Many iconic and recognizable features on watches serve an important purpose. A rotating bezel? Used for timing your dives. The weird button on the side of a Seamaster 300? That’s a helium escape valve, which ensures that your crystal doesn’t pop off after saturation diving. Watches are small but hyper-effective machines, so every part should be extremely well thought out.
What does a fluted bezel do? I can be very short and clear with the answer: Nothing, zip, nada. Today, a fluted bezel is 100% decoration. Although, it hasn’t always been useless. There was a time, long ago, when the fluted bezel was an extremely important and revolutionary feature.
Rolex introduced the first Datejust in 1945. This first generation Datejust had a very peculiar feature for that time: a fluted bezel. Something that was unseen before. Before 1945, round plexiglass discs were pushed in the case of the watch to make sure the hands of the watch were well protected against dust and water splatter. This was a delicate procedure: if the plexi was a micrometer too big, it would shatter during installation; If the plexi was a micrometer too small, it would let water through. That’s why watches of that time had negligible water-resistance.
Rolex saw this issue and invested heavily in the quest for the first fully waterproof watch.
Rolex developed a new technique to ensure better resistance to water: instead of pushing in the plexi under great force, they wanted to screw it onto the case, just like the case back. In order to do that, they first needed to get some grip. This is where the fluted bezel enters the show.
A screwdown crown, screwdown caseback and screwdown plexi were the key to success.
Today, the material and technology improved, and other techniques are used to waterproof a watch. However, the shiny bezel stayed and became a status symbol.
Modern Fluted Bezels
The need for teeth was gone, but the aesthetics of the fluted bezel was something people loved. The original fluted bezels were made from stainless steel. Today’s bezels are made from white gold, yellow gold and rose gold for extra bling.