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Discussion Starter #1
I know a lot of dive watch fans see a helium escape valve as a potential failure point, a gimmick and pretty much useless unless your a saturation diver but I thought I would give you an insight as to how it works and how it is needed for Saturation Divers.

Life under pressure takes many forms, first the initial blow down to your living storage depth, this entails the Heliox gas mix to be put into the dive system, a living depth of 100m may take a couple of hours to reach, then the living depth is maintained to make sure it stays at 100m.
Part of the way into your dive trip the pressure may be increased or decreased depending on the water depth, it takes much longer to decrease depth (decompression) it's about 1 metre an hour, this may happen a couple of times during your trip and trips are no longer than 28 days.

The life of a watch in a saturation dive system for this trip is complex and I have experienced many situations with lots of different watches but for the past five years I've made a note of different things happening to my own Scurfa Watches. The early models would go into the dive system no problem as long as the crown was unscrewed and pulled right out, occasionally the crown would be pushed back in and that would be enough to seal the watch and the glass would pop out, this has happened a few times and there is no rhyme or reason to when it would happen. I improved the models and found I could no longer take my watches into the dive system, sometimes the glass popped and sometimes it did not.

The Bell Diver 1 with the Heliox Escape Valve was extensively tested and took 15 months to get right, I tested the case first then the finished watch and that worked no problem.
On the initial blow down most of us open our watches to allow the pressure inside if we do not do this the pressure on the crown will not allow us to unscrew it, this means we will not be able to change the time or date if we sail to a different time zone and it takes about five days for the gas to penetrate the watch, companies have tried to make watches impregnable to helium but they have never actually lived in a saturation dive system for a month and also on a ship, a watch un-equalised is pretty much useless.

A problem I have now found with allowing the pressure inside is other foreign bodies get pushed inside also, the dirt that can build up around the crown over time can be forced inside, this I have discovered is not a new problem, some of the older divers who wore the Comex submariners and sea dwellers used to get a movement service every winter when the work stopped, I could never understand why they did this until now. Me and a lot of my colleagues who wear the bell diver have had this happen and it was my watchmaker who explained it, he's a Rolex trained watchmaker and over the winter months would service a few regular divers watches.

The helium escape valves themselves can also be a problem, the manual ones are pretty much useless as they can be pushed back in and take a seal, they can also fail when unscrewed as the rubber gaskets can be pushed outwards into the crown/cover and also take a seal.
The automatic valves work really well but can trap pieces of fluff from your clothes when they are activated, this can have an affect on the water resistance.

A couple of freak incidents that have happened over the years to other watches include, the dial being forced around 180 degrees on initial blowdown, watches packed tight in bell bags preventing valves from operating, back gaskets popping out during decompression, gaskets pushed inside during blowdown, a loose crown that had pressure on during blowdown felt tight before a dive, equalised during the dive and allowed water in, a watch dropped onto the helium escape valve allowing moisture in during a shower and a few explosions caused by false HEV's.

I hope you found this thread informative and I'm not naming any names but if some of the large manufacturers knew the implications of taking a dive watch into a saturation dive system I think they would think twice before fitting them.
 

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Very interesting, however I'm of the opinion that watches that are engineered properly won't have issues such as the crystal popping out or similar. If it's possible to secure a watch against hundreds of bars of external pressure, I'm pretty sure you can do the same against some internal pressure. One possibility for instance is to screw the crystal down instead of pressure-fitting it to the case.
 

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Fascinating read Paul thanks!

I am certainly one who views HEVs as a curiosity as I won’t be joining your profession anytime soon. It’s really great to read of practical experience and the challenges.

If I read it correctly it seems my quick summary is, “there is no perfect solution”.

Thanks again for giving us an insight into your extreme environment. Stay safe!
 

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Fascinating stuff and one of the few times I read some actual experience with the HV.

Thank you!




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I'm gathering from the info that you're not a huge fan of the Seiko Tuna/Omega PloProf approach of "no helium to escape if no helium gets in, just seal it up tighter", Paul?
Fascinating read. Always nice to see some actual experience from someone who uses these watches for what they were designed to do instead of desk diving like most of us (self included).
 

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In the early 1970s, the Rolex people were following closely what happened to the watches of Professional divers. I discovered this when my Rolex dealer in Nice carrying the maintenance of my "two lines 5512" upon learning that I had used the watch repeatedly for saturation diving with no ill effects, requested my permission to send the watch to Rolex HQ for inspection in exchange of the loan of a Seadweller.

What I gathered is that the quality of surface finish in the seal area together with tight machining tolerance made some watches "helium resistant" without the benefit of HEV.


Rolex choose the easy way and marketed HEV instead of improving Quality of manufacture.


