Question of the Week: What is the purpose of a Bezel?

Question of the Week: What is the purpose of a Bezel?

4 min read
Sara Philpott


Guides Reviews

Sara Philpott


Guides Reviews

I’ve always wondered what the purpose of the bezel was and if it is just something that is just there to add an appealing aesthetic element to the watch. As it turns out there are now many different types of bezels all with unique functions. Although, initially, bezels started out as a simple feature intended to add beauty to your timepiece, for all of us who don’t know, we aren’t the only ones! A significant number of people who own luxury watches with bezels don’t actually know how to use them and only have them for aesthetics. The bezel in a watch is the ring that encircles the crystal glass to secure it in place. It is one of many individual parts that make up a watch case. They are typically made from steel or ceramic but can be made using other materials and depending on the watch price may even be made from silver or gold. There are many different types of bezels out there but, for now, I am going to look at the five most popular bezel types and what they are used for (we could be here forever if not!). 

NTH WatchGecko Exclusive Replacement Bezel 

GMT Bezel 

A GMT watch will usually have a rotating bezel with 24-hour markings indicating the 24 hours in a day. The bezel will often be two-tone distinguishing between day and night and allows the wearer to keep time in two different time zones using the 24-hour bezel. 

Elapsed Time Bezel 

An elapsed time bezel makes it easy for the wearer to count minutes or seconds passed. All that’s needed is to turn the bezel until the zero matches up with the current time shown on your watch. Elapsed time bezels will only ever be unidirectional which is something I will go into further later in this article.  

Compass Bezel 

Some watch bezels will have compasses on them featuring North, South, East and West indicators. To use these correctly you will need to orient these indicators first. Most people will be doing this using the sun remembering that its sets in the west and rises in the east and orientating themselves so either the east or west is pointed at the sun. This will then indicate the direction you need to head. A compass watch bezel is most used by outdoors adventurers.  

Countdown Timer Bezel 

The Countdown timer bezel is the opposite of the elapsed time bezel. To use it correctly you must match the number you want to count down from the bezel on current time. Those who work in the military or aviation are most likely to make good use of this bezel type and it can be easily synchronised with others.  

Tachymeter Bezel 

The tachymeter bezel allows you to find the unknown distance or speed if you already have one of them already and combine them to find the elapsed time. These bezels are usually found on watches with a chronograph as its function is to convert distance into speed, and vice versa. The chronograph is a very common watch feature that functions as a stopwatch. 

FORZO Drive King Mechanical Chronograph with a unidirectional elapsed time bezel

There are also rotating bezels that will are most seen in Dive watches. These are used to set a specific time reference making it easy for the diver to view elapsed time of less than one hour from a specific position. These rotational bezels allow the diver to use the 12o’clock marker to signify when it is time to exit the water and must be extremely accurate. There are three types of rotating bezel. 

Having covered the most popular bezel types above, I’ve also discovered the functions of some bezels. I thought it was also important to cover that many bezels rotate and there are three types of rotating bezel available. They have been designed to help measure everything from dive times to regatta races.  

Unidirectional Bezel 

The unidirectional only rotates in one direction, generally counter-clockwise. This is an installed safety feature and is intended to ensure that if the bezel is knocked out of place that it can only possibly show more time used rather than less time which is essential when used for scuba diving. Scuba divers will use their watch by rotating the bezel to show the minutes of air available in their tank allowing them to calculate how much air they have left with a simple check of the wrist.  

Bidirectional Bezel 

The bidirectional bezel will rotate both clockwise and counter-clockwise and can be used for mathematical calculations alongside showing how much time has passed. It is a timing function usually found on most Dive, Pilot, Motorsport, and GMT watches and can be used for measuring any time related events.  

Ring Command Bezel

Whilst watch brands use a similar concept to the ring command bezel, this is something that is unique to a Rolex. It is a feature added to allow the bezel to control the watches functions such as date, local time, and reference time. 


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