12 Types of Watch Bezels: How to Read and Utilize Them

A watch bezel is a significant component of timepieces, providing both functional and aesthetic value. It is a ring located around the watch crystal, which can be made from various materials, such as metal or ceramic. 

This essential part secures the crystal, giving watches structural stability while presenting opportunities for designers to enhance their visual appeal. Understanding the different types of watch bezels and their respective uses is essential for those who seek to gain invaluable insights into the world of horology. 

As an intricate part of the timepiece’s anatomy, bezels play a crucial role beyond mere aesthetics, offering practical applications and stylistic flair to watches of all shapes and sizes.

Types of Watch Bezels

The table below provides a summary of various bezel types, highlighting their unique features and functions.

Bezel Type

Appearance

Function

Unidirectional

Rotates counterclockwise, marked with minute scales.

Tracks elapsed time; safety feature in diving watches.

Bidirectional

Rotates both ways, with scales or symbols.

Used in pilot watches for time zone tracking and calculations.

Slide Rule

Two logarithmic scales, one movable.

Enables mathematical computations, common in pilot watches.

Tachymeter

Scale around the rim, units per hour.

Measures speed based on travel time; found in chronograph watches.

Compass

Marked with cardinal points and gradations.

Determines directions using the sun; for outdoor/adventure watches.

Pulsometer

Scale calibrated to pulse beats.

Measures pulse rate; known as a doctor’s watch.

GMT

Additional hour hand and 24-hour scale.

Displays two time zones; useful for travelers and pilots.

Telemeter

Scale measures distance based on sound speed.

Calculates distance of events (e.g., lightning); vintage military nod.

Decimal

Divides hour into 100 units.

For timing in decimal minutes; used in scientific and aviation fields.

Yacht-Timer

Countdown timer with visual/auditory signals.

Helps time yacht race starts; features a regatta timer.

Fluted Bezel

Ridges or grooves around its circumference.

Initially for grip and waterproofing; now a decorative feature.

Plain Bezel

Simple, unadorned ring.

Aesthetic; offers a clean, minimalist look.

Each bezel type is distinctive in appearance and serves specific functional purposes, from timekeeping in harsh environments to aiding in navigation and calculations.

1. Unidirectional

Unidirectional

Unidirectional rotating bezel watches, often associated with diving watches, are designed with a special safety feature.The bezel, which is the ring that surrounds the watch face, can only rotate in one direction – counterclockwise.

This feature is primarily used for tracking elapsed time. For divers, it’s critical to monitor air supply while underwater. Even if the diving watch bezel is accidentally moved, it only indicates a shorter dive time, prompting an earlier ascent and preventing potential danger.

How to Use:

  • Before starting an event or task you want to time, rotate the bezel until the “0” or the triangle marker is aligned with the minute hand of your watch. This sets the start time.
  • The minute hand will move away from the “0” marker as time passes.
  • To see how much time has gone since you started, look at the scale on the bezel. The number that the minute hand points at on the bezel is the time that has passed.
  • As it’s unidirectional, the bezel only moves counterclockwise. This is a safety feature found in a diver’s watch. If the bezel of the dive watch accidentally moves, it will only reduce the perceived time underwater, not increase it.

Remember, though, not all dive watches are water-resistant or suitable for scuba diving, so always check your watch’s specifications before using it in water.

2. Bidirectional

Bidirectional

A bidirectional rotating bezel is a feature found on some watches that allows the bezel (the ring surrounding the watch face) to rotate clockwise and counterclockwise.

This feature is often found in pilot or aviation watches. It is used for various calculations, such as tracking a second-time zone or calculating speed or distance. For example, in a GMT watch with a 24-hour bezel, the wearer can set the bezel to track a second time zone.

