Helson is a Hong Kong watchmaker known for producing high quality diver's watches. I have been interested in their for quite awhile, and recently Paul Lewin (@thepaullewin) an Instagram watch nerd and founder of Chicago's Commonwealth Crew, let me test drive his Spear Diver. Before I start my review, I must acknowledge that the Spear Diver looks a bit like the iconic Seiko 6105. It has a cushion case and the markers are very similar. Apparently, this drives some vintage Seiko aficionados crazy, but The Time Bum finds it difficult to get too worked up over it. It is clear the iconic 6105 inspired the Spear Diver, but it is not an homage in the same sense as the Smiths PRS-63 or Dagaz T2 Typhoon, most notably because it forgoes the Seiko's 4 o'clock crown and asymmetrical bulge. Without that defining feature, the Helson looks more like a 6309-7040/49, or quite frankly, like any number of other vintage divers. Leave Seiko comparisons out of it, and the Helson shines on its own merits as a good looking and highly capable diver that deserves serious consideration.
Let's begin with that case. It is a barrel shaped cushion in brushed stainless steel, only 40mm wide, 47.5mm long, and 12.5mm thick. This is considerably smaller than the 44mm 6105 and 45mm 6309-7040, and certainly on the modest side of today's "bigger is better" aesthetic. It wears its signed, screw down crown at 3 o'clock. It has no crown guards, but is slightly recessed. The case slopes away from the center to a flat edge, arched in profile. Lugs are spaced 20mm apart and drilled for easy strap changes. It has a 120 click, unidirectional bezel with a grippy coin edge and firm action. The insert is a deep and glossy black with lumed markers. The case back is decorated with the image of a spear diver, of course. It is rated for 300m. To my eye, the case looks less like a Seiko and more like the comparatively rare 39mm Citizen Crystron 4-723316 pictured below.
|Citizen Crystron, photo by Mr TPG|
Now there is nothing wrong with a big, honking dive watch. My own diver's collection heavily favors big cases, mostly in the 42-44mm range, and even includes a wonderfully absurd 48mm Citizen Ecozilla. Still, I appreciate the way the Spear Diver looks like a serious piece of equipment without monopolizing all the real estate on your forearm. It is an exercise in restraint. The Helson's mid-size case makes it easy to wear, and therefore, it would be far more likely to see regular use than some of the other beasts in my drawer.
The dial is available in two versions: the Classic and the Frame. The Classic has applied markers that are squared and lume filled. It safely mimics the 6105. It's nice. Not thrilling, but nice. The Frame, on the other hand, uses only the outline of these shapes, recessed and lume filled. It is a clear winner. The recessing adds dimension to the dial in less common manner than the applied markers, and the array of boxes looks like nothing else. The frame around the 6 o'clock date window creates a nice shadow box effect. At night, when the C3 Superluminova in the frames and bezel blaze to life, you will not mistake it for any other watch.
Dial text is limited to the elongated block letters of the Helson brand, and a simple 300m above the date. The minute and hour hands are pencil style, polished and filled with C3. The polished second hand has a lumed arrowhead (spear head?) with a stalk that extends to the very edge of the dial to meet the index. A brushed rehault surrounds the dial. The crystal is double domed sapphire with anti-reflective coating, set flush with the bezel. There is no distortion, but no discernible dome either. Indeed, it appears perfectly flat.
The tiny, oily bits are courtesy of Miyota, in the form of their excellent 9015. This hacking, hand winding, high beat (28.8k bph) movement has found its way into dozens of affordably priced watches, including several in my collection. Like those others, it keeps excellent time (gaining about 10 seconds per day) and has a 40 hour power reserve. It also shares their somewhat noisy rotor.
The watch comes with a rubber strap and a mesh bracelet. I love mesh for its vintage diver look and range of adjustment (you will never find yourself in between links on a mesh). It has a signed, flip lock diver's clasp and looks absolutely right on the watch. I thought I would put it on the bracelet and be done with it, but much to my surprise, I only wanted to wear it on the rubber strap. I have never really liked rubber straps. I always thought they were smelly, sticky, and stiff, three attributes I can easily live without; however, recent experience has taught me that I just don't like crappy rubber. The perforated rubber strap on the Helson is soft and comfortable. It has a pleasant vanilla scent and the cool, 1970s style hole pattern allows it to breathe, which is a wonderful attribute in a sticky Southern U.S. summer. I found it to be a perfect complement to the watch. The strap is 20mm wide, tapering to a signed 18mm buckle. Like other Helsons, the Spear Diver ships in a securely padded screw top tube that holds the watch, the bracelet, spare links, and a strap changing tool.
So let's get back that whole vintage Seiko thing. Could you get the same style with an original 1970s Seiko? Yes, and probably for the same price, but given that it would be over 40 years old, you would not be able to use it as intended. I enjoyed my time with the Spear Diver. It is handsome, capable, and offers great value for its $599 price. It is not the watch you might expect when you hear "300m Diver" and that is a good thing. The sensible size and tasteful design make it far more versatile than many bulky tool watches, without sacrificing utility. If I were evaluating the more staid Classic dial, I might be less enthusiastic, but the Frame dial really sets the Spear Diver apart from the crowd.