The HELM Vanuatu is a named after an island in the South Pacific famous for its coral reefs and a WWII shipwreck. HELM does not hold back from describing this piece as a beater watch. Other sites have referred to it as chunky. Turns out they are all correct. One thing is for sure, this is a rugged dive watch that will survive in any place you might find yourself.
The case is made up of brushed 316L stainless steel with a screw down caseback. At 14mm in height, the “chunky” tag makes sense, but it still wears nicely on the wrist at 42mm in diameter and lug to lug is 50mm. Construction is very clean and precise with my only criticism being the 22mm lug holes are drilled completely through instead of on the inside only. However, the see-through lug hole configuration does make the process of switching out the stainless-steel bracelet much more convenient in terms of accessing the spring bars. The 8mm screw down crown provides excellent grip while being surrounded by the integrated crown guards.
The Vanuatu is powered by the reliable NH35 (Seiko) automatic manual movement (40-hour power reserve) and includes the hacking feature. With 24 jewels and ticking away at 21,600 beats per hour, this watch is accurate to -20 +40 seconds per day. Not exactly COSC quality, but acceptable for the price range. If you’re a stickler for a movement that is accurate to within +/- a few seconds per day, you probably didn’t click on the link to this article.
Stick dial markers adorn the watch face backed by a matte black finish. Hands have great lume and are very legible in any lighting condition. The date window is located at the 6 o’clock position. A flat sapphire crystal with an internal anti-reflective coating is used to protect the face. Surrounding the crystal is a 316L stainless steel 120-click unidirectional bezel. The bezel grip has a nice bite and has a nice action when turning. The interchangeable bezel insert on my Vanuatu has a black PVD coating with luminous white markings that match the lume on the hands and dial markers.
The stainless-steel bracelet is a beast. When attached the watch weighs in 7.9 ounces. When the NS1 nylon strap is attached the watch weighs in at 4.2 ounces. Even with my incredible amount of arm hair, I really didn’t have any issues with the bracelet pulling my hair. The overall weight was the only noticeable issue although it is a very well-made bracelet and looks incredible. It is a 22mm bracelet that tapers to 20mm at the clasp. If you want to dress the watch up a bit, the bracelet gives it the feel of a much more expensive watch. If you want to dress it down a little, any 22mm nylon strap will do just fine.
Rated up to 300m (30 ATM) water resistance, this is a legitimate option if you plan to spend time in the water. The Vanuatu sells on the HELM site for $275 plus worldwide shipping for $30 (US). It is a stylish, durable, and functional watch that is a great option in this price range if you are into dive watches.
*All photos courtesy of the author