I recently acquired a Helson Shark Diver 38mm in titanium and I thought that I should do a little review of my experience with it. First up let's get the specifications out of the way…..
Case: Brushed Titanium, Ø 38 mm - height 11.4 mm - lug distance 20 mm - lug to lug length 46 mm, weight 126g on bracelet
Brushed SS screwed crown w. side protection
Sapphire crystal: 2.2 mm thick - inside AR coated.
Bezel: Ti turning bezel with aluminum
Case back: brushed or blasted titanium
Water resistance: 300m/1000 ft
Dial, hands and bezel coated with Swiss SuperLuminova
Strap: Brushed 20 mm titanium bracelet with 18mm steel ratcheting clasp and 20mm rubber strap with 20mm Ti buckle
Movement: 24 Jewel Japanese Miyota 9015 automatic
OK, so I've always liked these watches, there is something about the tool watch aesthetic it exudes that I find attractive. There is also the size, let's be honest the shark diver series had always worn larger than its size belies because of the slab sides and those glorious lugs and so 38mm doesn't seem that small. I've always felt that the shark diver has an element of the Rolex submariner, those lugs and the dial with the large round indices. The other thing with the Helson shark diver series is the sheer wealth of choices, you want 45mm? You got it. You need something smaller? 42mm yes, 40mm yes, 38mm yes. Stainless Steel not your bag? OK, go for brass or Titanium. Fancy some interesting dial options, look at the mother of pearl ones. OK there are some issues with a small volume manufacturer not having all the options in stock, but hey you can't have everything…….
I recently had a Tudor Pelagos and unfortunately had to sell it, to get the cash because of a short term financial situation but now that I have the cash back I didn't feel the desire to rebuy the Pelagos; firstly there is the size, it's just too big really and secondly there is the aspect of wearing that much money on my wrist, it just doesn't sit comfortably. Don't get me wrong, the Pelagos is a fantastic watch, but I think that you can get a much better value proposition from micro brands, yes there are the incremental improvements in quality, but is that really worth the hike in price? In my opinion no. So, having seen the 38mm Helson I thought that this would be an excellent replacement……
……so is it? Let's find out.
God I love the case on this thing. Really love it. The wide lugs with a gentle curve hugs the wrist comfortably and just looks stunning to me. The slab sides of the case are plain but fantastic, I'd argue that they look better than those of the Tudor cases, the Tudor cases don't have a good proportion between the height of the bezel and the case which leaves it looking somewhat unbalanced, I still love the look, but the Helson is better proportioned. The crown guards follow the aesthetics of a tool watch, they are big, bold look great, they angle out to meet the edge of the crown beautifully.
The case back is simply done with, what I think is laser engraving, of the watch details and the classic Helson signature of a diver swimming with sharks. Looks great.
Dial and hands
The dial is great, clear legible and there's just enough on the dial to balance between being too crowded and being empty, I'll compare here to the Pelagos, as the dial has a lot of empty space and I think that this detracts from what is otherwise a great design. The Helson has a minimum of text and it's just enough, brand name, model, that it's an automatic and the depth rating. The dial is a matt black, the indices are painted on rather than applied, the minute track is subtle and there's a touch of colour in the text to give some interest other than being monochrome.
The hands are something that I've seen criticism of before, especially the large minute hand. I certainly don't have any issues with reading the time and appreciate the style. Was the large minute hand was a design choice from the aspect of use for diving, in that it would be very obvious underwater when diving?
The hands are sand blasted giving a matt appearance that doesn't reflect light, whether this was a conscious design choice by Helson or not it works for me.
If I'm being picky I'd have preferred to have BGW9 lume, simply for the reason that it stays white. OK, so you lose out on the intensity and longevity of the lume, but the aesthetics during daylight hours would have been much better.
Bezel and insert
Coin edge bezel which I love, especially as the grip is so much better than the angled/fluted style. Bezel was very stiff to start off with, but after use has become looser, it's still very firm, but I prefer that to something loose and less positive. The insert is shiny with engraved markers and is of course fully lumed, which is lovely. Very legible which goes with the dial. Ditto here for the dial lume comments.
OK, the bracelet is something that I can imagine splits opinions, but it's taking the classic H style links and upping the tool style with an almost tank track look. I'll give it this it is distinctive.
All the links are double screwed, meaning it's a bit of a PITA to size because you need to be using two screwdrivers and be good with your hands. Using some Loctite is a good idea here in my opinion.
The SELs have are "female" which is what I prefer, as I think it gives a better look and allows a better drape of the bracelet on the wrist. No spring bars here instead Helson uses a screwed bar. Whether this and the link screws offer any additional security isn't clear, but it certainly makes it feel high quality to me.
The 20mm lug width and lack of taper is potentially another drawback for me, but whether an 18mm wide strap would be suitable is another question. Either way I still love the bracelet.
Here is a slightly disappointment in that the clasp is stainless steel, rather than continuing with titanium. This was probably a cost saving measure, rather than for any technical reasons, but it is a slight disappointment. Having said that it functions very well, the additional ratcheting divers extension is great and whilst it does add to the size the clasp still manages to fit into the overall tool look, without being too chunky. Subtle signed with the Helson name.
One conclusion I will instantly draw on this watch is the fantastic feel of quality with the shark diver, it feels like it should cost considerably more than it does. Just handling the watch is a joy, as the quality shines through; there are no sharp edges (too sharp!) and to be honest I'm struggling to put it in words…….
This just goes to show, in my mind that you don't have to pay Tudor money to get a quality item and shows that the Chinese (this is made by Fullswing in Hong Kong) manufacturers can cut it with the Swiss when they try…….
I've not addressed comfort and wearability yet, so that seems like a good thing to cover here. With the use of Titanium this is a light watch and obviously the size helps, so this helps with making this an incredibly easy watch to wear. I did have the steel 40mm shark diver and despite the additional weight this was very similar. When wearing this watch it almost disappears on the wrist. There's always a complaint about Titanium watches that the lack of weight is equated to a lack of feeling the quality, like you've got to have heft to say that the watch is good, such an incorrect assumption. Whilst the Helson is light it's not to the extent that you could draw this conclusion.
I will add that I've drawn a lot of parallels between the Helson and the Tudor Pelagos, this might not seem to you dear reader unfair and maybe that's true, but this purchase was in some ways to replace the Pelagos, so I'll defend it on that basis.
I've not mentioned the movement here, but Miyota 9015 is pretty much standard fair at this price level and I honestly prefer it to an ETA, on the basis that every 9015 powered watch I've ever had seems to operate, through the crown, much more smoothly than any ETA powered watch ever has. The winding, the date setting and time setting seem to be smooth and positive on the 9015 whereas most ETAs seem to be moving through treacle or sawdust.
This may be a tool watch through and through, but I find that there is a beauty in the functional nature of it. I thoroughly love this watch.
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