed bezel would be the Seiko 5 Sports SRE003K1, which hails from the popular Seiko 5 Sports series.

2. Count-up Bezel

Rolex-Submariner-Count-Up-Bezel

Next up, we have the count-up bezel. This type of watch bezel is more commonly referred to as a dive bezel, as it is often seen on dive watches. It showcases a scale that counts from 0 to 60 and is meant to be aligned with the minute markers on the watch’s dial. The count-up bezel’s scale is typically used by divers to calculate their elapsed time underwater. Moreover, this type of bezel follows a unidirectional rotation that goes counter-clockwise, which is used as an indicator by many divers as well.

To use the count-up bezel, you have to align its zero marker – the luminous pip – to the current position of the minute hand. As the minute hand ticks, this will show you how much time has elapsed since you started diving.

For example, if you start your dive at 9:20, you have to move the zero marker of the bezel to the 20-minute marker on the dial, which is where the minute-hand should be. As time goes on, the minute hand will tick forward, allowing you to keep track of exactly how many minutes have passed.

3. GMT/World Time Bezel

Omega-Seamaster-GMT-Bezel

A GMT bezel, also known as a world time bezel, is made for those who need to keep track of two different timezones. It is especially useful to frequent jetsetters. This type of watch bezel is characterized by a 24-hour scale, which is kept separate from the 12-hour display on the dial. Some GMT watches come with an additional GMT hand, while others feature rotating bezels.

A GMT watch with an extra GMT hand is paired with the 24-hour GMT scale, which can be set to indicate one timezone. If your watch comes with just a rotating GMT bezel and no additional hands, however, you will have to manually turn it to your desired timezone.

4. Tachymeter Bezel

The tachymeter bezel is commonly featured in sports watches and chronograph pieces relating to anything and everything automotive. This is usually a fixed bezel with a scale that has units beginning from 0 and going up to around 1,000. The main function of the tachymeter bezel is to calculate either distance or speed by using how much time has passed.

In order to use the tachymeter, you need to know the distance between two points and the elapsed time needed to get from one end to another. You can then use the bezel’s tachymeter scale to calculate your traveling speed.

5. Compass Bezel

Breitling-Endurance-Pro-Compass-Bezel

A compass bezel is an important component in many outdoor watches. It aids explorers in figuring out directions, so they will not get lost. The compass bezel is marked with letter engravings that indicate North, South, East, and West. Additional markers can be found in between each cardinal direction, indicating the degrees.One interesting thing about the compass bezel is that it is reliant on the sun rather than magnetic properties.

When using the compass bezel, you have to first use the sun to determine your orientation. If the sun is rising, change your position, with the cardinal direction E pointed at the sun. If the sun is setting, however, you have to change your position so that W pointed at the sun. This will allow you to tell which direction you are facing and where you need to go.

6. Countdown Bezel

Front View of the Seiko Prospex Ref. SBDL063

`a countdown bezel works in similar way to the count-up bezel. However, instead of calculating elapsed time, the countdown bezel acts more as a stopwatch. You will align your desired time limit to its corresponding marker on the dial. The countdown bezel is extremely versatile and is used by both professionals in their fields and in people’s everyday routines too.

In order to properly use the countdown bezel, the zero marker on the bezel must be lined up with the time limit you are trying to set. For example, if you decide to jog around for 20 minutes, make sure to rotate the bezel so that the zero marker is at the 20-minute position on the dial. This will then allow you to keep track of how much time has passed and how much time you have left.

7. Pulsometer Bezel 

Omega-Speedmaster-Pulsometer-Bezel

A pulsometer is a very old-school bezel type that dates back to the 1920s. Serving a very practical and straightforward purpose, this was one of the very first bezel complications ever invented. It is designed to help those in the medical field keep track of a person’s heart rate. Typically, a pulsometer has a scale that counts from around 40 (left) units/pulses to 200 (right) units/pulses.

When using a pulsometer bezel, you have to manually count out a person’s heartbeats once the timer starts. You can then refer to the pulsometer scale and use it to calculate the rate at which the person’s heart is beating.

It should be noted that nowadays, the pulsometer bezel is a very rare type of watch bezel. The invention of smartwatches that can automatically determine a person’s heart rate has rendered the pulsometer bezel nearly obsolete.

Bonus: Watches with Iconic Bezels

Rolex Pepsi Bezel 

Rolex-Pepsi-Bezel

The Rolex GMT-Master might just have the most famous watch bezel ever. It boasts the Pepsi bezel, which is an iconic two-tone GMT bezel. It comes in vibrant red and blue hues, resembling the logo of a soda brand, which is why it is dubbed the Pepsi bezel.

Since its invention, many other watch brands have released their own versions of the Pepsi bezel. You can see this in watches such as the Timex Q Reissue and the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Ref. 79830RB-0001. Nevertheless, Rolex’s version remains the most legendary. The latest version of the Rolex Pepsi bezel has a 24-hour GMT scale and is made out of the brand’s patented Cerachrom material.

TAG Heuer Carrera 160th Anniversary

Tag-Heuer-Carrera

Tag Heuer is a brand that is known for its expertise in making tachymeter bezels. It has a long and rich history involving automobiles and the racing scene. This is probably how it has mastered the incorporation of tachymeter bezels in is watches.

Take a look, for instance, at this limited edition TAG Heuer Carrera 160th Anniversary CBN2A1D.BA0643. It bears a fixed ceramic bezel in black with a tachymeter scale. Everything about this model serves as a tribute to the 160 years of the racing-inspired Tag Heuer Carrera series.

Final Thoughts

For those who are not that familiar with timepieces, the bezel is simply just a part of a watch. However, through this article, we have shown you just how much thought and effort watchmakers put into this versatile complication. From allowing watchmakers to exercise artistry and creativity to actually offering impressive utility, the watch bezel is definitely much more than just another watch component. It adds a lot of depth to a timepiece, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. 

Photo Credits: Official Brand Websites

Hooked on timepieces? Check out this Guide on Buying the Perfect IWC Portofino watch.

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