November 11, 2011
by Paul Hubbard
If you like your watches whimsical and yet robust, the Helson Blackbeard chronograph might just make your day. As a followup to our white-dial Blackbeard review, Helson graciously agreed to loan us their sibling chronograph model for review.
Based around the ETA/Valjoux 7750, perhaps the most popular automatic chronograph movement ever made, the watch has a 12-hour chronograph, day, date, hacking and hand winding plus sub seconds displayed under a domed sapphire crystal with inner antireflective coating. Unlike the time-only version, the chrono manages a display back despite its 500m depth rating.
The movement comes in three different grades (prices), this is the ‘Top’ grade, which uses the same components as the ‘Chronometer’ version but has not been tested by COSC. It’s a cam (coulisse) movement, unidirectional winding, and legendarily tough. You can find the same movement in watches from IWC, Hublot and many many others, though almost never for the Helson price of $1095. The 7750 is thicker than the 2824 at 7.9 versus 4.6mm, so the watch is also bigger at 18.2mm (versus 16) to the top of the crystal. Similar width at 42.4mm, 50.6mm lug to lug. At 140g on the rubber strap, it’s actually pretty compact for a chronograph, but it’s certainly not small or slim.
Looking at the pushers, Helson used a classic design to manage the problem of waterproofing. Particularly for a 500m-rated watch, pushers leak, so the solution is to have threaded sleeves as shown here that screw down and lock the pushers in place into their gaskets. Simple, robust, proven. On the negative side, you can’t use the stopwatch underwater, but the only exceptions I know to that are much more expensive watches like the IWC chronograph and such. For dive timing, the idea is that you use the bezel anyway.
Seen next to the time-only model, you can see that the width difference is minuscule, and how the pirate theme is more subtle in black. It looks like the bezel color is more green as well. Otherwise very similar. Both bezels are domed acrylic, which is prone to scratching, perhaps they can manage sapphire in the future.
From the side, the difference is more clear. Note the increase in bevel on the back of the chrono, this helps keep it comfortable and in place on your wrist. You can see that the bezel doesn’t dome very high, which is why the acrylic is a minor issue.
Luminosity is very good, and since the hands are lit against a dark face it’s more legible at night. The smaller Jolly Roger cheerfully backlights the second hand.
Wrist comfort is excellent, and legibility is too. Nice hand shape and size, good contrast against the dial, and minimal ink to distract. Note that the subdials all lack numeric markings, so reading elapsed times requires a bit of practice, and the second hand is quite approximate. I do like the day/date combo, that’s nice to have.
As with the 3-hand model, Helson includes an Isofrane-style strap as well as a 4mm mesh bracelet. I prefer this one on the Isofrane, don’t ask me why. As noted above, the increase in height is there; not a watch for snug cuffs.
Personally, I think I like the 3-hand more than the chronograph, but it’s a tough call and the price difference is unusually low for a Top-grade 7750. The day and date are nice to have and the classic 3-subdial display has a professional vibe that nicely balances the skull and crossbones. Both watches have robust builds and whimsical details and if that combo appeals to you (as it does me) then Helson will make your day.