How to Use:

Bidirectional bezels on watches can be used in several ways, depending on the type of watch and the scale or symbols present on the bezel. One common use of a bezel is in GMT or dual time zone watches, where the bezel can track a second-time zone. Here’s how you can use it:

  • Determine the current time in the second time zone you wish to track.
  • Rotate the bezel so that the number representing the current hour in the second time zone aligns with the hour hand of your watch. This will allow you to read the present time in the second time zone directly off the bezel.

Another use of rotating bezels is in pilot watches or chronographs with a tachymeter scale on the bezel. This can be used to calculate speed based on travel time or vice versa.

For instance, to calculate speed using a tachymeter:

  • Start the chronograph or stopwatch function at a known distance marker.
  • Stop the chronograph or stopwatch at the next distance marker.
  • The number indicated on the tachymeter scale by the second hand of the watch is the speed.

3. Slide Rule

Slide Rule

A slide rule bezel watch, also known as a navigation computer, is a type of watch with a logarithmic scale on the bezel that can perform various mathematical computations. This feature is often found on pilot’s watches, such as the famous Breitling Navitimer.

The slide rule comprises two logarithmic scales, one stationary (on the watch face) and the other rotating bezel, allowing quick calculations. You can perform multiplication, division, and more complex calculations with these scales.

How to Use:

Multiplication:

  • Rotate the bezel so that the number “10” on the bezel (which typically stands for “1” in calculations) aligns with the number you want to multiply on the stationary scale.
  • Find the second number of your multiplication operation on the bezel.
  • The result can be read off the stationary scale, aligned with the second number on the bezel.

For example, to multiply 2 by 3, align “10” on the bezel with “2” on the stationary scale. Then find “3” on the bezel. The result “6” will be aligned with “3” on the stationary scale.

Division:

  • Align the first number of your division operation on the stationary scale with the second number on the bezel.
  • Find “10” on the stationary scale.
  • The result can be read from the bezel, aligned with the “10” on the stationary scale.

For example, to divide 6 by 3, align “6” on the stationary scale with “3” on the bezel. Then find “10” on the stationary scale. The result “2” will be aligned with “10” on the stationary scale.

4. Tachymeter

Tachymeter

A tachymeter bezel on a watch is a scale sometimes carved around the rim of an analog timepiece. It can be used to determine a speed based on travel time or vice versa. The markings on a tachymeter bezel represent units per hour.

This feature is often found on chronograph watches, which have stopwatch capabilities. The tachymeter scale uses the chronograph function to calculate speed or distance.

How to Use:

  • Start your watch’s chronograph or stopwatch function at a known distance marker.
  • Stop the chronograph at the next distance marker.
  • The number indicated on the tachymeter scale by the watch’s second hand is the speed in units per hour.

For example, if you’re driving and you want to calculate your speed in miles per hour, start the chronograph when you pass a mile marker. Stop it when you pass the next mile marker. 

The number on the tachymeter scale where the second-hand chronograph points are your speed in miles per hour.

5. Compass

Compass

A compass bezel watch is a type of timepiece that features a compass scale on its bezel or sometimes directly on its dial. This feature is often found on outdoor, survival, or adventure-oriented watches. 

With a compass bezel, you can determine your cardinal directions, provided you have a clear view of the sun. The bezel will typically be marked with four cardinal points – North (N), East (E), South (S), and West (W). It may also include gradations for more precise readings.

How to Use:

In the Northern Hemisphere:

  • Point the hour of your watch’s hand at the sun.
  • Midway between the watch’s hour hand and the 12 o’clock marker is approximately South.

In the Southern Hemisphere:

  • Point the 12 o’clock marker on your watch at the sun.
  • Midway between the 12 o’clock marker and the hour hand is approximately North.

Please remember that this method gives an approximation and should not be relied upon when precise navigation is required. Always refer to your watch’s user manual for precise instructions.

6. Pulsometer

Pulsometer

A pulsometer watch, also known as a doctor’s watch, features a scale on the dial or bezel that allows for a simple and quick measure of a patient’s pulse rate. This scale is usually marked or calibrated to 15, 20, or 30 pulse beats.

