Important Parts of a Rolex Watch: The Bezel
We have now reached the third chapter of our Important Parts of a Rolex Watch series—our in-depth look at all the physical components that make up a Rolex watch. For this installment, we’re studying the Rolex bezel. And, depending on the model, the bezel can be a decorative element or a functional part of the watch.
Decorative vs. Functional Rolex Bezels
As we outlined in our chapter on the Rolex case, the first purpose of a Rolex bezel is to secure the crystal down to the case to ensure a watertight seal. However, after that, the design of a bezel can be purely decorative or functional.
Decorative Rolex Bezels
Perhaps the most famous type of Rolex bezel is the fluted bezel. Instantly recognizable, the fluted bezel adds a touch of formality to a Rolex thanks to its design and material. A fluted Rolex bezel is exclusively made in gold. Fluted bezels can be found on Datejust watches, Day-Date watches, Oyster Perpetual watches, and Air-King watches.
The simplest of Rolex bezels, the domed bezel (also known as the smooth bezel) is void of any decoration. It just features a flat and clean texture. While its design is understated, it’s actually the most versatile of Rolex bezels since it’s available in steel, all three shades of gold, and platinum. It’s also found across most Rolex collections. These include Air-King watches, Datejust watches, Date watches, Day-Date watches, Explorer watches, Milgauss watches, and Oyster Perpetual watches.
Gem-Set Rolex Bezel
Along with master watchmakers, Rolex also boasts a team of master jewelers who are in charge of setting diamonds and other precious gems (sapphires, emeralds, and rubies) into the company’s watches. Rolex offers a wide range of gem-set bezels, which can house round-cut diamonds, baguette-cut diamonds, multicolored baguette-cut sapphires, and so on. Gem-set bezels are most often associated with Rolex’s dressier watches, such as Datejust watches, Day-Date watches, and Pearlmaster watches. However, the company has also had a history of making gem-set bezels for special editions of their famous sports watches too, like the Daytona, the Yacht-Master, the GMT-Master II, and even the Submariner.
Discontinued Decorative Rolex Bezels
Although Rolex no longer makes an engine-turned bezel, it can be found on vintage steel models. Characterized by their steel construction and textured finish, an engine-turned Rolex bezel was available on Date watches, Air-King watches, Datejust watches, and Oyster Perpetual watches.
Again, Rolex no longer makes the bark bezel—named so for its texture that resembles the surface of tree bark—but they did so for decades. Exclusively made in either yellow or white gold, the bark bezel can be found on vintage Day-Date watches (in rarer cases, on vintage Datejust watches too) often accompanied by a bracelet with center links also decorated with the bark finish.
Typically found on antique jewelry, the Florentine finish is characterized by a series of dents blanketing a metal surface. Although the Florentine style bezel is rare to find, Rolex did use this famous decorative indentation on some vintage Datejust and Oyster Perpetual models.
Greek Key Bezel
Find this super rare Greek Key Bezel on the vintage Oyster Perpetual 1506. This bezel features the famous pattern of interlocking right-angled spirals known as the Greek key or meander border.
Inspired the wavy watered appearance of moiré silk, the moiré finish is achieved by interlaying two sets of parallel lines on top of each other but one is slightly skewed to form a repetitive pattern. In addition to Moiré bezels, Rolex also applied the texture on some cases and bracelets of vintage pieces.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Rolex used the textured Morellis finish on some models, characterized by a crosshatch-like pattern. There are Morellis bezels, as well as matching Morellis bracelets and cases.
Yet another decorative and textured metal finish that is rare to find, the Moreau bezel used on vintage Rolex watches in yellow gold is characterized by a reptile-like surface that is indented all the way around the bezel.
As its name suggests, the Rolex Pyramid bezel includes three-dimensional pyramid-shaped details. Some Rolex Pyramid bezels are further adorned with diamonds too. These decorative bezels are found on vintage Lady-Datejust watches, vintage Day-Date watches, and on vintage Oysterquartz Day-Date watches. The Oysterquartz with the Pyramid Bezel also includes pyramid details on the center bracelet links and the watch is sometimes called the “Egyptian” Rolex.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual “Zephr” is a rare vintage model made from the 1950s until the 1970s. Along with its signature cross-hair dial, another hallmark of the Zephr is its machined bezel (sometimes called the Astral bezel) with, depending on the model, either faceted or engraved hour markers on the bezel.
Functional Rolex Bezels
On dive watches, the bezel is an integral component to the watch’s functionality. This is how divers keep track of how long they have been underwater. A dive bezel typically includes 60-minute graduations and luminescence for legibility underwater. Naturally, Rolex’s dive watches—the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller, and the Deepsea—are all equipped with dive bezels. Naturally, they have undergone some changes over the years.
When the Submariner first came out in the 1950s, Rolex fitted it with a bidirectional black aluminum bezel. However, they soon replaced the bidirectional design with a unidirectional rotating bezel. This provided a failsafe to prevent the diver from underestimating immersion times in case his watch gets knocked. Furthermore, aluminum was the preferred Rolex bezel material for most of the Submariner’s life and available in black, blue, and green. However, Rolex now uses scratch and fade resistant Cerachrom ceramic across all their current dive watches. The ceramic bezels on the Sea-Dweller and the Deepsea are exclusively in black, while the Submariner offers a choice of black, blue, or green.
