Second Opinions: The Countdown Bezel Makes My Life Easier. So Why Don’t More Watches Have Them?

Second Opinions: The Countdown Bezel Makes My Life Easier. So Why Don’t More Watches Have Them?

It tells me what I need to know – and that’s how much time I have left.

The countdown bezel is having a bit of a moment.

After appearing on recent buzzy releases like the Mido Decompression Timer, the Blancpain Air Command, and the Oris Caliber 400 Limited Edition for HODINKEE, the counter-clockwise timing bezel hit the big time late last year on the Tudor Pelagos FXD, its most mainstream application in decades.

The Tudor Pelagos FXD on a man's wrist.

The Tudor Pelagos FXD

This story has been a long time coming. I’ve always thought the countdown bezel was a far more functional alternative for daily life than the “count-up” approach used to measure elapsed time that is conventionally found on dive-watch bezels

My life operates on a schedule. The days are never identical but I generally have a plan of what I’m going to do and at what time I’m going to do it by the time nine o’clock that morning rolls around.

The Mido Decompression Timer on a colorful plate.

The Mido Decompression Timer Limited Edition

Certain days, for instance, I’ll have close-to-nonstop meetings. When my calendar does open up to breathe, I can use the countdown bezel on my Oris to mark the time my next meeting starts – say, in 45 minutes – and keep track of how much time I have available to run out for a cup of coffee.

Or when I’m at the airport, I can use it to mark the exact time my flight is scheduled to board. Then I know exactly how much time I can waste moseying around the Hudson News and snacking on apps at the airport Applebee’s. The countdown bezel is also just as effective whether I’m interested in at-a-glance timekeeping to the closest five minutes or down-to-the-minute precision.

The Oris Caliber 400 Limited Edition for HODINKEE on a bed of grass.

The Oris Caliber 400 Limited Edition for HODINKEE is one of my favorite watches – largely thanks to the useful countdown bezel.

Most timing bezels don’t allow for that. Your typical Seamaster or Submariner, for instance, has an elapsed timekeeping bezel that is best used to indicate how much time has passed since a specific activity has started. If that sounds familiar, it’s because there’s already another complication that accomplishes the same task with greater precision – the chronograph.

I’m not saying that a chronograph is better-suited for tracking dive times, and I’m not saying that a countdown bezel would be a better option for a professional diver. But for my Google Calendar-dominated life? A countdown bezel just makes more sense.

The Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer on a map.

In the past, the countdown bezel has been most closely associated with pilots’ watches.

There’s a reason the ultimate “functional” timepiece, the G-Shock, offers a countdown timer as part of its standard kit. Same with Apple Watch. I think for most people, it’s far more common to have a defined end point for an event rather than operating with an open-ended schedule.

At the end of the day, I enjoy practical watches. I appreciate the purpose-built tactility of a tool watch. But I’m also not a fan of cosplaying as something I’m not. I don’t have a dive license, so why should I care what direction a bezel has to go in to be ISO certified? I don’t need a specialized piece of kit to monitor time spent underwater. Which is what makes the use of a countdown bezel on the Pelagos FXD somewhat ironic.

A close-up on the countdown bezel of the Pelagos FXD.

The FXD was designed in collaboration with the French Navy, to meet their own specifications. And the bidirectional fully graduated countdown bezel was selected intentionally in order for timed navigation between waypoints underwater. I don’t expect to start working nights as a French Frogman anytime soon, but I would absolutely welcome the opportunity to wear the Pelagos FXD.

It took Tudor working with a special-ops dive team to create the version of their professional-grade tool watch that’s most applicable to my largely stationary existence. Maybe that’s the wake-up call other watch brands need to realize that us office folk need tools, too.

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  • I remember in the early 70’s my dad showing me how to use the count-down bezel on his “skindiver’ watch. These were pretty inexpensive watches. somehow when he bought his submariner it was count up. every other manufacturer followed the big guy. I guess the watch industry decided fashion and our unability to count made the count-up a necessary accessory. now, i wear a computer to dive, and my dive watch to prove i have money to spend on more dive equipment!

    I was lucky to find a beautiful count-down bezel for my latest seiko build, its too bad we can’t post photos!