PUBLISHED BY Joshua Clare-Flagg ON 11 Jan, 2016.
Helm Watches are incredibly new and fresh off the press – their first and only model (currently), the Vanuatu was launched in October 2015. For me, it’s quite exciting when you discover a brand new brand offering a well specced watch for not a lot of money.
With an RRP of $350 / £235, the Helm Vanuatu isn’t that expensive at all – especially being that it is an ISO rated diver, has a decent Seiko mechanical movement, 300m water resistance rating, and a quality looking heavy-duty build.
Helm is a brand based in North Carolina in the States, and the Vanuatu is named after the South Pacific island located to the east of Australia famous for its coral reefs and a WWII shipwreck.
Let’s see if the Helm Vanuatu is a new watch worth getting excited about.
- Dimensions: 42mm diameter, 50mm lug to lug length, 14mm height
- Case: 316L stainless steel, screw-in crown and caseback
- Movement: Seiko NH35
- Weight: 225g with full length bracelet; 120g with nylon strap
- Crystal: flat sapphire with internal anti-reflective coating
- Rating: 300m ISO 6525 compliant diver
The case is definitely a heavy duty affair, with its aggressive lines and heavily toothed bezel and crown. The size is actually quite reasonable; at 42mm in diameter and 14mm tall it fits well and matches the norm for a dive watch nowadays. It’s got plenty of wrist presence too, with a jet black dial and bezel which offsets the pale fully brushed stainless steel case and bracelet well. It also feels decent quality on the wrist, weighing in at over 200g. With a water resistance rating of 300m and ISO 6525 compliance, you know that it’s going to be well put together.
The only negative about the case is that it could have been more refined in terms of machining. The brushed finishing is fine, but the edges are all quite sharp to the touch.
The screw-in crown is stocky, with the Helm “H” logo excellently engraved in the end. The grip is great too, and I haven’t had any problems with the thread whilst screwing / unscrewing it.
The screw-in caseback also features the “H” logo, surrounded by various watch specifics. Like the crown, all the engraving is lovely and deep – the sign of effort being put into the finish.
The bezel has a heavy toothed grip edge to match the crown, which provides superb purchase when rotating it. The action is quite smooth, although it has a tiny bit of wiggle at each point. The bezel insert has the markings engraved out of it and filled with lume, which I personally prefer to a plain printed insert as it’s a little more effort and looks more impressive.
Another good feature is the drilled through lugs, which allows strap changing quick and easy (watch my video review above – I change the strap 3 times within a minute or so).
The details of the dial are subtle, almost phantom. This is a good thing, as it’s all dedicated to one thing – allowing the hands and hour markers to be as visible as possible, resulting in maximum legibility.
The logo in the top half and details in the bottom half are a dark gray colour, which don’t draw too much attention. The printing is all pretty precise and accurate.
The main minute and hour hands are pretty simple; they’re basically thick, lumed batons. The minute hand has a nice little touch of a tiny protrusion on the end. They have black bases, which match the dial – so hey almost look like they’re floating. The seconds hand has a crisp orange base with a lumed disc about two thirds of the way up. The hands are all pretty simple in design, and have one goal: to offer great legibility. They’re pretty well made too.
The full lume hour markers are simple, and do their job well – they’re large and bulky, and are light against the dark dial, maximising visibility. The shapes vary, from squares to rectangles, with 12 featuring a point at the bottom.
Helm don’t specify what type of lume is used on the Vanuatu, but it’s actually surprisingly good. I was expecting it to be disappointing, but it’s quick to charge and long lasting.
The date window is located at 6, which I always like as it keeps the dial symmetrical and is a little different to the usual position at 3. The window is cut straight out of the dial, with a very clean cut – not a messy edge at all. The date wheel colour is a perfect match to the dial so it sits in place very well without causing any distraction.
The straps / bracelet
With a pretty standard lug width of 22mm, there is certainly plenty to choose from when dressing the Helm Vanuatu. It’s just as well that they give you the option of 3 types of strap: the bracelet, leather strap and NATO strap.
The bracelet is much like the case; fully brushed, angular, over-engineered styling… and also has the same fault in not quite being refined enough. I find the edges are a little sharp and could have been rounded off a tad. The brushed finishing is good though, matching the case perfectly.
I always like a decent 5 part link due to the amount of pieces and accuracy required to make up the bracelet, so the Helm Vanuatu’s bracelet is very impressive in the wrist. It’s heavy, aggressive looking and has a variety of pitches thanks to the light reflecting off the many angles differently.
The buckle matches this styling, simple, bold, with the added touch of “Helm” deeply engraved on the locking bar.
The leather strap is also really impressive, with Helm going for the chunky, hand-crafted look that matches the aura of the Vanuatu well. It’s clearly decent quality leather, and is comfortable on the wrist. The buckle is brushed to match the case, with Helm deeply engraved on the underside of the bar (not sure why it’s not on the usual top).
The NATO strap isn’t anything particularly exciting, it’s pretty much just your normal quality. The buckle has “Helm” very lightly laser etched in the bar, not the same quality of engraving across the rest of the watch.
The Seiko NH35 has been used a fair amount in affordable / boutique brands, such as the Melbourne Watch Co Parkville, Lew & Huey Orthos, G. Gerlach Orzel and the Invicta Pro Diver 9094. As such, it’s a solid, dependable movement which is generally pretty accurate straight from the factory. It’s an automatic mechanical movement, and has a hacking seconds hand and manual winding capability, runs at 21.6k bph (6 ticks per second), 24 jewels, and a date function.
To me, I think the best two alternatives out there are the Steinhart Ocean 1 and the Obris Morgan Explorer.
The Steinhart Ocean 1 (read my review here) is still outstanding value for money. It’ll cost you less than £100 more (currently priced at €380 / £300), but you’re getting a top-notch Swiss Made timepiece. The only question is if you’re happy with it being a homage to possibly the most iconic diver out there – the Rolex Submariner.
Next, the Obris Morgan Explorer. Costing $280 / £190, it’s a cheaper option, but still has great specs and a similar look and feel to the Helm Vanuatu. Read my review of it here. The only problem is the limited availability.
I really like the Helm Vanuatu. I think it fills a gap left by the brilliant Obris Morgan Branco, in offering a diver watch that’s heavily inspired by tool styling with a chunky / aggressive edge to it. There’s definitely some smoothing out to be done, namely with the bracelet and the bezel, but apart from that, it’s quite an impressive timepiece for the money. To be considered alongside the legendary Seiko divers out there would be an honour for the Vanuatu – and I think it has the potential to be a great alternative to the likes of the SKX007 and Monster, as long as the finishing is slightly tidied up.