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Diver's Watches with a Helium Release Valve - 7 Exciting Models

Posted on October 05 2021

Helium Release Valve Watches

Many of us love watches because of their technology and workmanship. And most of the time our watches are capable of performing at a higher level than we need. Or they have features that we'll never use.

This is often true with diver's watches. Who really goes diving to 1000M? Most people's dive watches won't even get rained on.

But there are those who do need a deep diving watch. And that presents real engineering challenges.

One of those is the ability to deal with helium build up in a saturation environment.

Let's briefly look at the problem and the solution that watch manufacturers came up with. Then I'll show you the best seven helium release models currently available.

Why do Dive Watches Need a Helium Release Valve?


Ok, bear with me. There are several steps to note before we get to the helium escape valve on a watch.

It begins with the problem of decompression for deep-sea divers. As you'll know, having worked at extreme depths, divers need to go through a period of decompression.

The process of allowing the body to release the inert gases that were absorbed at depth can take days. Obviously, that can be a pain. To get around this, divers work in a saturation environment.

This means that they live in a pressurised environment for the duration of their work. They get to the saturation point where they won't absorb any more of the inert gases. They then work between diving and the saturation habitat.

Only at the end of their work do they decompress - rather than after each dive.

But there are issues with living in a pressurised environment. When these work periods can stretch into weeks, breathing in nitrogen can be a problem. On the surface it's fine. But at depth it can lead lead to nitrogen narcosis - it's like being drunk.

So instead, nitrogen is replaced by helium in the saturation habitat. Helium doesn't have the same negative impact.

But wearing a water-proof watch isn't the same as wearing a helium-proof watch.

Helium molecules are smaller than water molecules and can get through the seals of your watch. So even when the diver isn't diving, the helium in the habitat's air can get into the watch.

Remember that a diver needs to decompress when he comes to the surface because of the inert gas in his blood and tissue?

A watch has to do the same - otherwise the gases in a watch expand and break it from the inside.

What is a Helium Release Valve?


Rolex and Doxa were the first two manufacturers to tackle this problem. They created a way for the small helium molecules to escape from the watch safely.

It's worth clarifying that a helium release valve is only required in a dry environment. It's used when a diver is decompressing after a deep dive.

There are two types of helium escape valves. In one - usually a small circle on the side of the case - the helium build up in the watch creates enough pressure for the valve to automatically let the helium out.

On the second - featuring an additional crown - the user can unscrew this second crown to manually release the helium.

So there you have it. It's a feature you'll never need unless you're a professional diver.

But it's an innovative bit of kit that can add to the appeal of a dive watch.

The Seven Best Affordable Helium Escape Valve Watches


I've selected seven of my favourite models that feature a helium release valve. They include some affordable models and a couple of more expensive watches that I would still suggest are accessible.

MWC Depthmaster

The first watch on my list is from MWC - it stands for Military Watch Company.

I'm biased here. As an Authorised Dealer of the Swiss company, I'm maybe not best placed to judge them. Still, I think the watch should be on this list.

MWC is known for producing classic military watches. This has included the British Army G10 and W10 and their remakes of US watches from the Vietnam era.

The Depthmaster is a more recent offering and part of their extensive Divers range. This particular variant is at the top of the specs they produce. The design is spartan and functional. It feels like the watch is aimed at the deep-sea diving market rather than the fashion-conscious.

The 4 o’clock crown is a good choice on a specialist dive watch. It works well with the heavy-duty case, bold numerals and simple bezel. This looks like a watch that was built as a workhorse.

There is a Seiko NH35A movement, a sapphire crystal and a whopping 1000M of water resistance. And of course, there is a helium escape valve.

The case is thick and heavy. The depth is 15mm and the width 44mm. Like most MWC watches this model is delivered with an easily replaceable canvas Nato strap. The ceramic bezel is a nice touch, as is the neat date window at 4 o’clock.

This is not a desk diver. This is the real thing.

MWC Depthmaster

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 15mm Thick
  • 24mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 1000M Water Resistance


Traser P67 Supersub Watch

The Traser Supersub is another rugged tool watch. It feels like it was designed to withstand everything that you can throw at it - and Traser takes legibility to a new level.

