Interval meters, dive and GMT: The most popular types of watch bezels
One watch component that is referenced regularly is the bezel – a rim attached to the case and surrounding the dial that usually serves the purpose of holding the watch crystal in place.
At its simplest, the bezel is an unadorned ring, usually made from the same material as the watch case. Other bezels are decorated with inset gems or ornamental stones. Some even achieve iconic status because of their unmistakable shape and brilliant design – just look at the Royal Oak and others designed by the inimitable Gerald Genta.
Given the conspicuous position of the bezel on the front side of the watch, it also provides a convenient area to assign other useful tasks.
A bezel is a great place to put markings for a chronograph interval meter. The most common of these is a tachymeter, which is typically used to calculate speed over a distance. The Fortis Official Cosmonauts Chronograph employs a tachymeter on the bezel. Other variations of interval meters include telemetric (to measure the speed of sound) and pulsimetric (to measure a pulse). A more thorough explanation of all three is here.
A rarer bezel in this category is the aviation-themed “slide rule” or “calculator rule.” Ferragamo features one on these on the Ferragamo F-80 Pilot. The bezel works in conjunction with the flange and interior markings for use as a pilot’s tool to calculate various operations including speed and fuel consumption. Learn about how to use one here.
Dive Watch Bezels
The most recognizable bezel of all is the dive bezel. The look is so popular that some brands incorporate it into watches as a non-functional design element. A dive bezel has a 60-minute scale, usually with large markers at the five-minute increments and smaller markers at the one-minute increments (at least between 15 and zero). The zero position is usually marked by an arrow and a luminous dot. The Fortis B-42 Marinemaster Chronograph employs a dive bezel of this description.
Originally designed to monitor elapsed time underwater, dive bezels can also be used in more practical scenarios like monitoring how much time is left in a parking meter or when to flip a steak on the barbecue. When used in scuba diving, the countdown measurement is a matter of life and death since divers use it to track how much oxygen remains in their tank*. A genuine dive bezel is unidirectional, i.e., it rotates in one direction only (counterclockwise) so if it moves, it will signify less air in the tank, meaning the worst case scenario is the diver surfaces with leftover oxygen. If it were to move in the opposite direction, the diver might think he or she has more time than oxygen remaining in the tank.
*Note: Most divers now rely on a dive computer rather than a dive bezel.
GMT and World Time Bezels
Another familiar bezel is the bidirectional GMT, usually with 24-hour markings. The bezel can be used in a few ways: one, to track a second time zone in conjunction with a dedicated GMT hand; to establish whether it is daytime or nighttime in that corresponding time zone; or to follow a third time zone altogether. A GMT watch is a favorite among pilots who regularly travel between time zones. For a detailed explanation visit this web page.
A variation of the GMT bezel is the world-time bezel, which displays the names of world cities. To use it, set the local time on the watch and turn the bezel to match the current city name with the local time using the 24-hour track – the times in all of the other cities now appear concurrently on the 24-hour track. The Fortis B-47 World Timer GMT has a world-time bezel (the watch also displays a second time zone by way of a rotating middle disk).
Other types of bezels will surely emerge as watch design evolves. The new RM 60-01 by Richard Mille, for example, has a rotating bezel with a compass. But whether you prefer the simplicity of a watch with nothing more than a traditional unadorned bezel, or something bejeweled in colorful stones, or a purpose-built dive bezel, the abundant options are part of what makes watch collecting so enjoyable.
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