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What is a Rotating Bezel: All You Need to Know

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what is a rotating bezel

When exploring a plethora of watches, you might come across a feature called a rotating bezel. While it’s common to several models of watches from different luxury brands, many still ask, “What is a rotating bezel?” 

This fascinating watch component is characterized as a ring surrounding the watch face, usually made of metal or ceramic, depending on the design. It has 60 divisions, corresponding to 60 minutes, allowing you to measure elapsed time easily. 

Of course, being a dynamic component, the rotation bezel offers more function than just tracking time. Learn how it has evolved historically, its many uses, types, and more by diving into its basics. Read on. 

Historical Context and Evolution of a Bezel

It’s fascinating to dive into the history of rotating bezels, especially since they have evolved since their early days. Let’s quickly journey through their development and how they became such a crucial aspect of modern watches.

Early 20th Century:

  • Bezels were mostly fixed and served primarily as a protective element for the watch crystal.

1920s:

  • The Rolex Oyster, one of the first watches with a hermetically sealed case, featured a fluted bezel for better grip and functionality.

1950s:

  • The Rolex Submariner (1953) and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (1953) were among the first dive watches to feature rotating bezels.
  • For in-flight calculations, slide rule bezels were introduced in pilot watches, like the Breitling Navitimer (1952).

1980s to 2000s:

21st Century:

  • The smartwatch era began, integrating digital interfaces with traditional bezel functions.
  • Continued innovation in materials, such as Liquidmetal® and Cerachrom, for enhanced durability and aesthetics.

Throughout its history, the evolution of the bezel has been driven by a mix of technological advancements, user needs, and fashion trends, making it an integral and dynamic component of watch design.

Many watches, especially those of Rolex, Omega, and Breitling have incorporated functional bezels into various watch models, making their timepieces stand out and become more alluring to watch lovers worldwide. 

What is a Rotating Bezel?

A rotating bezel is a movable ring that surrounds and protects the watch face on certain watches like diving and chronograph watches. The wearer can manually rotate this to track additional time measurements beyond what the watch hands indicate.

In its early introduction, the bezel was merely a component that protects the watch face. Over time, some have become edgy and over the top, according to the New York Times, while others evolved into a more useful, rotatable feature, so the watch won’t only tell time but also act as a time or countdown timer, pulse meter, tachymeter, and more. 

Most commonly, this feature is found on diving watches, allowing scuba divers to keep track of how long they have been underwater. The diver rotates the dive watch bezel so the zero marker aligns with the minute hand and then reads the elapsed time from the bezel as the minute hand progresses.

Certainly, other types of watches aside from diving timepieces may also bear the rotating bezel component and their purpose will depend on what the watch is made for. 

Types of Rotating Bezels

In this section, you’ll learn about two common rotating bezel types: unidirectional and bidirectional bezels. It’s essential that you know how they differ since they have individual offerings that may or may not match with your needs. 

1. Unidirectional Bezels

A unidirectional rotating bezel simply means it can only be turned counter clockwise. 

This is mostly found on dive watches for this main reason: to provide divers a sense of safety by preventing them from accidentally increasing their time spent underwater. Simultaneously, a diver’s watch helps in calculating how much air is left on the oxygen tank. 

How is this so? Any accidental movements done in a watch with a unidirectional bezel will only cause a longer elapsed time. This will prompt the user to surface earlier rather than later. This makes unidirectional rotating bezels essential for professional divers.

2. Bidirectional Bezels

Bidirectional rotating bezels, on the other hand, can be rotated in both directions: clockwise and counterclockwise. 

This design primarily allows for different calculations or functionalities, such as showing time in a different time zone or serving as a compass — depending on the watch’s intended use. 

The ability to rotate the bezel in both directions makes them versatile. However, a bidirectional bezel is unsuitable for critical timing functions where accidental movement could lead to dangerous errors.

Functions of Rotating Bezels

Rotating bezels are a popular feature in many watches for various practical reasons. They can help measure elapsed time, speed, distance, and multiple time zones.

This section will discuss different types of rotating bezels and their specific functions.

GMT Bezel

tudor with gmt bezel

The GMT bezel type rotates to track a second time zone’s hours on the watch. The dual-colored 24-hour markings align with the main hands, enabling the wearer to monitor an extra timezone. The watch can display two time zones through a simple turn of the bezel.

For example, if you live in Los Angeles and you’re flying to New York, the time in New York is three hours ahead of your LA local time. You can rotate the GMT bezel clockwise until the zero aligns with 3 o’clock. 