This feature is less common today as electronic devices have largely taken over this function. However, it can still be found on some vintage-inspired or professional watches. Pulsometer watches are a nod when physicians rely on mechanical watches to take pulse readings.

How to Use:

  • Start the chronograph or stopwatch function of the watch when they begin counting the pulse beats.
  • Stop the chronograph after they’ve counted the number of beats that the pulsometer scale is calibrated to (for instance, 15, 20, or 30 beats).
  • The seconds hand of the chronograph will point to the patient’s heart rate per minute on the pulsometer scale.

7. GMT

GMT

A GMT watch, or Greenwich Mean Time watch, is a timepiece that can display time in at least two different time zones at once. A GMT bezel is useful for travelers, pilots, and business professionals who need to track time in multiple locations. 

They feature an additional hour hand (often called the GMT hand) that makes one full rotation every 24 hours. This hand is often a different shape or color for easy differentiation.

How to Use:

  • Set the local time: Pull the crown out to the second click (or as directed by your watch manual), which is usually the position to adjust the time. Set the local time using the main hour and minute hands.
  • Set the GMT hand: Once your local time is set, push the crown into the first click (or as directed by your watch manual), which should allow you to set the GMT hand. Rotate the crown until the GMT hand points to the current time in the second time zone on the 24-hour scale. Remember whether the location is ahead or behind your local time and if it’s AM or PM.
  • Set the date: If your GMT watch has a date function, ensure the date is set correctly. This is usually done by rotating the crown in the first click position in the opposite direction.
  • Track a third time zone: If your GMT watch has a rotating bezel, you can use it to track a third time zone. Figure the difference between the third time zone and the time zone the GMT hand is set to, then rotate the bezel and the corresponding number of clicks in the appropriate direction.
  • Push the watch’s crown back into its neutral position and ensure it’s secure, especially if your watch is water-resistant.

8. Telemeter

Telemeter

A telemeter watch features a scale on the dial or bezel that can be used to measure the interval of an event that can be both seen and heard. The telemeter scale measures the speed of sound and is commonly used to compute the distance of a storm.

The telemeter function was also used historically in military applications to calculate the distance of artillery fire. However, in modern times, this function is mostly a nod to a watch’s vintage military heritage or an interesting feature for weather enthusiasts.

How to Use:

  • Start the chronograph or stopwatch function on your watch when the event occurs (like when you see a flash of lightning).
  • Stop the chronograph when you hear the event (like when you hear the thunder).
  • The number indicated on the telemeter scale by the watch’s second hand is the distance to the event in kilometers or miles, depending on the scale used on the watch.

For instance, if you start the chronograph when you see a flash of lightning, and pause it when you hear the thunder, the watch’s second hand pointing at the telemeter scale will indicate the approximate distance the storm is from you.

9. Decimal

Decimal

A decimal watch bezel or dial watch features a decimal scale, used for timing an event in decimal minutes rather than the standard time. Instead of being divided into 60 minutes, as with a conventional timepiece, the decimal watch dial is divided into 100 units.

Decimal watches are especially useful in industries where decimal time measurement is used, such as aviation, scientific research, manufacturing, and certain forms of racing. A decimal watch allows for precise measurement and easier calculation when dealing with decimal units. 

How to Use:

  • Understand the dial: The main thing to remember is that a decimal watch divides an hour into 100 units instead of 60 minutes. This means each ‘decimal hour’ represents 0.6 of a standard minute.
  • Reading the time: When you look at the time, if the minute hand is pointing to 50 on a decimal dial, this isn’t 50 standard minutes but 50 decimal minutes. To convert this to standard time, you would multiply by 0.6, so 50 decimal minutes equals 30 standard minutes.
  • Using the chronograph: If your decimal watch has a chronograph or stopwatch function, it will also measure elapsed time in decimal minutes. This can be useful for calculations in decimal time fields, like aviation, manufacturing, or scientific research.

