This will be a short review as I already covered the Helgray California prototype fairly exhaustively here, but my very own production model has arrived, and I thought I would share.
To refresh your memory, Nadim Elgarhy of Makara Watches launched the Helgray brand to carry quartz watches that offer a modern take on the World War One trench watch. These were pocket watches with wire loops welded to their cases to fit a wrist strap. His initial release featured four different watches based on the same round, 42mm, polished stainless steel case with wire styled lugs. The model I previewed, and purchased, was the California. It uses a Ronda Mastertech 6004.B, with two hands and small seconds. As an "super early bird" backer on Kickstarter, I grabbed this $275 MSRP watch for $150.
The dial and case are just as they appeared on the prototype, its delicate red and gold accents still make me smile, and mirror polish on the case looks fantastic, but there are significant improvements in the final production model. After the roaring success of the funding campaign, and some critical evaluation of the prototype, Nadim made the following changes: water resistance was increased to 50 meters, the movement was upgraded to a 5 jewel Swiss made unit, the case back was decorated with a "Founders Edition" inscription with serial number, the crystal was upgraded to sapphire, softer leather was used for the strap, the buckle was engraved instead of etched, and the lugs were extended by 1mm. A black leather strap and signed deployant clasp were also made available for purchase. The only quibble not addressed is the tiny crown. This was pretty much locked in from the beginning, but it is hardly a deal breaker.
The 20mm straps are noticeably improved and wear comfortably right out of the box. It is interesting to see the way they lend a different character to the watch. The tan is a good choice for a smart casual look, but as I mentioned in my preview, a bit too laid back for a suit. Once you fit the black strap with the deployant clasp, the watch appears more buttoned up and ready for the office.
The extended lugs allow additional clearance between the case and spring bar, something I found lacking in the prototype. They are not readily apparent and do not affect the wearability of the watch, but they make a huge difference when fitting straps. The prototype couldn't accept anything thicker than a standard nylon NATO, but this one can swallow a 2mm thick leather pass-through, and standard straps present no problem.
Being an incorrigible strap nerd, I soon popped off the bars and played strap dress up (which sounds dirty, come to think of it, but it isn't). I discovered I particularly liked the California on pass through straps. It seemed to fit the wire lug style quite well, and made sense in their historical context. While 20mm two-piece straps worked well, this was too narrow for a pass through as the strap tended to slip to the side, exposing the spring bar and looking sloppy. Moving up to a 22mm solved the problem, covering the bars but not crowding the lugs. The highlights are pictured here, including a Gunny "Verdi" distressed leather NATO with wire loop keepers, a Crown & Buckle natural leather NATO, an Eakin Street Studios tan leather pass through, a Rover Haven Horween Color 8, and a classic black/red/green "Bond" NATO.
I am quite pleased with my purchase. Nadim has executed a retro concept in a thoroughly modern manner. The case is a nice size for daily wear, large enough to make a statement but not so huge that it looks like you are compensating for something. Sadly for Cali-lovers, this model is sold out, but the GMT and Skyfighter chronograph are still available for $275 and $325, respectively.