Traser is the brand founded by MB-Microtec, the inventors of GTLS - I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Initially, the brand supplied watches to the US military. They produced 300,000 of their first model, the P6500 Type 6. Swiss-based, the manufacturer has maintained that strong military heritage. It's the style that you most probably associate with the brand.

In a nutshell, they’re about performance and durability.

This model has a 46mm diameter case. That isn’t ideal for me - but neither is it a dealbreaker. I’d certainly prefer a 40mm or 42mm version of this watch, but I’m realistic. The point of this model is to be easy to read in all conditions. It’s not meant to be dainty.

And I guess that is why I've made the point that this isn't a list of desk divers. This watch wasn't designed to fit comfortably under your suit at work.

Neither is it meant to be a fashionable Submariner clone.

It has some similar styling to a Submariner. But there are other features that differentiate this from the multitude of Submariner watches on the market. Not least, the tritium illumination or GTLS.

GTLS is a technology used to illuminate the hands and markers of watches. Small glass tubes are filled with a radioactive gas that can produce constant light for between 10 and 25 years. It’s central to all Traser watches and ensures, along with the orange dial, that the watch is legible 24hrs a day.

The helium valve is placed at 10 o’clock. Coupled with the GTLS on the hands and markers, we’re presented with a versatile and practical watch.

Most of the watches on this list have a conservative colour palette. It's nice that the Traser is bright orange. It was Doxa - pioneers of the helium escape valve - who also introduced the first orange dive watches.

The Traser has 500M water resistance and a dial protected by a sapphire crystal. Unlike the MWC, Traser has opted for a Swiss quartz movement.

And remember, the lume will glow in the dark for a quarter of a century.

Traser P67 Supersub 

  • 46mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Quartz Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 500M Water Resistance

 


Davosa Argonautic Dive Watch

Davosa is a German-owned brand with Swiss history.

I'd suggest that this is what Davosa does best. The Argonautic is a very functional dive watch, built to perform in tough situations.

We can come back to the design in a minute. But first, let's look at the impressive specs.

The Argonautic is an automatic dive watch. The movement is a DAV 3021 calibre - built from a reliable Swiss-made Sellita base. The watch has 300M of water resistance, a sapphire crystal and a ceramic bezel.

And the lume? That's where the Lumis T25 part comes in. This watch also has GTLS illumination. It's a feature you'll see a lot in this list.

What we're also interested in is the helium release valve. It's a manual valve positioned at 10 o'clock.

This is a tough watch, but it's a little more refined than the first two.

Design-wise, we've been here before. It's a tried and tested look. In fact, I have a Marc and Sons diver that looks very similar.

But Davosa does add their own DNA to the watch. The dial has an attractive wave pattern and little touches of red that help the legibility and add a nice bit of colour.

Other small points also add to the aesthetics. The date window - white text on black - works well, as do the large, bold numerals on the bezel.

This watch feels like a tool. It's chunky, quite heavy and masculine. At the risk of repeating myself, this isn't a watch to wear to the office. It's a handsome sports watch, ideal if you're heading into the sea.

Davosa Argonautic Lumis T25 16157610

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 13.8mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance


Steeldive Ploprof Homage Watch

Young Chinese brand Steeldive makes homages to your favourite dive watches. And this is their take on Omega's iconic Ploprof.

The Ploprof is Omega's professional dive watch. Released in 1970, it was aimed at commercial divers - exactly the users who'd benefit from a helium release valve.

Steeldive's watch is an affordable homage that is very close to the original. It has the same locking bezel, 9 o'clock crown and distinctive plongeur hands.

It's a high-quality watch. There is 1200M of water resistance, meaning that this can be taken deep. It also benefits from a mesh bracelet and comes equipped with a sapphire crystal.

Like most good automatics at this price point, it is powered by Seiko's NH35 movement - the same as MWC's Depthmaster.

Price is a factor when looking at the Steeldive. There is a lot of watch for the money here. Especially considering the water resistance and reliable movement.

If budget is a top concern, start here.

