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Diving into the Helm Vanuatu

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Today, we’re reviewing a dive watch.  No surprises there.  As a matter of fact, we’ve previously reviewed a watch from Helm Watches as well, so, again, no surprise.  What is a surprise is how we came about to requesting this watch in for review.  As you know, when we’re looking at boots and shoes, we like to pair up a watch with said footwear.  Well, we’ve got a pair of boots in from Helm Boots (review coming soon!), and it seemed like something from Helm Watches just made sense.  Hence, today’s review of the Helm Vanuatu.

With the Helm Vanuatu, the namesake for the watch is setting you up for what to expect from it.  Vanuatu is an island in the South Pacific with famed coral reefs and even a WWII shipwreck.  So, yeah, that is a fairly hefty name to attach to a watch.  Fortunately for those who are fans of affordable indie dive watches, the one it’s attached to is a hefty one as well.  And you know you’re in for some heft when you’ve got a 42mm stainless steel case paired to a stainless steel bracelet.

That all adds up to a combined weight of 225g for the Helm Vanuatu, which is no mean weight.  That said, if you’re used to small-make divers (as I am) you quickly become accustomed to it.  If you want to cut that down some, though, you could instead swap out the bracelet for the NS1 nylon strap (included) which drops things down to a more manageable 120g.  Or, for that matter, just about any strap you might have to fit into those 22mm lugs (I’m partial to the canvas strap Helm included with our review loaner).  For me, though, I like the heft of a steel diver.  Sure, it may not be appropriate for all shirt cuffs, but it gives you that sense of robustness and ready-for-anything-ness that you want from a sport watch.

The Helm Vanuatu should be up for that adventure, as well.  It carries as 300m WR rating (to ISO 6425:1996 standard), which should keep that Seiko NH35 movement nice and dry.  Just remember to tighten up that screw down crown before you get the watch wet.  And, should you be trying to dive with the Helm Vanuatu, the very solidly-clicking 120-click unidirectional bezel will help you keep track of your time under.  Speaking of – our loaner had the black-coated stainless steel insert, but there are other bezels, and they are supposed to be interchangeable.  So, another option if you want to mix things up on your watch.

For me, though, the black bezel on the Helm Vanuatu was a perfect complement to the matte black dial of the watch.  The lumed indices on the bezel then pick up the massive lumed indices on the dial.  What’s not immediately noticeable (at least, it wasn’t for me) are the small orange pips at the hour markers.  At first, you think it’s just picking up the orange of the second hand – and it is.  But when you check the watch out in the dark, the discerning eye will see those pips are glowing as well.  It’s a small detail, but I like the additional bit of color that hits your eye in the dark.

Writing on the dial is ghosted in on the Helm Vanuatu, so it’s not that jarring (but it’s there if you want to read it).  For the date display, that got snuck in at the 6 o’clock position. Normally, we lambaste brands for not color matching dials and date wheels, but I realize there are cost concerns at play.  And while I wouldn’t mind seeing a dark date wheel here, given how Helm has sized their indices, the date window does a better job blending into the overall look than you might otherwise expect.  Almost makes you wish that wheel was lumed as well!

Suffice to say, the Helm Vanuatu is a good-looking watch.  The matte dial and brushed surfaces keep things from being to flashy, and the watch, overall, just has those rugged “yeah, I’m a dive watch, what about it?” sort of looks.  It may not be for everyone, but it’s a style that I was drawn to when I first started getting into watches, and continue to like to this day.  Wearing the watch around, well, it works as great as you might expect.  The solid links on the bracelet are easy to size with the included screw driver (shame the curvature on the end links doesn’t quite match the lugs), and with drilled lugs, changing straps is simple as well.  This means comfort is easy to establish, even with a watch of this size.  I wore it primarily to the office and on the weekends, and found it to be a solid casual option.

The one wrinkle in the whole scenario here is that the Helm Vanuatu is currently out of stock.  And, given what you’re getting out of this watch at a very, very tasty price of $275 (plus another $30 for shipping), that is not all that surprising.  They’re working to get the watch back in stock, so keep an eye on their site if you’re looking to pick one of these up.  For someone who has yet to pick up an independent dive watch, the Helm Vanuatu has a lot of great characteristics that I think will sell you on this style and approach to a watch.  In other words, pick one up, and you will not be disappointed.  And hey, at this price, you’ll have some extra left over to pick up a few straps to swap in as well.  helmwatches.com

Review Summary
  • Brand & Model: Helm Vanuatu
  • Price:  $275
  • Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a capable diver with solid style at a great price
  • Would I wear it? Sure thing
  • What I’d change: Let’s shoot the moon, and go for a lumed date wheel
  • The best thing about it:  For this, we’re diving into the small details, and it’s those small lumed orange pips
Tech Specs from Helm Watches
  • WHAT YOU GET:
    • Vanuatu 300m Automatic Watch
    • SS1 Stainless Steel Bracelet
    • NS1 Nylon Strap (your choice of 4 colors)
  • CASE:
    • Brushed 316L Stainless Steel
    • Integrated Crown Guards
    • Screw Down Caseback
    • Diameter (12H to 6H):  42 mm
    • Diameter (9H to 3H, with crown):  46 mm
    • Lug to Lug:  50 mm
    • Lug Width:  22 mm
    • Height:  14 mm
  • CROWN:
    • Brushed 316L Stainless Steel
    • Screw Down
    • Location:  3 o’clock
    • Diameter:  8 mm
  • MOVEMENT:
    • Seiko Instruments NH35 (Automatic Mechanical)
    • Hacking and Manual Winding Functions
    • Accuracy:  -20 ~ +40 seconds/day
    • Beats Per Hour:  21,600
    • 24 Jewels
    • Power Reserve:  40 Hours
  • DIAL & HANDS:
    • Dial:  Matte Black with Luminescent Hour Markers (Super-LumiNova BGW9 + Dark Orange)
    • Hands:  Luminescent Hour, Minute & Second Hands (Super-LumiNova BGW9)
    • Date Window:  6 o’clock
  • BEZEL:
    • 316L Stainless Steel
    • 120-Click, Unidirectional Rotation
    • Diameter:  43 mm
    • Removable / Interchangeable:  Yes
    • Insert:  Stainless Steel with Black PVD Coating and White Markings or Silver with Black Markings
  • CRYSTAL:
    • Flat Sapphire with Internal Anti-Reflective Coating
  • BAND:
    • Stainless Steel Bracelet and Clasp with Brushed Finish (22 mm Bracelet Tapers to 20 mm at Clasp)
      • Maximum Length:  190 mm / 7.5” (alone);  235 mm / 9.25” (on watch)
      • Minimum Length:  115 mm / 4.5” (alone); 155 mm / 6.125” (on watch)
    • NS1 Nylon Strap with Stainless Steel Buckle and Keeper Rings
  • WATER RESISTANCE:
    • 300 m / 30 atm / 990 ft
    • Tested in accordance with ISO 6425:1996
  • WEIGHT:
    • With Stainless Bracelet (at full length):  225 grams
    • With NS1 Nylon Strap:  120 grams
  • ACCESSORIES:
    • The LS1 and LS2 leather straps, CS1 canvas straps and SS2 stainless bracelet are available separately, and at a discount when purchased with a watch.

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