*Update 4/13/18*

New Video on V4 of Helm Vanuatu 

One of the newest micro brands to emerge is Helm Watches, and their first model is the Vanuatu. (Pronounced Van-Wa-Tu). Manufacturing and shipping out of Hong Kong, Helm Watches are your typical micro brand budget diver, and has that “tool” diver look many watch guys like these days. The case, dial and bracelet take cues from a few different brands and models, but I would not call it a homage of any kind. More of a cocktail model if you will.

Helm Watches is not one that I can speak a lot of, in terms of history of the brand or what they are about. They kind of just popped up one day. No preorder, no kickstarter like many brands are doing these days. The watch as of this writing is currently available and has been for a few weeks.

Pricing is $350 USD, with worldwide shipping at $30. While $380 shipping included, is a relatively affordable watch, these days there is a lot of competition in this sector, whether from new or established Micro brands.

This review I am going to construct a little bit different. Below you will find the full specifications as per usual, but I am first going to discuss the aspects of what I like, and then list the things that I do not like, or feel can be done better. While the Vanuatu is a budget micro diver, it might not be the most bang for your buck diver you can purchase.

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
  • Price $350 plus $30 shipping.

helm_watches_vanuatu_watch_review

So, what do I like about the Vanuatu?

I like the design and style foremost. The case at 43mm and 14mm thick is very wearable, especially for someone like me these days who is not enamored with oversized watches.

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 (my favorite, for any style watch really). The case reminds me of a few different micro brand divers, and 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. This logo is also displayed on the solid case back, but more on that later. Drilled lugs are present, which allow for easy removal of the bracelet or strap. Always a plus. The case, bracelet and case back are all satin brushed, another highlight for me, as I prefer this over high polished, whether it be a dive watch or another style.

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.

helm_watches_vanuatu_watch_review

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. In terms of appearance, I have always been fond of this style, as it looks different than your normal oyster 3-link type, and it gives that rugged/edgy feel.

I would say that is where my likes end, and where my dislikes begin. If you have checked out the video above, you know where I am going with this. If you have not yet, I want to state upfront that it could simply be the model I got in hand for review, and not indicative of overall quality. I can only speak of what I have in front of me though.

helm_watches_vanuatu_watch_review

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. When I first recieved it, I could actually turn it with just my index finger, but after rotating it about 30 times, it has tightened up a little bit. That is something I have never really experienced before.

helm_watches_vanuatu_watch_review

Lume is both a like and a dislike. Lume on the 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.

helm_watches_vanuatu_watch_review

The caseback engraving is nice to the look, but feels rough, almost sharp to the touch. It seems it could have used a few more runs on the sander, 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. Nor did I wear it on the Nato strap. And here is why. One, I do not wear Nato straps. Or Zulus. I just don’t care for the look or feel of them. The bracelet itself is just not very well finished, the steel almost has a different color to it in certain areas, like it just was not brushed or sanded properly. The links are also tight, and bunch or kink up, to a point I just knew that it would not be comfortable on the wrist. The flip lock dive clasp does have 6 micro adjust holes in the clasp, which is something we rarely see.

Do I feel Helm Watches could produce a nice value dive watch? I am sure they can, but they have some work to do, to make the things I have talked about better. I have no issues with the movement, though we have seen the Miyota 9015 in watches at this price point or lower. While the NH35 is dependable, the 9015 is clearly smoother and has much better accuracy.

helm_watches_vanuatu_watch_review

If the bracelet issue, case back finishing and bezel play was not there, I would be singing the praises of the Vanuatu. As I said in the beginning, I love the look of the watch. And if you like the look as well, If you are considering purchasing one, and can get over the bezel and case back issue, I would suggest wearing it on a nice rubber strap. I have included one photo of the Vanuatu Diver on a Hirsch Rubber.

Helm Watches may or may not be one to watch. I am curious and hopeful they will take this feedback as constructive, as that is how it is meant, and tighten up their production and quality levels. Only time will tell.

Thank you for reading. Please leave your comments below.

I've been an avid watch lover since the age of 7. Watches are not only my hobby but a passion. My favorite style used to be dive watches, but field or non bezel watches have been growing on me. When I'm not reviewing watches I am either cooking or with family and friends.

7 Comments

  1. I always appreciate honest evaluations during these reviews and Don gives both pros and cons of this piece to let the buyer make their own choice……….thank you for an honest opinion!

    Reply
  2. I just don’t like blue dial with black bezel. The black bezel, black dial looks OK. I don’t buy watches thicker than 12 mm. Loose bezel problem has to be resolved. At this price a nice soft rubber band should be included in the package. Rough back problem no big deal. 14mm, too thick, sorry!

    Reply
    • Edwin, thanks for your comments. Just a note, the dial is black, it might look like it has a blueish hue in some photos, due to the reflection of the crystal and AR coating.

      Reply
  3. Has anyone purchased one recently? Have the quality control issues been resolved?

    Reply
  4. I think the watch reviewed is version 1 and they are currently shipping version 3 and there may be a version 4.

    According to forum chatter there has been some changes and improvements but I do not know exactly what was changed or improved upon.

    Maybe time for an update from Helm on the changes?

    Reply
    • They changed the hands and markers slightly and improved the lume and overall finishing…as far as I know. I might purchase one of the new versions at some point to do an updated review of the newer versions.

      Reply
  5. Not sure about the latest version of the Vanuatu, but I recently purchased the Kuraburi and am very happy with the fit and finish. The only downside is the NH35 movement. A more accurate movement at this price point would be appreciated.

    Reply

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