Steeldive SD1969

  • 56mm Diameter (with crown)
  • 13.8mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 1200M Water Resistance


Marc and Sons Professional Diver's Watch

Aside from some aviation models, Marc and Son’s are known for their range of divers watches. This newer German microbrand tends to focus on functional, tough divers with Japanese movements.

Over the last couple of years, they’ve expanded the range to include more dial and case options, limited-edition releases and some simple customisations.

The MSD-028 is substantially bigger and heavier than my two other Marc and Sons. As you'll have noted with the models that I've listed so far - they're not small watches. To be robust and legible usually means being big too.

Like the others, this beast has significant water resistance. In this case, 1000M. And there is no subtly for the helium escape valve. It's manually opened by the prominent second crown.

As for the rest of the watch. The dial is an appealing blue, with the important words ‘Made in Germany’ at the bottom.

It also sports a ceramic bezel, which helps with the aesthetics. And like the MWC and Steeldive, it's powered by the microbrand favourite, the Seiko NH35A.

This watch from Marc and Sons is one of the most attractive on my list. It's also affordable. That makes this a real contender for your deep diver.

Marc and Sons Professional MSD-028-25S

  • 46mm Diameter
  • 17.5mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel Case
  • Seiko NH35A Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 1000M Water Resistance

 


Laco Squad Ocean Watch

Laco is another German watch manufacturer. Unlike Marc and Sons, Laco has over a century of watchmaking history. The Squad Ocean is a dive watch, rather than one of the pilot's models that the brand is known for.

It's among the most expensive watches on my list, being a German-made automatic. It's a heavy-duty dive watch too. It has 1000M of water resistance.

That alone means that this isn't a dainty piece. The case is just over 45mm wide and has the all-important helium release valve.

It's a distinctive piece that is reminiscent of a number of other German dive watches. And that's part of the appeal. You can guess this watches roots easily.

Of course, the Made in Germany tag is also appealing. As is the use of a well-regarded Swiss-made ETA movement.

It's not the bargain that the Steeldive is. And it doesn't have the bright colours of the Traser. Instead, it's a functional and practical Germanic watch.

It has great specs and build quailty.

It's a great choice if you want German workmanship and a quirky left-handed crown.

Laco Squad Ocean 861704

  • 45.8mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 1000M Water Resistance

 


Ball Skindiver II Watch

The final watch on my list, the Ball Skindiver II, has a vintage aesthetic. It's still a chunky watch, but not as big as some of the previous models.

I like that it references the brand's history. This model is a modern interpretation of the brand's skin diver watch from the early 1960s.

I have a soft spot for skin diver watches. They're pared-down dive watches that were designed in the 1950s as an alternative to heavier professional dive watches. So this model shouldn't really compete with the others.

But it does.

With this watch, Ball has beefed up its original design. So this model is 43mm and has 500M of water resistance - and an accompanying helium escape valve.

It's not really a slim, lightweight diver. But the core skin diver design elements are still there.

It has a straightforward case and a simple black dial and bezel. And Ball has opted for GTLS illumination rather than painted on lume.

The overall result is stunning - assuming that you're ok with the move away from the slim build of the original skin divers.

It has an attractive Ball automatic movement (built from a Swiss ETA base). So this is a high-quality piece that has more water resistance than you'll ever need.

It's great if you want a watch with the specs of a professional diver, but with the style of a Skin Diver.

Ball Master II Skindiver II DM3108A-SCJ-BK

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Ball Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 500M Water Resistance

 


Conclusion


Unless you're a professional diver you're not going to need a diver's watch with a helium release valve.

But how often do you use the chronograph feature on your watch? Or a moon phase complication?

I don't need to remind you that we love watches for more than the features we use regularly. Design, history and innovation all play a part in a watches appeal.

And that is where I see the role of helium escape valves. They are a necessity for people who wear watches for a very specific job. And as watch fans, we also want in.

We like that our favourite brands have found a solution to the helium gas problem experienced by saturation divers. Wearing that technology is satisfying, even if we're not likely to need it.

So have a good look at the watches featured here. There's a nice spread of budgets and brands.

Then let me know your thoughts below.


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