Last week we discussed the background of Rolex bezels. This week we look further into the functions and utilities of Rolex bezels found on the Rolex Professional Series watches. As shared last week, the first rotating bezel Rolex utilized was found on the 1953 Rolex Thunderbird. The Thunderbird bezel was a simple rotating ring used for measuring elapsed time, handy for parking meters, or time tracking for anything less than 60 minutes. The Thunderbird bezel functionality quickly morphed into Rolex’s iconic Submariner dive watch introduced the following year in 1954. With the accessibility of SCUBA equipment in the 1950’s along with the promotion of SCUBA diving by Jacques Cousteau, diving watches were seen as the first true tool watch.
The Rolex Submariner bezel initially turned both directions, but soon became unidirectional with a ratchet spring allowing the bezel to turn only counter-clockwise. The Submariner (and later the SeaDweller and DeepSea) bezel has a prominent luminescent pearl at the 12:00 o’clock part of the dial such that the indicator can both be seen and felt in low light conditions. The Submariner bezel is graduated with indicators for elapsed time, with second indicators between 12:00 o’clock and 12:15. For diving, the bezel pearl would align with the minute hand to mark elapsed time below water. With standard diving tanks lasting 30 – 50 minutes (depending on divers health, and depth reached), the last 15 minutes are graduated to measure decompression stops during the ascent. The bezel ratchet allows for the bezel to rotate to a safer timing mark in the event the bezel was knocked. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Submariner is not intended to measure the amount of airtime in the tank, but rather total elapsed diving time and decompression stops on the ascent to the surface.
In addition to the Rolex Submariner, the Rolex GMT Master is another iconic Rolex watch in the Professional Series introduced in 1954 with a specifically designed rotating bezel. The Rolex GMT was designed in cooperation with Pan American Airlines for tracking timezones during transcontinental flight. The Rolex GMT has the iconic 24 rotating bezel. When used in conjunction with the extra 24-hour hand on the watch, a transcontinental pilot or traveler can measure home time and destination time utilizing the 24-hour hand and rotating the 24-hour bezel. Later in 1982, Rolex updated the GMT Master to the GMT Master II incorporating an independently adjustable 12-hour hand. An independent hour hand allows the wearer to change the local timezone hour while traveling, while keeping home time or UTC/GMT measured by the 24-hour hand. The incorporation of the independently adjustable 12 hour hand adds the ability to track three timezones simultaneously utilizing the 24-hour hand for one timezone, the 12-hour hand for another timezone, and the rotating bezel for a third timezone. Some GMT bezels are dual colored (Pan AM Red/Blue, or Blue/Black) to indicate AM/PM hours.
The bezels on both the Rolex Submariner and the Rolex GMT are iconic features permanently associated with these watches. Both the bezel designs, and the independently adjustable GMT Master II 12-hour hand have been lifted into watch designed by other companies in the industry.
– Sheldon Smith