The Dive Bezel: Its History and its Use

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The Dive Bezel: Its History and its Use

Postby koimaster » August 3rd 2017, 2:49pm

Sitting on the gunwale in a pitching sea, 80 feet above the reef, a diver wriggles into his tacky rubber suit and heavy fins. After spitting in his oval mask, he awkwardly shoulders a cylinder of compressed air, cinches his belt of lead weight and puffs in his twin-hose regulator. On one wrist, a compass and depth gauge; on the other, a dive watch, its luminous dial soaking up the tropical sun’s rays. He glances over his shoulder one last time, then reaches down to spin the rotating bezel on his watch, aligning its zero marker with the minute hand, then presses his mask to his face and rolls back into the Caribbean. This is scuba diving, circa 1957.

The rotating bezel is the hallmark feature of the dive watch, recognizable from a distance and so elemental that it seems like it has always existed, evolved like the perfect dorsal fin of a pelagic predator. But in fact, this simple component first made its appearance on underwater watches in the early 1950s out of necessity, at the behest of those early scuba divers who needed a way to track their bottom time. Since then, the dive bezel has changed, been improved, taken on myriad forms and now, ironically, is scarcely used for the purpose for which it was devised. But even though digital dive computers have largely supplanted analog watches on wrists of divers, the dive watch and its signature feature remain as popular as ever, more as a symbol of adventure and rugged functionality.

There were diving watches and rotating bezels well before the 1950s. Rolex put a large rotating bezel on its ultra-rare Zero-graph in the 1930s and it was during that decade that Officine Panerai was selling sturdy underwater watches to the Italian Navy for its combat divers. But the first truly purpose-built diving watches to feature rotating bezels debuted in 1953, when Blancpain, Rolex and Zodiac all introduced watches that would become the archetypes for all the diving timepieces to follow. So why did the rotating bezel become de rigueur for diving watches, a feature that even made its way into ISO 6425, the international standard that governs what can be considered a dive watch? To understand that, perhaps it’s best to step back and look at how and why these timing bezels are used in the first place.


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