about:drewcsillag

Musings of a programmer, musician, photographer, and Christian.

How to Use a Diver’s Bezel

a.k.a. The Suprising Utility of a Diver’s Bezel

I’ve worn a diver’s watch for years, and initially, I got one because I wanted a durable watch that I didn’t have to think too much about. The bezel on the watch was more of a decorative curiosity than something I planned much to use. Then I learned a few things.

Having had a moderately inexpensive diver’s watch for years, I was looking for an upgrade, and was considering a chronograph, and realized that I hadn’t really wanted for one in a situation where I’d wear my diver’s watch. For me anyway, because of the things I’ve discovered I can do with a plain diver’s watch, the only time I found I actually wanted for a chronograph was when I’d go for a run. In that case, I really wanted my Ironman watch which has things like splits and lap times, etc. Not to mention the relative weight of the diver’s watch versus the Ironman.

When people talk about the diver’s bezel, the main thing they mention is that you point the arrow, or zero point, on the bezel to where the minute hand currently points, and from there you can read the elapsed time in minutes off the bezel from where the minute hand points to. Turns out there’s quite a bit more you can do.

In its simplest form, the bezel just marks a point in the circle of the watch. While tracking the minute hand is what’s usually done, there’s nothing to say that you can’t use the hour or second hand instead. Likewise, while marking the current time with the bezel is what’s usually done, there’s nothing to say that you can’t point it to some time in the past or the future. In a sense, it allows you to put a temporal stake in the ground and measure accordingly.

Ok, let’s get to some concrete examples. When I make tea, it should steep for about five minutes. I can either use the diver’s bezel like normal, and check for five minutes, or I can put the 55 marking (that is, minus five minutes) at the minute hand, and then when the minute hand gets to the zero point, the tea is done. Or say I need to pick up pizza, and they say 25 minutes. It takes me 10 minutes to get there, so I should leave in 15 minutes, so I put the 45 marking on the minute hand and leave when the minute hand points to zero. I use this technique a lot to figure out when I need to leave work to catch my train. Something else I’ve done, is while waiting in line, if it’s taking a while longer than I expect, I’ll set the bezel to time it, but adjusted back in time to how long I think I’ve already been waiting. This way I know if and when it’s reasonable to complain.

I’ve used it to note when I can take medication again, this time using the hour hand. Say I take some ibuprophen now, and can’t take any more for four hours. I just point the 40 marking (effectively -4 hours) at the hour hand, and then I can take more when the hour hand hits zero. Or if I need to know how many hours it took for a long drive, I can point the zero point to where the current hour hand is, and when I get there, I can tell how long it took to get there, with about 15 minute resolution.

In a few cases, I’ve even done this with the second hand to time short times, but it needs to be more than about 10 seconds as it’ll take that long to get the bezel set and be prepared to read it when the timing should stop. For less than 10 seconds, I usually just eyeball the second hand.

An unexpected use case I found I could solve with the bezel is what I call the poor man’s GMT, or alternate timezone, feature. Where I live, I’m UTC -4 relative to UTC during summer time, so if I point the bezel at 8 o’clock (-4 hours), I can read the hour hand relative to the zero point on the bezel and get the time in UTC – the minute hand still gets read the normal way. This can work for any timezone, say Pacific time: since I’m three hours ahead, I set the zero point on the bezel at 3 o’clock (+3 hours) and then read the hour hand relative to that. You still have to know to some degree whether the other timzeone would be am/pm relative to you and all that, but I find it works well enough for me.

The last use case I’ve found was when I was trying to regulate my watch and figure out if it was gaining or losing time and by how much. So what I would do is set the zero point where the second hand would be when my time standard (usually my phone) was at zero seconds. After some time had passed, say a day or at least several hours, you can read the second hand again against the bezel and compare it against your time standard and see how much it drifted. In a simpler form, you can just look where the second hand is pointing when your time standard hits 0 seconds to measure the drift.

If you do need precise hour, minute, and second timings for an event, and your watch has a hacking function; that is, you can stop and start the second hand; you can set your watch to midnight, zero seconds, and start the watch when the event starts and stop (hack) the watch when it should stop and you’ll get a precise reading up to 31 days if you’ve got a date window - though you’ll have to fiddle with it to know if it’s the first twelve hours or second twelve hours of a day. There’s no quick reset, but for an improvisation, it’ll do.

I figured out a few more things here.

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