Not sure whether a Rolex is a dress watch, sport watch, or a “professional” watch, just look at the bezel surrounding the crystal and the story lies there. Since the early 1950’s, Rolex fitted selected models with rotating bezels for event timing or other sport specific situations. Watch bezels are used to keep the case watertight and the crystal firmly affixed to the case, but Rolex added additional functionality by incorporating a rotating mechanism on the bezel. Starting with the Turn-O-Graph, which in the 1950’s was a combination DateJust dress watch fitted with a rotating bezel, Rolex mounted rotating bezels onto watches that pretty much determined its utility and its place in the Rolex “Professional” line.
Rolex “Professional” watches are designed with a specific timing function or utility. The functional intent behind the Tour-O-Graph, Submariner, DeepSea, GMT, Daytona shows on the bezel. The original Turn-O-Graph bezel rotated in both directions with a triangle used mark starting or ending timing points. Since the Turn-O-Graph debut, rotating bezels have evolved for specific duties. The Rolex Submariner has a graduated bezel with the final 10 minutes highlighted with minute markers for decompression stops required in SCUBA diving. The Rolex GMT bezel has 24-hour graduations to track another timezone and the rotation capability allows for tracking a third timezone. The Explorer II bezel does not rotate, but is engraved with 24-hour graduations such that the numbers can be felt in dark caverns. Like the Explorer II, the Rolex Daytona has a solid bezel used for measuring miles or kilometer per hour.
Starting in 2005 with the updated GMT 116710, Rolex started migrating from utilizing pressed aluminum inserts to utilizing ceramic. Introduced as Cerachrom, this particular ceramic is hard, corrosion-resistant, and impervious to scratches and ultraviolet rays that make inserts fade. Rather than painting number and indices, each Cerachrom bezel insert is coated with a thin layer of gold (yellow) or platinum (white) via a “magnetron sputtering” Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) process patented Rolex. In 2011, Rolex utilized Cerachrom as a monobloc bezel and insert combined on the 18ct gold Daytona. 2013 introduced a two-color single piece Cerachrom blue-black bezel insert for the 116710 GMT, and in 2014, Rolex introduced distinctly different color bezel with a red-blue bezel insert on the 18ct while gold model.
Further progressing bezel functionality, Rolex introduced the Ring Command bezels in the 2007 YachtMaster II debut. Ring Command does double-duty acting as both a timing bezel, and playing an integral part for setting the countdown timer. The bezel connects to the watchcase and to the caliber 4161 movement controlling time setting functions similar to what a winding crown would. Rolex continued the concept of connecting the bezel to movement setting functions with the 2012 introduction of the SkyDweller. The SkyDweller is Rolex’s first perpetual calendar and utilizes a sliding DateJust-like fluted bezel to set the date, local, or reference time. The SkyDweller’s Ring Command bezel interfaces with the time setting component comprising of 60 components for this function alone. According to Rolex, “this innovative interaction between the watch case [bezel] and the movement is the product of Rolex’s total master of the design and manufacture of all the essential components of the watch.”
Ring Command and Rolex illustrates that simple rotating timing bezels are now evolving into a component integral to the function of the watch. Bezels are not simple rings to hold the crystal onto the case anymore. Stop by Fourtané to see all these watches and the functionality of Rolex bezels.
– Sheldon Smith