Tough diving watches for those who love a limited watch release...
If you are looking for a Helm dealer in the UK, you will struggle. They are a micro brand in the truest sense of the word with watches presently only available from the Helm website and occasionally on Amazon. Saying that, at present, the website shows all stock is sold out and Amazon has none. Initially it may seem a slightly baffling commercial set up, to have absolutely no product available, but it is one that the Helm quite openly addresses in their FAQs on the website.
When you take time to read this section the business model starts to make a bit more sense. Helm only ever build a small quantity of their current models, 200 of each, and when these are sold, that is it; until a decision is made to produce more. This process gives the brand a high level of exclusivity and desirability. You can be kept notified about forthcoming product releases by signing up to an online notification system which cleverly builds a large internet following for the brand. When a production batch goes “live” you then have a very short period of time to buy.
So, who is this elusive brand Helm?
HELM Watches are American owned and originate from North Carolina. Their first model, the Vanuatu 300m Automatic, was released in 2015 accompanied by the mission statement: “To produce durable, affordable, dependable timepieces that are inspired by adventure and exploration, and designed for a lifetime of both.” A fine mantra to live by; what is not to love about a horological partner in adventure which can take the knocks as you dive to hidden depths or travel the world?
There is a distinctly sub-aqua theme to their current models. Only three watches are available, and all are clearly diver centric but with the right leather or Military Nylon strap they could easily double up as a highly robust adventure watch. The current portfolio derives their names from beautiful islands which are surrounded by azure seas and beg you to strap on a wetsuit.
First, we have the stainless steel 300m Khuraburi automatic which is named after a coastal town in southern Thailand just a boat ride away from the Surin Islands which boast some of the best diving in the Andaman Sea.Next is the similarly spec’d Komodo. Tucked among the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia, the remote Komodo island is home to the famed Komodo dragon, while the tropical waters surrounding the island are host to some of the richest marine biodiversity on the planet. Finally, in Helms aquatic journey, we have the 300m Vanuatu, named after the South Pacific island nation famous for its coral reefs and a WW2 shipwrecks. Every Helm watch has the word "DIVER'S" printed on the dial. The company are keen to stress that all watches have been individually tested up to and beyond ISO 6425:2018 at a water pressure equivalent to 125% of the watch's rated depth.
The ISO 6425 standard sets a minimum construction and performance standard for a watch designed to withstand diving in water at depths of at least 100 meters. To be clear this is a level of waterproofing, not, as so many watches state, water resistance. Watches that satisfy the former requirement can bear the designation "DIVER’S L m" or "DIVER'S WATCH L m" ("L" indicates the depth capability in meters).
The driving force behind Helm is a gentleman called Matt Cross. A keen watch collector who struggled on a limited budget to find affordable models to meet his requirements. There were plenty of choices for those with money to spend, but like so many of us, Matt found in the price perfect options, there were many small features he would love to change. The solution, all be it a drastic one, was to design his own watch and get someone to make it! To his credit Matt ended up doing just that. A combination of being based in Hong Kong and China at the right time culminated in fast, efficient, manufacturing and the release of the Vanuatu in October 2015. The stainless-steel Vanuatu 300m is perhaps the definitive Helm and set the design parameters for those to follow.
Supreme legibility is key in Helm’s design ethos. The dial of the original Vanuatu is packed with super bold indices and hands which are covered in large amounts of Super-LumiNova BGW9. Whether lounging on a beach prior to a surf or in the low light conditions of the deep sea it is almost impossible not to clearly see the time on a Helm. The movement is a Seiko NH35 which has 24 jewels, a power reserve of 40 hours and an approximate accuracy of +/- 20-40 seconds a day. Available with a choice of black or white date wheel and black or silver bezel, the Vanuatu also includes a 22mm NS1 Nylon Strap. There are also other Helm straps under the designations LS1 and LS2 in leather, CS1 in canvas, RS1 in rubber and the SS2 and SS3 stainless bracelets.
The Komodo and Khuraburi soon followed the Vanuatu. Both are variations on a theme and hold the strong design lineage of the original watch. The Komodo stands out with its highly distinctive round numerals which slightly challenge the eye whereas the Khuraburi has more angular indices and hands. All the watches are of similar strong construction and capability, so the choice of Helm is a really an aesthetic one – which model do you like best?
Of particular note to the prospective Helm buyer is the excellent Gallery page on their website which shows hundreds of images of people lucky enough to have secured a Helm doing all manner of exciting activities from diving, to surfing to jungle exploring. These user photos act as a superb advertising tool and by the time you have scrolled down a page of amazing adventures it's hard not go back to the sales page just to see if any models are now available. Which they are not… The only solution is to sign up for the notifications and be prepared to act quickly when the company announces that the stock room is once again full.
We are lucky to be in direct contact with Matt and are grateful for his help and look forward to getting hands-on with either an existing model Helm or a possible new model later in the year. In the meantime – keep watching the website.
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