A few months ago, we told you about the Helmsman by Zelos Watches, a new watch and brand that successfully funded themselves via Kickstarter. There are many a kickstarter project focused on watches these days, far too many for us to keep up with, but a few stand out. The Helmsman in particular struck a chord given its dual crown design, reminding us of the vintage super-compressors we adore, it’s bronze case (also available in steel), use of the Miyota 9015 and sensible price point, all coming in at between $400 and $600.
On top of that, the brand’s founder and designer, Eishan, is a fan of w&w and reached out to us. He has since sent us a prototype Helmsman to play with, which I wrote about below. It’s always fun to see a prototype and get an early impression of a watch, but do please keep in mind that subtle details are likely to change. As this is not production, finishing, build, etc. are also not the same as they would be on a final, so I tried not to comment on those elements.
There’s a lot of interesting things going on with the case of the Helmsman. No surface is left unadorned, so the end result is very rich, especially with the added texture of the bronze patina. From above, the design is dominated by the thick, stationary bezel. Though it doesn’t rotate, it does have wide teeth which add a rugged, nautical feel to it. Coming off of the central case are thin, curved lugs. I was a bit surprised by how lithe they are, as they are in contrast to the rest of the design, which is bulky and tough. That said, the don’t look bad, just unexpected.
One of the stranger details of the design are the milled out gaps in the case sides. Once again, they add some unexpected texture and an industrial quality that create a more unique watch overall. On the crown side, this detail has a bit more logic, as the dual crowns at 2 and 4 sort of nestle into the slot. I like how that looks and how it feels like an intentional detail, but I did find my fingers rubbed against the edge of the slot when turning the crowns, which didn’t feel nice. Perhaps a bit of beveling is needed.
Coming in at 44 x 52 x 13.8mm, the Helmsman is a big chunk of bronze with a substantial weight to it. That said, despite being out of my typical comfort zone, I found the Helmsman wore nicely and looked appropriate at that size. Though there are a few smaller bronze watches out there that we’ve liked, for a dual crown watch that looks like it was made out of a rivet ripped off the hull of an old ship, bigger makes sense.
Keeping with the level of detail found on the case, the dial has a lot going on. There are two main areas, the surface and the internal bezel. There are several dial color options, which when mixed with three case materials (bronze, steel and DLC/bronze combo), allow for 10 variations. They all seem like they will appeal to some and not others, but you can likely find a combo to suit you.
The brown dial/bronze case combo is very warm and rich. The dial is semi-metallic and textured, with a grooved center and applied rose gold colored markers. The color goes nicely with the case, picking up tones from the patina. The rose gold highlights similarly pick up the copper tones of the bronze. The dial surface itself has so much going on, I wonder if something could have been pulled back on. The applied markers almost feel a bit too 50’s for the case. That said, it’s well executed and looks different from the herd of boutique divers.
The internal bezel is pretty straightforward. Also metallic brown, the bezel has clear markings in C3 superluminova. Since it features numerals, one can also use it as the minutes/seconds index when it is positioned correctly. Perhaps my favorite dial detail is actually the hands. They are straight sword style, but they are executed in a cool way. Essentially, they are partially skeletonized so there is a border of rose gold around a strip of lume. There is a slight gap between the lume and border, which is unexpected, adding texture where it is atypical. Despite the business of the dial below, they stand out well.
On the thick, matte brown 22mm leather strap, the Helmsman really comes together. It’s a well matched strap that is properly styled to have an aged look. It also has a really nicely designed bronze buckle, that like the case has cutouts on the side for texture. With some jeans and some boots, this watch just looks tough and handsome. It actually doesn’t really come across as a dive watch, and given it’s 100m rating, I suppose it isn’t really one. It’s rather a nautically inspired sport watch, with a mix of vintage and dive elements. This gives it a unique personality that grew on me quickly. In the long run, I’m not sure if the brown dial would be my first choice, though it certainly is appealing. For my own taste, I might go for the green with bronze case or grey with steel case.
All in all, this is a hell of a first watch for a brand. I have to seriously commend Zelos on the amount of effort put into every detail. More over, that everything on this watch is their own design. It’s easy to take this point for granted, but every piece that isn’t stock needs tooling, and that adds up fast. For a young brand to do this at this price point with an internal bezel, miyota 9015 and multiple case choices is a pretty big achievement. One cool thing I didn’t mention before, but got quite a kick out of, is that the rotor has been plated PVD rose gold. The 9015’s stock rotor is pretty dull, and this simple treatment livens it up.
by Zach Weiss