The brand marked the GMT bezels with 24 hours to use in conjunction with a 24-hour hand on the dial to allow the wearer to read a second time zone. The Rolex watches that include a 24-hour bezel are the GMT-Master, the GMT-Master II, and the Explorer II.
When the GMT-Master watch made its debut in the 1950s, Rolex made its bezel in Bakelite. It had luminescent numbers, and featured a red and blue colorway. To use the second time zone function, turn the bidirectional bezel so that the hour in the second time zone would align with the arrow-tipped 24-hour hand on the dial. That way, the person wearing the watch could quickly see local time via the center hour hand and the second time zone via the 24-hour hand. What’s more, the use of the two colors on one bezel was to differentiate between daylight hours (red) and nighttime hours (blue) in the second time zone.
Bakelite to Aluminum
Bakelite as a material proved to be too fragile to use as a bezel material. As a result, Rolex quickly replaced it with aluminum. Aside from the original red and blue, Rolex also offered different GMT-Master aluminum bezel colors over the years. These bezel colors include black and red, brown and beige, monochromatic black, and monochromatic blue (very rare). Finally, in 2005, the first GMT-Master II watch received a Cerachrom ceramic bezel. Over the following years, Rolex rolled out that material across all GMT-Master II watches. Today, the Cerachrom ceramic bezel is available in black, black and blue, red and blue, and black and brown.
While the Explorer II also has a bezel marked with 24 hours, it is much simpler in design. The Explorer II includes a fixed steel bezel engraved with the numerals. Therefore, in order to read the second time zone, set the 24-hour hand on the dial to point to a numeral on the bezel. It’s worth noting that the 24-hour hand on the inaugural Explorer II (ref. 1655) was not independent from the main hour hand. Therefore, the bezel of the first Explorer II was an AM/PM indicator and not a GMT one.
Rotating Timing Bezel
Some Rolex watches, such as the Turn-O-Graph and the Yacht-Master, include a bidirectional rotating bezel marked to 60-minutes in order to measure elapsed times. This is done by turning the bezel so that the inverted triangle aligns with the minute hand on the dial. When the timed event is over, the number the minute hand is pointing to (e.g. 20, 30, 40, etc) on the bezel is the number of minutes that have elapsed.
The Turn-O-Graph was the first serially-produced Rolex watch that featured a rotating bezel. Launched in early 1953, the Turn-O-Graph came out before the Submariner. Also, it sported a bezel that looks very similar to early Submariner models. However, the Turn-O-Graph bezel evolved over the years to become a metal one. It was either steel or gold depending on the model. Subsequently, Rolex no longer makes the Turn-O-Graph watch.
The design of the Yacht-Master is unique to that collection in that it includes polished raised numerals (instead of engraved ones) on a sandblasted background. Depending on the model, the Yacht-Master bezel is available in platinum, yellow gold, rose gold, and Cerachrom ceramic.
As a chronograph watch, the Rolex Daytona includes a bezel with a tachymeter scale. You can use a tachymeter to measure the average speed (for example, of a moving car) per hour over a certain distance – let’s say one mile. Just press the top pusher to activate the center chronograph hand. Once you drive the car a mile, you press the same pusher to stop the chronograph hand. Where the chronograph hand points to on the tachymeter scale indicates the speed. For instance, if the chronograph hand is pointing to 110 on the bezel, then the car was moving at 110 miles per hour.
Over the course of the Daytona’s history, the Daytona has been available with metal bezels such as steel and gold, aluminum bezels, and gem-set bezels. However, since 2011, they’re available with Cerachrom ceramic bezels.
Ring Command Bezel
A Rolex invention is the Ring Command bezel. This refers to when the bezel actually interacts with the mechanical movement within the watch. The Rolex catalog currently has two Ring Command bezels—one on the Yacht-Master II and one on the Sky-Dweller.
On the Yacht-Master II, you mush turn the Ring Command bezel to set and synchronize the countdown timer in the watch. On the Sky-Dweller, turning the Ring Command bezel allows the user to select the function to adjust, whether that’s the date, local time, or second time zone.
Rolex Bezel Codes Quick Guide
If you look closely at a Rolex reference number (sometimes called a model number) specific digits indicate what type of Rolex bezel the watch has. However, this is only applicable to Rolex dress watches and not to the Professional watches. These Professional watches include the Daytona, Submariner, Sea-Dweller, Deepsea, GMT-Master I/II, Yacht-Master I/II, Explorer I/II, and Milgauss.
|Bezel Code||Bezel Type|
On some Rolex watches (Professional watches included) the reference number also includes letters. These are abbreviations (sometimes in French, just to confuse matters) referring to the bezel color or gem specs.
|Bezel Letter Code||Type|
|BLRO||Bleu/Rouge = Blue/Red|
|BLNR||Bleu/Noir = Bleu/Black|
|CHNR||Chocolate/Noir = Brown/Black|
|LN||Lunette Noir = Black Bezel|
|LB||Lunette Bleu = Blue Bezel|
|LV||Lunette Verte = Green Bezel|
|RNBW||Rainbow Colored Gems|
|SARU||Sapphires & Rubies|