Helm Watches Vanuatu (Review)

One of the newcomers in microbrand watch world is Helm Watches. Their first model is the Vanuatu. (Pronounced VanWaTu). Manufacturing in Hong Kong, despite the company is in USA, Helm Watches are your micro brand budget diver, and has that distinctive diver look many microbrand watch guys like these days. The case, dial and bracelet take cues from a few different brands and models, but I wouldn’t call it a homage of any kind. More of mix “cocktail” of many watches

Helm Watches hasn’t got any history behind it, they kind of popped in to watch world. And surprisingly they didn’t use any kickstarter/indoegogo campaigns to launch the watch, as many microbrands do these days.

Heres the story I found on their page:

HELM Watches, and the company behind the brand―The Helm Group Limited―are American owned and operated, with roots in North Carolina. Conceived in the summer of 2014, HELM Watches was founded in September of the same year and our first watch, the Vanuatu 300m Automatic, was introduced in October, 2015.”

“Our mission is simple: To produce durable, affordable, dependable timepieces inspired by adventure and exploration, and designed to survive a lifetime of both.

The same spirit of adventure and exploration that inspires our brand and our watches (the kind of spirit, incidentally, that sometimes gets the better of common sense) is what inspired us to move half way around the world in the first place to launch a new company and a new brand among a sea of other brands. Undoubtedly, it will be one of our greatest adventures in this life. We would be honored if our watches can become a part of yours.

To ensure every watch is up to the task, we committed to quality from day one. And that’s a commitment that involves more than just words and good intentions. Regardless of the product in question or the country of origin, if multiple parts and multiple suppliers are involved, consistent quality is tough to maintain―especially from the far side of an ocean. So we packed up and switched sides, relocating to Hong Kong and southern China to keep a close eye on our suppliers and monitor every step of the production process.

This same commitment to quality was behind the decision to test our dive watches in accordance with the ISO 6425 standard, which requires submerging every complete watch for 2 hours at a pressure equal to 125% of the watch’s water resistance rating. It’s a time consuming process that most brands don’t bother with. But our feeling is, if a dive watch doesn’t keep water out, it’s not much use, and we think we should be the ones to discover that―not you. It’s certainly not the easiest way. But then, most things done well usually aren’t done the easy way.

So our commitment remains. Because it’s the only way we’ll fulfill our mission―to produce watches you’ll want to wear for life, and make them tough enough that you can. An unrealistic goal in today’s throwaway society? Perhaps. But we’d rather aim high and miss the mark than aim low and hit it. And we love a challenge. It’s kind of what we live for. So HELM Watches was born. And behind the brand is the challenge we set for ourselves, which inspires us, inspires our products and we hope will inspire anyone who straps on a HELM watch:  It’s time to stop dreaming and start doing. It’s time to chart a course, grab what you need and get moving. It’s time for life.”

Ok, off with that. Lets get on to the review! It comes in this good looking, but simple packaging. You get a watch, nato strap, stainless steel bracelet, cleaning cloth and of course all the documentation.

 

I like the design and style foremost. The case at 43mm and 14mm thick and wears very comfortable on my wrist. Its is made from 316L Stainless steel. It has nice integrated crown guards with a gear shaped crown, that is stamped with the Helm Watches Logo.

The crown is also very smooth and solid. No issues with that aspect at all. The case is kind of classic divers look. It has brushed finishing all over the case, which looks good, but isn’t perfect. The lugholes are drilled through the lugs so it’s easier to change straps. It’s a good touch to the watch, as not many companies do it. But I prefer if they aren’t drilled, it has that cleaner look to it. Only thing I could find that I don’t like are the sharp edges, but after some use, they will get smoother. It sometimes feels like I’am wearing a prototype with those sharp edges.

The dial is clean with grey logos and writing (I refer to it as ghosted) and the date located at the 6 o’clock position. The dial colors and Sinn style hands are another thing I find very attractive. The hands are the block rectangle style Sinn has become known for, and the matte black dial with accents of orange for the outer 5 minute markers add just a touch of color.

The bracelet should be familiar to most, as it is very similar to a few micro brands in appearance, namely the Boschett line of Harpoon and Cavedweller models. The super engineer aftermarket bracelet is also very similar. I like how it looks, but I am not a big fan of bracelets. They make the watch heavy on the wrist and it isn’t comfortable. I better prefer the leather or nato straps.

The 120 click bezel has a lot of wobble and play on it, and I would not trust it for any timing experiments, especially if you are on a dive as it is just too loose for my liking. I knew this after reading some reviews and complaints on the watch forums. Someone suggested to rotate the bezel somewhere around 30 times, to tighten it up. So after rotating it about 30 times, it has tightened up a little bit. But still this is the biggest downside of the watch for sure! But if you are not diver and don’t use the bezel for timing something, you won’t notice that.

Lume is both a like and a dislike. Lume on the b markers is bright and decently long lasting and glows a nice bright blue. The hands and bezel however are lacking the same thick lume application and do not glow as nice as the rest.

The caseback engraving is nice to the look, but feels rough, almost sharp to the touch, just like the earlier mentioned case finishing. It seems it could have used a few more runs of sanding, to make it smooth. I will state though, that while I can feel this with my finger or hand, I did not have any issues of it feeling rough against my wrist while wearing it.

Speaking of wearing it, I did not wear this on the bracelet at all. I wore it on the leather and nato that Helm Watches kindly provided me for this review. The bracelet is finished with those sharp edges too, but looks good. Nothing much to say there. The flip lock dive clasp does have 6 micro adjust holes in the clasp, which is something we rarely see.

The movement is Seiko NH35. It is quite dependable movement. I have it in some watches I have and they run very good for the price. Of course the Miyota 9018 is much smoother and all that. But both these movements are great for the price. I haven’t timed how much seconds it looses a day. But I think it’s somewhere around 10-15sec.

The water resistance is 300m. And it is ISO6425 rated. They took this really serious. It even comes with the certificate and all the testing measurements.

Overall it is a good diver/work/tool watch. Of course the main complaint is the bezel and sharp edges on the finishing, but without that, it is a great looking watch. I wear it every week on that bright orange zulu and it really pops out. Had many compliments about it.

I hope Helm Watches will hear our cons of the watch and in the next batch or model they will make sure the bezel and the finishing is top notch! Cause I really like the design, and it looks like they know what microbrand audience wants!

Price: 300$ @ http://helmwatches.com/

Specifications:

  • 316 Stainless Steel Case and Bracelet
  • 43mm width
  • 50mm length
  • 22mm lug width
  • 14mm thick
  • Seiko NH35 automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • Stainless Bezel insert with pvd coating and lume application
  • 300 meters water resistant
  • ISO 6425 compliant

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