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How to Remove a Watch Bezel Like Marlon Brando

You can give your sport watch a gritty guise by removing its bezel. Here's how.

marlon brando rolex gmt

Easily the most distinctive part of many sport watches is a prominent bezel that often rotates to provide handy timing functionality. So why would anyone want to denude their watch of this defining feature? Well, like ripped jeans or faded t-shirts, there just might be something to the unique, rough look of a bezel-less watch.

Marlon Brando thought so. He wanted his reference 1675 Rolex GMT Master to better fit the grizzly military character of the renegade Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now and wore it bezel-less. This watch then gained renewed attention when it came up for auction in 2019 and, still missing its bezel, sold for $1.95 million. Suddenly, some people wanted to try the style themselves.

The resultant look is kind of like a that of a field watch but not quite like anything else. So whether you want a new look from a familiar watch, or you want to clean out any gunk that might be hampering smooth bezel operation, or even if you want to replace the bezel — here are some pointers on doing it yourself.

A Word of Caution: It's possible to damage a watch when removing the bezel, so only attempt this with a watch you're comfortable potentially damaging. Ask a professional watchmaker to do it for you using special tools if you're even remotely uncomfortable doing it yourself!

Determine if Your Watch Is Appropriate for the Bezel-less Look

Most watches have a bezel of some sort — even if it appears to be simply part of the case and only functions architecturally. While many rotating bezels can be removed easily, different types of bezels may be engineered and attach differently (some even hold the crystal onto the case), so you'll want to use caution and check to be sure about your particular watch.

It's typically sport watches with rotating bezels that will be appropriate for the no-bezel look and which have the kind of bezel that can easily be removed. Something like a cheap Seiko SKX or the like should be just fine — again, we caution you to avoid doing this to expensive watches that might get damaged.

How to Remove the Bezel

If your watch features the type of bezel that can be removed, you're ready to get started. You might be surprised to find that some components, even those of sturdy tool watches, are attached with a simple snapping system. It's an easy operation to remove them, and here's how to do it.

What you'll need:

  • A dull knife for prying (a case knife can work)
  • A cloth or tape to protect the case from scratches
  • A towel or other soft surface upon which to operate
  • A small ziplock bag (or similar) in which to keep the parts

    Step 1: Slip a thin microfiber cloth under the blade to further help prevent scratches to the case.

    Step 2: Approach the bezel with the knife from a side where any potential scratches will be less evident, such as near the lugs

    Step 3: A little bit of wedging and wiggling should get the blade well enough under the bezel to simply pop it off with a slow prying motion, though you may need to repeat the operation at multiple points. If it doesn't come off easily, don't force it.

    Step 4: You'll find there might be a rubber seal, wire or ring underneath — this tension wire (from a ratcheting bezel, like that of a modern watch) will likely stay attached to the bezel. A spring ring that controls the ratcheting will likely come off the watch as well. Put the bezel and these other components in the ziplock bag so you don't lose them.

    Congratulations, you're one step closer to being as cool as Marlon Brando.

    How to Reattach the Bezel

    You've had your fun, and now you want the bezel back on.

    Step 1: Before you reattach it, if there's any gunk within the bezel or the watch, now might be a good time to clean it with soft Q-tips, a worn toothbrush, and some water.

    Step 2: You may notice that the spring ring that control's the bezel's ratcheting has notches in it that fit into grooves in the watch — you'll have to line these up as you re-fit the spring or the bezel won't ratchet properly.

    Step 3: After you've done so, you can generally simply snap the bezel back into place with downward finger pressure, rotating it as you do so to seat the part correctly. If the bezel design is slightly more complex — modern Rolex Submariners, for instance, feature not only the spring ring, but an additional, L-shaped spring, and a bezel broken into two parts (an insert and the bezel itself) — you may need a professional to refit it for you.

    If the bezel doesn't snap on with your fingers, you can get some extra leverage by pushing the bezel face down on the watch. Do this on a towel spread over a sturdy surface.

    Voila: good as new.

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