This spring, I reviewed the Vanuatu, by HELM Watches.
I’d encourage you to read that full review here, but I’m including a few notable excerpts:
In a world of Wearable Tech, the Vanuatu is instead a wearable reminder to make use of the time while it abides, to live your life through exploration and experience, rather than watch life pass you by.
HELM Watches launched in 2014, and founder Matt Cross was motivated by this vision for the Vanuatu (pronounced van-wah-too):
Our watches are inspired by the spirit of adventure and exploration, and it’s our genuine hope that they in turn will inspire that same spirit in the individuals who choose to wear them. With that in mind, the dive watches in our assortment are named for notable dive destinations around the world—places with names that might make you ask, “Where exactly is that?” and may even spur someone to pull out a map and start planning their next adventure. We look forward to seeing if any HELM Vanuatus make it to Vanuatu!
~ Matt Cross, HELM Watches
When I interacted with Matt Cross, I was struck by his commitment – not to make good watches…but to make excellent watches. So it came as no surprise to me when Matt informed me that, despite a strong initial response to a high quality offering, the company had decided to make the necessary investment to research and implement some improvements, both under the hood and visible to the eye. Simply put, they delivered.
I was very pleased with the first production of the Vanuatu and I wore it often, regularly attracting comments and inquiries about the watch. I am thrilled with the second production run. Here’s a short summary of the improvements:
- Bezel: Redesigned bezel that ratchets firmly and smoothly, without any play.
- Hands & Pigment: Change to filled rather than solid hands, and a switch to Super-LumiNova BGW9 luminous pigment, for significantly brighter luminous output on the hands, dial and bezel. There’s a reason that Swiss made Super-LumiNova pigments are widely regarded as the best available in terms of afterglow brightness and duration.
- Caseback & Gasket: HELM now uses a combination of stamping and etching on the caseback for a smoother, cleaner appearance. It was great before, but now it is incredibly smooth and precise. HELM also added a DuPont Viton gasket behind the caseback to replace the standard NBR gasket (Nitrile Butadiene Rubber), which reportedly has lower temperature and chemical resistance properties and therefore deteriorates more quickly.
- Crown: Incorporated higher profile teeth on the crown for better grip.
- Bracelet and Spring Bars: Single sided screw pins on the bracelet for easier link removal and a cleaner look. And larger diameter spring bars (2.0mm)
With those improvements in mind, here’s what you get for $275 (full specifications can be found on the HELM Watches website):
In the Box
- Vanuatu 300m Automatic Watch
- Stainless Steel Bracelet
- NS1 Nylon Strap (your choice of 4 colors)
- Brushed 316L Stainless Steel
- Screw Down Caseback
- Diameter (12H to 6H): 42 mm
- Diameter (9H to 3H, with crown): 45.75 mm
- Height: 14 mm
- Seiko Instruments NH35 (Automatic Mechanical)
- Hacking and Manual Winding Functions
- Flat Sapphire with Internal Anti-Reflective Coating
- Stainless Steel Bracelet and Folding Clasp with Brushed Finish (22 mm Bracelet Tapers to 20 mm at Clasp)
- NS1 Nylon Strap with Stainless Steel Buckle and Keeper Rings
- 300 m / 30 atm / 990 ft
- Tested in accordance with ISO 6425:1996
- With Stainless Bracelet (full length): 225 grams
- With NS1 Nylon Strap: 120 grams
You can learn more about the high quality materials on my original review, but the bottom line is the 316L Stainless Steel, Sapphire Crystal, and NH35 are the ingredients of choice. And considering the Vanuatu is tested to the ISO 6425 standard, you aren’t going to need to worry about the Vanuatu’s performance on your marine adventures! As I noted in my first review, here’s what Matt Cross had to say about HELM Watches’ water testing protocols:
Few micro/boutique brands (maybe none) test in accordance with the ISO standard, and even among the best known watch brands, relatively few test complete dive watches in water at pressure (exceptions would be Seiko and Citizen whose assortments include ISO rated divers and some high end Swiss and German brands). Our hope with the Vanuatu, and with every dive watch we add to the line, is that they’ll spend significant time in the water. If they do, we want to know they’ll perform as intended. If they don’t…well, it’s just added peace of mind.
If you aren’t a serious diver or watch aficionado, there are still plenty of reasons to check out the Vanuatu.
- The Aesthetics
Here’s why I love the look for the Vanuatu:
- The brushed steel and black is a classic look that works with a suit and tie, or a (swim)suit and towel.
- The black/white/orange is a great color combination (and a personal favorite).
- Easy readability: the stark contrast of the white markers and hands against the uncluttered black dial provide excellent clarity.
- Using bars instead of numbers gives the Vanuatu a sleek modern look and also prevents the design from conflicting with the numbers on the bezel.
- The Versatility
I’ve worn this watch at formal dinners, in the gym, and everything in between. The watch is extremely versatile. The stainless steel bracelet provides a refined look, the optional leather strap is a perfect compliment for your business attire, and the NS1 nylon strap adds personality and fun (I highly recommend the orange).
- The Comfort
I’ve owned several watches with a stainless steel bracelet… the wrong watches. The Vanuatu’s bracelet is different. The 5-piece construction looks great—rugged without being overdone. The movement and feel of the bracelet is very comfortable against my skin and the clasp does a great job of preventing the bracelet from popping open (an issue I’ve had with other bracelet clasps that lack a safety clasp).
- The Simplicity
As I noted in my first review, this watch tells time, it doesn’t take time. I’m a big fan of technology, and I own a fitness tracker watch (the Wellograph) and have considered adding a smartwatch to my collection, but there is something incredibly refreshing about wearing a watch that is designed simply to tell time, rather than to take your time.
I’ll close with a few words from Matt Cross:
If you want to buy a watch these days, you can choose from a multitude of ‘micro’ or ‘boutique’ brands, many with excellent designs and most with excellent quality. But what sets the Vanuatu apart—aside from its unique aesthetics—are two features that are central to the HELM Watches brand: Testing and Value. The ISO 6425 testing we perform is rare in this category and demonstrates our commitment to quality. And our reasonable pricing—with no sacrifice in quality—makes the Vanuatu more accessible than options from many other brands.
The second production of the Vanuatu takes a high quality initial offering and makes it exceptional. HELM Watches is committed to excellence and, from all indications, will only continue to expand its space in the micro-brand market.