Most people buy a certain watch because they like the look, the brand name and the price point, right? But they also want some guidance on the specific features, particularly for those timepieces that have complicated additional dials and markers that are hard to fathom. Education is power in the hands of a skilled sales consultant, so WatchPro’s Daniel Malins has created this handy guide to bezels to help them help their clients.
Finding the perfect marriage between form and function has long been the Holy Grail for watch brands of all shapes, sizes and values. Yes, everyone wants their watch to look nice on their wrist (it is a piece of jewellery after all), but at the same time it’s also important for many wearers, especially men, to be wearing a timepiece that offers practical solutions to some of life’s ‘problems.’
How a watch offers these solutions is normally through either a complication – calendar, moonphase, chronograph etc. – or through the bezel; often the two work in conjunction with each other.
The combination of these components is fundamental to any timekeeper, but the public’s knowledge of bezels in particular can be very limited, with a lot of potential customers assuming that it represents nothing more than a decorative flourish. It is also incorrectly assumed that bezels have to be on the front of a watch, above the dial’s glass, but the term can be used to refer to any scale and is often inside the glass.
Acknowledging and embracing this knowledge vacuum can help a watch retailer’s sales staff no end, as there are many people out there (again, mainly men) who would love the geeky and gadgety story behind the different types of bezels on offer. It may be that the function of the bezel proves genuinely useful for a customer, or it may simply be that the function ties in nicely with the perception, lifestyle and image that the customer relates to.
Here is a non-exhaustive breakdown of some of the various key bezel types, why they exist, and why they can make a watch more desirable.
A relatively new addition, the linksometer’s bezel is for the golf fanatic who likes to be aware of his/her time on the course. Golfing bodies, representing both amateurs and professionals, are placing greater emphasis on playing the game at a good pace to prevent slow play, so a linksometric bezel helps the wearer play a round in under four hours.
Uniquely, the bezel has an algorithmic scale that enables the minute hand indication to apply to times greater than 60 minutes. To operate the bezel the golfer turns the ‘ball on tee’ marker on the bezel to the correct tee time, and then each subsequent hole (first, second, third etc. all the way up to 18) is represented by a window of time which the player should aim not to exceed.
Elapsed time/Countdown timer
Most famous on diving watches, this bezel tracks elapsed time. A diver sets the zero marker to line up with the minute hand and, as his/her dive progresses, the elapsed time can be read on the outer ring, up to an hour.
Almost all bezels of this type move anti-clockwise, so as to avoid the bezel getting knocked and moving clockwise, which would falsely lengthen the ‘safe’ time that the diver thinks they’ve got left on their dive, perhaps fatally.
The opposite of the elapsed time bezel is the countdown time bezel, which goes down in time increments from 60 minutes to zero.
So, for instance, if you’ve got 40 minutes to go on your parking meter, you line the 40 minute indicator up with the minute hand and you know that when the minute hand reaches zero it’s time to make a run for it!
The tachymeter bezel, shown here on the Swiss-made Emit Chronograph, is one of the key distinguishing features on iconic chronograph watches.
The main function of a tachymeter bezel is to calculate units per time increments, most commonly speed in miles per hour (as seen on motor racing watches back in the ‘60s and ‘70s).
To use, start the chronograph when a car (or equivalent) crosses a starting line, and then stop the chronograph when the car crosses the desired end mark.
The units per hour (mile, for instance) are then read on the bezel marking opposite where the chronograph’s sweep seconds hand stops.
Though most commonly associated with speed calculation, tachymeters can be used to track any unit, provided it happens in one minute or less.
This is all about judging distance rather than speed. It has a scale that’s used to determine the distance from the wearer to an event that can be both seen and heard, with thunder and lightning being the example that’s often utilised.
When the wearer sees a flash of lightning they trigger the chronograph timer and then stop it when the clap of thunder is heard. The reading on the telemeter scale is the distance (either in miles or kilometres) that the storm is away.
The origins of the telemeter actually when soldiers used it to judge the distance of enemy fire on the battlefield.
In true boy scout fashion, you can actually use your watch to navigate. If the wearer is in the northern hemisphere they can aim the hour hand in the direction of the sun and South is in between this hand and the 12 o’clock marker.
A specific rotating compass bezel allows the owner to set the South marker to the point that they’ve established as South and stride forward accordingly (as long as they re-check their bearings every few minutes).
Dual time zone (GMT)/Worldtimer
Another mainstream and recognisable bezel, the point here is to tell the time in another time zone. The bezel is marked in 24 equal increments or 12 increments of two hours each, so, although the standard hour hand is used for local time, an additional 24-hour hand lines up with the hour indicated on the rotating bezel, which can be turned to set the appropriate second time zone.
Where a worldtimer differs is that the names of the world’s major cities are listed on the bezel. The combination of the city name on the bezel and the 24-hour marker lets tells the wearer the rough time in each city.
The only issue with this type of bezel is that there are more than 24 time zones and not all of them are an hour apart, which is how the time zones are represented on the watch.