A few examples of luxury watches with a GMT bezel are the Tudor Black Bay GMT and the Rolex GMT-Master II.

Dive Bezel

omega sea master with dive bezel

A dive bezel is a rotating bezel with markings in intervals, usually minutes, that allows divers to quickly and easily measure elapsed dive time. By aligning the bezel’s “0” mark with the minute hand upon beginning a dive, the bezel’s markings can then show how much time has passed during a dive as the minute hand progresses. This vital tool facilitates monitoring dive durations for safe decompression.

The Rolex Submariner and the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M would be two of the best examples of watches with a dive bezel. 

Tachymeter Bezel

rolex daytona with tachymeter bezel

A tachymeter bezel is a watch bezel marked with a scale to determine speed or distance quickly based on time traveled. By aligning the bezel to start a measured mile or kilometer, the wearer can then read the speed in miles or kilometers per hour off the bezel where the second-hand lands. This allows quick calculations of speed or distance using the watch as a handy chronograph.

Two examples with a tachymeter bezel are the Omega Speedmaster Professional and the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. 

Compass Bezel

breitling emergemcy with compass bezel

A compass watch bezel on a watch rotates and features cardinal direction markings that enable orientation by aligning the bezel’s markings to match the sun’s position. By setting the bezel’s appropriate direction mark, like “N” for north, to point towards the sun at a given time, the cardinal points can serve as an analog compass for basic navigation purposes.

If you’re looking for a watch with a compass bezel, two models or references you can look into are the Breitling Emergency and the Seiko 5 Sports SKZ209J1 200m Atlas Diver.

Pulsometer Bezel

longines chronograph with pulsometer bezel

A pulsometer bezel, evident in models like Breitling Transocean Chronograph 1915 and Longines Pulsometer Chronograph, enables the use of the watch as a heart rate timer. The bezel’s markings indicate heartbeats per minute, aligned to the chronograph second hand to quickly count pulses per minute. 

Starting the chronograph timer when counting pulses begins, the bezel shows beats per minute when the second hand is stopped. This allows rapid heart rate measurement.

Slide Rule Bezel

breitling navitimer with side rule bezel

A slide rule bezel allows analog multiplication, division, and other calculations by rotating an inner and outer scale on the bezel. Numbers and scales are aligned to read the result of mathematical operations directly on the bezel, using the rotating scales as a circular slide rule. This enables the use of the watch to perform useful calculations.

Some of the notable models with this type of bezels are the Breitling Navitimer and the Khaki Aviation Converter Auto 42mm.

Countdown Bezel

tag heuer aquaracer with countdown bezel

A countdown rotating bezel sets a countdown timer by aligning the bezel’s numbered markings with the watch’s minutes or hours hand. As the hand progresses, the bezel indicates the remaining countdown time through the decreasing numbers. This provides an easy analog countdown timer configurable to any duration.

The Rolex Yacht-Master II and the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Regatta Countdown are two popular models with this type of bezel. 

Fun fact: Rolex’s Yacht-Master II’s bezel is also called the ring command bezel, an innovative Rolex feature allowing users to interact directly with the watch’s movements through its ring (bezel). 

Telemeter Bezel

tissot with telemeter bezel

A telemeter bezel enables the watch to measure distance based on the time between seeing an event like lightning and hearing accompanying thunder. The bezel aligns to the chronograph seconds to indicate the distance in kilometers or miles. This provides a quick analog distance calculator.

Examples of watches with a telemeter bezel are Tissot Telemeter 1938 Chronograph and Longines Master Collection Longines Legend.

Design and Material of a Bezel

After discussing the functions of a rotating bezel, the next thing to know about is the designs and materials it may come from. Aesthetic-wise, bezels would vary depending on the brand, especially knowing that luxury watches like Rolex, Breitling, and Omega uphold certain principles regarding how their watches look. 

Nonetheless, we are listing some of the most common material variations and possible designs in a bezel. 

Material Variations

Watch bezels can be made from various materials, depending on the purpose and style of the watch:

  • Metal: Many bezels are made from stainless steel, gold, and titanium. Stainless steel is common for its durability and resistance to corrosion. At the same time, gold and titanium offer a more luxurious appearance and lightweight feel.
  • Ceramic: Some bezels are crafted from ceramic materials, known for their scratch resistance and modern aesthetic. Ceramic bezels can come in various colors, like black, blue, and green, and often have a glossy finish.
  • Aluminum: Aluminum is a lightweight and corrosion-resistant element that can be anodized in different colors, making it another common material for watch bezels.

