Bezel vs Bezel Insert - Why These Two Watch Parts Get Mixed Up
Bezels and bezel inserts - two terms that easily get mixed up when it comes to watch mod parts. It doesn’t matter if you are new to the hobby, or if you’ve been here a couple of times. It happens to everyone at least once! It’s a good thing that nobody buys watch parts through the phone (or at least, we assume nobody does) because you can just imagine the chaos when a customer receives the ‘wrong’ part.
To be fair to all watch modders, it is a bit easy to confuse the two if you stop and think about it. Let’s look at the possible reasons why in a Seiko modder’s mind, these two complementary but very different parts get switched up.
Let’s start by defining what they are and what they do.
What is a Watch Bezel?
The watch bezel is a metal ring found at the front of the watch surrounding the crystal. It can be fixed in place or it can rotate, and these days, the rotating variety is the most common because of its functionality. It can rotate unidirectionally or both ways.
On diver’s watches, the bezel will have ridges on the side for improved grip, as you will be rotating this part of the watch for 2 main reasons:
- To act as a timer - when diving, you have to keep a check on your oxygen tank levels to make sure you don’t run out while still far from the surface.
- To check time in a different timezone - if you are travelling abroad, or just to a different timezone, this function will allow you to keep track of your local time and the time at the place you’re going to.
Of course, the bezel will not function as a timer or a 2nd time zone keeper by itself. Why? Because bezels do not have markers on it. In fact, a bezel by itself is just a fidget toy for someone with restless hands. For it to be functional, you would need the bezel insert.
What is a Watch Bezel Insert?
As the name implies, this watch part inserts into the metal bezel to give it an actual functionality. The bezel insert can be made of ceramic, aluminum, bakelite, or other materials. This is the watch part with number markers and indices to tell you how many minutes have elapsed or what time it is on the other timezone you were tracking.
There are many different types of bezel inserts, and these are the most common:
This bezel insert was popularized by Rolex themselves, with the release of the iconic GMT-Master. It was made for Pan American pilots during the boom of air travel during the 50’s when people were mostly flying to states in different timezones. This bezel insert design has 24-hour markers to complement the 12 hour format on dials.
As previously mentioned, diver watches commonly have bezel inserts that allow you to track the elapsed time to make sure you have enough oxygen left for your dive. As a safety feature, watches with this type of bezel functionality will only rotate one-way. There are cases where a diver may bump their bezel and accidentally rotate it, they will see that they have less time rather than more than they actually do. Better safe than sorry!
Opposite of the Elapsed Time bezel insert, the countdown timer style tells you how much time you have left instead of the time that already passed. This is useful for people in the military who need to synchronize with others, or for bikers/joggers that want to time their exercise duration.
The obvious choice for adventurers, a compass-style bezel insert will help you orient yourself to north, south, east and west. You use this by first aligning yourself with the position of the sun on the sky (it rises in the east and sets in the west) to determine where north or south is.
If you don’t really need any tools and just need your watch to tell the time, you can also opt for a plain bezel insert with no markers at all. That said, it’s not all boring: you can engrave anything on this type of bezel and it will remain a ‘plain’ one as long as there are no kinds of markers or indices on it.
Why do these two parts get confused?
Even while researching for this article, we found that most publications refer to the bezel insert as just the bezel. One possible reason is because of how it works - when you rotate the bezel, the insert (which is fixed on the bezel) rotates with it. By rotating one part and looking at another, it makes it seem that you are just manipulating a single part.
Another possible reason is because one part is useless without the other - you can’t have a bezel without an insert as that would look very weird on a watch. And without a bezel, an insert has nowhere to attach to. To make life simpler, people may just be referring to both parts as ‘the bezel’, knowing full well that they are two separate parts.
Whatever the reason is, it’s not too big of an issue to switch up the part name. That is unless you are talking to someone about modding or repairing your watch, in which case you have to be specific.
But in casual conversations, no one really bats an eye if you call the insert as the bezel or vice versa. As long as you both are on the same page and enjoying the topic, no need to fuss over which is which.
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