10. Yacht-Timer

Yacht-Timer

A yacht timer, a regatta timer, or yachting chronograph, is a type of watch specifically designed for competitive sailing. It features a countdown bezel timer that helps sailors time the start of a yacht race.

In yacht racing, a predefined time (often 5, 10, or 15 minutes) is signaled by a gunshot or flag before the race starts. Sailors must maneuver their yachts close to the starting line without crossing it before the official start. The countdown timer on a yacht timer assists in this process.

How to Use:

  • Setting the countdown timer: First, set the countdown timer to the official start time of the race, which is usually 5, 10, or 15 minutes. This process will vary based on the model of your watch. Still, generally, you will pull out the crown and turn it until the countdown timer is set to the desired time.
  • Starting the countdown: When the official race countdown begins (usually signaled by a gunshot, horn, or flag), start the countdown function on your watch. This is often done by pressing one of the watch’s pushers on the side of the watch.
  • Reading the countdown: As the countdown progresses, your watch will show how much time is left until the race starts. This is usually displayed on a dedicated sub-dial or through a colored or numbered disc system. Some Yacht Timer watches may also provide auditory or visual signals at certain intervals (like 5 minutes, 4 minutes, or 1 minute) to alert you to key moments in the countdown.
  • Starting the race: The race officially starts when the countdown reaches zero. Some Yacht Timer watches may automatically switch to a chronograph function at this point, allowing you to time the actual race.

11. Fluted Bezel

Fluted Bezel

A fluted bezel, refers to a type of bezel that has ridges or grooves cut around its circumference. This feature was initially designed for a functional purpose: to provide a better grip for screwing the bezel onto the watch to ensure a waterproof seal.

One of the most recognized examples of a fluted bezel is found on some models of Rolex watches, particularly the Datejust and Day-Date models, where it has become a signature design element. Fluted bezels on these watches are made of gold and provide a recognizable element of brand identity.

How to Use:

Typically, a fluted bezel on a watch doesn’t serve a specific functional purpose for the user in modern watches, especially compared to other types of bezels like diver’s, GMT, or tachymeter bezels. It’s primarily an aesthetic feature, designed to enhance the visual appeal of the watch.

Originally, fluted bezels had a practical purpose. The grooves in the bezel provided a better grip to screw the bezel onto the watch case to ensure a watertight seal. Over time, as watch construction improved and other methods were developed to ensure water-resistance, the fluted bezel has remained as a stylistic choice.

12. Plain Bezel

Plain Bezel

A “plain bezel” would refer to a bezel that is unadorned or undecorated, offering a simple, clean aesthetic to the watch. It does not feature any inscriptions, markings, or embedded gems or stones.

This usually makes the watch look more seamless, as the boundary between the bezel and the rest of the watch case isn’t very obvious. Such a design often gives the watch a sleek, integrated appearance.

How to Use:

A plain bezel on a watch, by definition, is typically stationary and does not have additional functions beyond aesthetics and protecting the watch dial. It gives a clean, minimalist look to the watch. 

Unlike rotating bezels found on diver’s watches or those with a tachymeter for chronographs, a plain bezel does not have any interactive use.

Final Word

Watch bezels serve various purposes depending on their design. Some bezels are purely decorative, while others provide functional features like a countdown timer, GMT indicator, or compass. Understanding how to use your watch bezel properly is vital, so you get the most out of your timepiece. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure accurate bezel usage.

Key Takeaways

  • Each bezel type, like the Unidirectional for diving and GMT for tracking time zones, offers unique functionalities, making watches versatile tools for various activities.
  • Bezels contribute significantly to a watch’s design and practicality, with types like Tachymeter for speed calculation and Plain for a minimalist look, enhancing both style and function.
  • Key Knowledge for Watch Wearers: Understanding bezel types is crucial for selecting and fully utilizing a watch, whether it’s using a Compass bezel for direction or a Pulsometer for health monitoring.

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