Apart from the list, other materials can be available, depending on the innovations made by a brand for their watches. Each material imparts unique properties to the bezel, affecting its functions and contributing to your watch’s overall look.

Design Aspects

Rotating bezels can have different design features, depending on their intended use:

  • Markings and Scales: Bezel markings may vary depending on the watch’s purpose. Some common scales found on rotating bezels are:
    • Diver’s bezels: with 60-minute markings for tracking elapsed time during dives.
    • GMT bezels: with 24-hour markings for tracking a second-time zone.
    • Tachymeter bezels: used for calculating speed based on travel time or measuring distance based on speed.
  • Knurling and Grip: The outer edge of a bezel may feature textured patterns, called knurling, to provide a secure grip when rotating it.

Understanding these design aspects and the materials used to construct a bezel can help you appreciate the versatility and aesthetics that a rotating bezel brings to your watch.

types of rotating bezels

Using Rotating Bezels

Rotating bezels are more than just an aesthetic addition to watches. If your luxury timepiece has this component, it’s worth learning how to utilize it. 

Below, we’ll discuss how it’s operated so you can fully take advantage of this feature.

Setting and Operation

To begin using the rotating bezel on your watch, first, rotate it so that the zero arrow aligns with the 12 o’clock position or the current minute hand. This is the starting point if you want to measure the elapsed time. 

As time passes, you’ll see the number on the bezel corresponding to the minute hand, representing the elapsed time in minutes.

On another note, having learned that there are different types of rotating bezels, the specific operation may vary depending on the type of watch you are using.

Safety Features

Rotating bezels come with specific safety features. Apart from the fact that unidirectional watches, for example, can only be turned in one direction to avoid negatively affecting time tracking due to accidental movements, there are more safety features present in a watch, including those with a bidirectional rotating bezel.

These safety features include:

  • Ratcheting Mechanism: The bezel typically clicks into place at set intervals (e.g., every minute) to ensure precise setting and prevent inadvertent movement.
  • Firm Resistance: The bezel requires a deliberate effort to turn, which helps prevent accidental adjustments. The level of resistance is carefully calibrated for usability while ensuring safety.
  • Luminous Markers: Many bezels have luminous markings, essential for visibility in low-light conditions, such as underwater. This feature ensures that the diver can always read the elapsed time clearly and know the remaining dive time.
  • Secure Attachment: The bezel is securely attached to the watch case to prevent detachment during use, which ensures consistent performance and reliability.
  • High Contrast Markings: The markings on the bezel are often designed with high contrast (e.g., light on dark), making them easy to read quickly and accurately, which is essential for safety during time-sensitive activities.
  • Durability and Scratch Resistance: Materials like ceramic or hardened metals are often used for bezels, ensuring longevity and readability by preventing scratches and other damage.
  • Knurled or Fluted Edge: This feature provides a better grip, ensuring the bezel can be operated effectively, even with gloves or in wet conditions.
  • Water Resistance: The bezel mechanism is designed to maintain its integrity and functionality even under water pressure, aligning with the overall water resistance of the watch.
  • Alignment with the Watch Dial: The bezel aligns precisely with the watch’s dial and hands, ensuring accurate timing measurements.

Technological Innovations of Bezels

Like many innovations in timepieces, bezels also have their fair share of timelines regarding innovation. 

Here are some of the most notable technological advancements applied to bezels:

Introduction of Cerachrom Bezels

In recent years, there have been significant advancements in bezel materials. One such innovation is the Cerachrom bezel, which is popularly and primarily used by Rolex, the brand that trademarked this technology. 

Some of Rolex’s watch collections that use Cerachrom are the ones listed below:

  • Rolex Daytona
  • Rolex Submariner
  • Rolex Yacht-Master
  • Rolex GMT-Master II

Cerachrom is practically a durable and long-lasting ceramic material that is highly resistant to scratches and fading from UV rays. It is further noted for its glossy and attractive appearance; you can expect it to maintain its beauty for many years.

Bezel Locking Mechanisms

Another development in the world of rotating bezels is the introduction of bezel-locking mechanisms. These mechanisms ensure the bezel remains in its desired position, preventing accidental rotations that could lead to inaccurate timekeeping. 

There are various types of bezel locking mechanisms, with some watch brands devising their own unique solutions. 

