Pocketwatch 101 – Learn about Vintage and Antique Pocket Watches

What's a Bezel and Why Does My Watch Need One?

We often hear from customers who report that their watch is "missing the glass" i.e. they are missing the crystal over the dial of the watch. Unfortunately, we quite often discover that not only is the crystal missing, but also the bezel, which is a much more difficult problem to solve!

What's a Bezel on a Watch?

The bezel is a part of the watch's outer case. It is the metal "frame" that holds the crystal in place on the watch. On a pocketwatch, the bezel is almost always circular, but on wristwatches, the bezel can be almost any shape. The style of the bezel varies with the style of the case. Most open-face pocketwatches have screw on or hinged bezels, while most hunter-case watches have "snap-on" bezels.

open face 16-sized Hamilton

Left: Open face watch with bezel and crystal installed. Center, Right: Same watch with bezel and crystal removed

Hunter-cased watch

Hunter-cased watch has a metal lid over the dial of the watch which closes to cover the bezel, crystal and dial.
Note that the bezel is clearly visible surrounding the dial of the watch.


Missing Bezel

The bezels that seem to get lost most often are the bezels from hunter-cased watches. Some folks assume that since there is a metal lid over the dial of the watch, that there isn't supposed to be a glass over the dial as well, but this is not so. All hunter-case watches should also have a crystal beneath the metal cover. As shown in the photo above, there should be a metal cover that opens to expose a glass crystal, held in place by a bezel, over the dial of the watch. If you open the metal case and do not find a crystal, check to see if the bezel is still still there. You should be able to clearly see the bezel around the edge of the dial if it's there.

Left: Watch with bezel removed. If your watch looks like this, your bezel is mising. Right:  Bezel and new old-stock crystal

Left: Watch with bezel removed. If your watch looks like this, your bezel is mising. Right: Bezel and new old-stock crystal

The Bezel is a Case Part, Not a Watch Part

If you've already read our article on pocket watch cases, then you know that pocketwatch movements and cases were almost always made by different companies. Since the bezel is part of the watch case, and not part of the watch movement, there's no way to identify or fit a bezel using the watch movement's serial number. A particular watch movement could potentially be found in cases from dozens of different case companies, so knowing the serial number from the watch movement doesn't tell us anything about the watch case or the size of the bezel or crystal.

If your bezel is missing, there are only a few options, and none of them are very good!. Finding a bezel to fit a particular case is a long-shot... a real needle in a haystack! A case-specialist or skilled goldsmith may be able to find or fabricate a new bezel to fit your watch case, but that can be quite expensive, especially if the case is gold. Another possiblity might be to replace the case entirely with an old-stock case of the same size... but that significantly changes the watch. If your goal is restoration of a family heirloom watch, then case replacement may not be an acceptable option for you.

Unfortunately, without a properly fitting bezel, it is not possible to install a new crystal to protect the hands and dial of the watch.