The early HEV used by Cx divers were not a full success, the valve and seat being made of carbon steel were prone to corrosion over time.
 

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I still don't know why wristwatches from several manufacturers have helium-escape valves if ninety-nine percent of us don't need them.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Fascinating read Paul thanks!

I am certainly one who views HEVs as a curiosity as I won’t be joining your profession anytime soon. It’s really great to read of practical experience and the challenges.

If I read it correctly it seems my quick summary is, “there is no perfect solution”.

Thanks again for giving us an insight into your extreme environment. Stay safe!
Your right, the helium escape valve only solves one problem and I always find each sat trip different


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Discussion Starter #9
I'm gathering from the info that you're not a huge fan of the Seiko Tuna/Omega PloProf approach of "no helium to escape if no helium gets in, just seal it up tighter", Paul?
Fascinating read. Always nice to see some actual experience from someone who uses these watches for what they were designed to do instead of desk diving like most of us (self included).
It’s not that I’m not a fan but sealing the watch up will only solve one problem as you may need to change the time at some point, you will never slacken the crown under pressure just like you could never pull the door open!


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It’s not that I’m not a fan but sealing the watch up will only solve one problem as you may need to change the time at some point, you will never slacken the crown under pressure just like you could never pull the door open!


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It did always seem to me that it would work great if you never had to pull the crown under pressure, but was severely lacking if you needed to make an adjustment. Neat. None of this really applies to this desk diver, but I'm a mechanical technology geek, so it's fascinating to me.

It's kinda telling that Omega included an HRV on the new Ploprof, innit?
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Very interesting, however I'm of the opinion that watches that are engineered properly won't have issues such as the crystal popping out or similar. If it's possible to secure a watch against hundreds of bars of external pressure, I'm pretty sure you can do the same against some internal pressure. One possibility for instance is to screw the crystal down instead of pressure-fitting it to the case.
The crystal gaskets work very well with pressure downward but pressure inside will pop any watch crystal as the force is huge, the balance is making the helium valve work before it happens.


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The crystal gaskets work very well with pressure downward but pressure inside will pop any watch crystal as the force is huge, the balance is making the helium valve work before it happens.


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I have to disagree... It happens because many watches are constructed in a way where the crystal is pressure fit to the case. External pressure will only press it harder against the case/seal, however internal pressure (as in the case of helium) might pop it out. This cannot happen however if the crystal is properly screwed down or fixed another way to the case (or the same would happen to watches' casebacks, which just isn't the case... because they're screwed down).
 

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I have to disagree... It happens because many watches are constructed in a way where the crystal is pressure fit to the case. External pressure will only press it harder against the case/seal, however internal pressure (as in the case of helium) might pop it out. This cannot happen however if the crystal is properly screwed down or fixed another way to the case (or the same would happen to watches' casebacks, which just isn't the case... because they're screwed down).
If they were screwed down yes but most manufacturers use the same gaskets to fit crystals, the sea dweller gasket is the same as the sea master and works the same way, I’m not sure who has a crystal screwed down to the case and what it would do to the working of a rotating bezel.


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If they were screwed down yes but most manufacturers use the same gaskets to fit crystals, the sea dweller gasket is the same as the sea master and works the same way, I’m not sure who has a crystal screwed down to the case and what it would do to the working of a rotating bezel.


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You can just use a ring that you place on top of the crystal. That ring itself either has threads and screws onto the case as a whole or you screw it from the bottom of the case using screws. You can then just put the rotating bezel mechanism on top. That's why I said if the watch is properly engineered a HEV is simply not necessary.

There are more modern watches such as Ennebi and I think UTS too, but also older ones such as Jenny Caribbean 2000 that have screwed down crystals. So yes even at that time it was clear that HEVs weren't necessary and are just a quick fix for manufacturers that didn't want to alter (not to say "improve") their case designs and later came to even market it as an innovation.
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
You can just use a ring that you place on top of the crystal. That ring itself either has threads and screws onto the case as a whole or you screw it from the bottom of the case using screws. You can then just put the rotating bezel mechanism on top. That's why I said if the watch is properly engineered a HEV is simply not necessary.

There are more modern watches such as Ennebi and I think UTS too, but also older ones such as Jenny Caribbean 2000 that have screwed down crystals. So yes even at that time it was clear that HEVs weren't necessary and are just a quick fix for manufacturers that didn't want to alter (not to say "improve") their case designs and later came to even market it as an innovation.
I see how that might work, are the crystals a different shape? Are the crystals sitting on gaskets?


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Discussion Starter #19
Perhaps something like Sinn’s liquid-filled technology solves the issue???
Not sure about that, we use a oil filled compass and at the end of every trip you get a tiny bubble in that gets bigger on decompression, it would have to be filled right up
 
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