Below are some examples of bezel-locking mechanisms used by popular watch brands:

  • Omega Seamaster Ploprof: Button-activated lock
  • Breitling Avenger Seawolf: Tonneau lock
  • Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster Diver: Screw-down bezel lock

Meanwhile, here are some of the types of bezel-locking mechanisms you should note:

  • Screw-down Locks: Some watches use a screw-down mechanism where the bezel is locked in place by tightening a screw.
  • Push-to-Release Locks: Others might have a push-button system, where the bezel is released or locked by pressing a button.
  • Latch Systems: When released, some bezels are secured with a latch that allows for rotation and then can be latched back to lock the bezel.

Incorporating a bezel locking mechanism into your watch can increase reliability and precision, especially in aviation, racing, and diving, where accurate timekeeping is crucial. 

External vs. Internal Bezels

Indeed, bezels come in different forms, uses, materials, and designs. Still, another aspect watch enthusiasts shouldn’t miss about these watch components is that bezels may be placed externally or internally. 

External and internal bezels are easy to spot, mainly due to their stark placements. The subsections below will guide you further into their specific characteristics:

External Bezels

An external bezel is found outside the watch and is manually adjusted by turning it with your hand. This bezel is commonly found on dive watches and can be unidirectional or bidirectional. 

Internal Bezels

Unlike external bezels, an internal bezel is located inside the watch case and is adjusted using the watch’s crown or another control button. Internal bezels are often found on watches with functions such as slide rule calculations, world timers, and compass bearings.

On a different note, internal bezels are less prone to accidental adjustments: Since they are protected by the watch’s crystal glass, it’s less likely for an internal bezel to be accidentally moved.

Both external and internal bezels serve different purposes and come in various styles and functionalities. Choose the type that best suits your preferences and needs for accurate timekeeping and added functionality in your watches.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Do You Use the Rotating Bezel on a Rolex Submariner?

The Rolex Submariner’s rotating bezel allows divers to easily keep track of their dive time and manage their air supply effectively. 

In order to use it, you may have to rotate the bezel until the inverted triangle marker aligns with the minute hand. As time passes, the minute hand moves away from the marker, and the elapsed minutes can be read off the bezel. 

2. What Is the Point of a Rotating Bezel?

A rotating bezel on a watch has many practical purposes, depending on what the timepiece is specifically made for. If it’s a dive watch, it measures elapsed time. This is deemed crucial in activities like diving since it ensures safety regarding oxygen supply. 

As it has a unidirectional movement, any accidental actions on the watch’s bezel will only result in less remaining time. This would prompt the diver to surface earlier than expected. Apart from this, a rotating bezel can also be used for timing or countdown events. 

Meanwhile, bidirectional bezels are usually for dual time-tracking, navigation, and calculations. 

3. What Is the Purpose of the Rotating Bezel on a Seiko Watch?

While monitoring dive times is the primary function for the rotating bezel on Seiko’s diving watch models like the SKX007, it does serve additional purposes on other Seiko watch types.

For example, on Seiko chronograph models, the rotating bezel allows you to measure a second timed interval, which is useful for timing laps or events. You align the zero marking to any chronograph minute hand position and then read elapsed time via the bezel markings.

Meanwhile, some Seiko models have a 12-hour GMT bezel that lets you easily track a second-time zone. You rotate it to align the current hour in the second time zone with the main hour hand.

Also, certain Seiko watches feature a tachymeter scale bezel, allowing you to estimate speed or distance traveled based on travel time. For example, you can use it to compute miles or kilometers per hour.

And on some designs, the rotating bezel has no markings – it provides visual interest and nice tactile feedback when turned.

Final Word

Rotating bezels have become integral to the functionality and design of modern watches, offering a range of uses from professional diving to everyday convenience. The evolution of rotating bezels reflects the commitment of the watch industry to combining practicality with aesthetic appeal.

When it comes to your watch, you’ll find that bezels enhance its appearance and provide valuable functions. 

Key Takeaways

  • Rotating bezels are used in various types of watches, including dive, pilot, and sports watches, serving functions like tracking elapsed time, navigation, speed measurement, and monitoring multiple time zones.
  • Advances in materials, like Rolex’s Cerachrom, have led to bezels that are more durable, scratch-resistant, and fade-resistant, enhancing the longevity and aesthetics of watches.
  • To ensure accuracy and prevent inadvertent adjustments, some watches feature bezel locking mechanisms, crucial in activities like scuba diving, aviation, and racing.

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