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Vintage Mechanical Timepieces

Watch Snippets: Helbros Wrist Alarm

Watch SnippetsKenneth KidwellComment

Chronograph watches from the 1960's are popular, and justifiably so. Everyone loves a chronograph, they were appropriately sized, and many offered movements as reliable as the Valjoux 7733 or as unique as the EP40. The problem with this increased appetite for chronographs is the scarcity of supply, and thus an increase in prices. If you want to score an incredibly cool watch, at a bargain price, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Enter the Helbros Wrist-Alarm

You'd have to be a fairly intense watch nerd to know much about Helbros watches, but I won't regale you with a history lesson, I'll let this incredibly unique watch speak for itself.


Let's start with the first thing that jumps out about this watch, the case. The barrel-shaped Tonneau case screams vintage with its shrouded lugs and sunburst finish on top, transitioning to polished sides. I appreciate the attention to detail that goes into alternating finishing on a case like this.


Moving to the right side of the case, you'll see twin crowns, a feature typically reserved for supercompressors with rotating inner bezels. In this case, your 4 o'clock crown is your standard crown responsible for setting the time/date, while the 2 o'clock crown solely operates the alarm function. Winding the top crown from the "in" position creates the tension that ultimately releases in the sound of the alarm. Pulling the crown to the "out" position allows you to wind the red-tipped alarm hand to the desired time of the alarm.


Observing the watch from the side also highlights the prominent top hat crystal, shooting out of the case and then subtly curving in to a flat front. Thankfully it's your typical Plexiglas style crystal, so buffing out a scuff would be a breeze, a plus considering the robust profile of the crystal. There's something about a big bold crystal that's unmistakably vintage and undeniably cool. What lies beneath is even cooler.

The dial. The star of the show. There's so much going on here it's easy to overlook how much detail is present. First, the dial has a nice silvery sunburst finish that radiates outward, complimenting the sunburst finishing atop the case. Moving inwards you'll see large, rectangular applied indices with subtle details within themselves. Atop the applied indices you can see a small, raised bit. These are essentially steps that climb upward as you near the edge of the dial. It's such an odd detail to observe, but picturing the indices without them leads to large, polished, applied indices that would seem rather boring considering the sunburst finish on the dial and case. That's what makes a vintage watch particularly cool in my book, subtle design cues that only reveal themselves under close examination.


Moving further inward we get our first splashes of color with a royal blue track of squares. This isn't just a flash of color, it's the track by which you set the alarm. Each individual blue square represents 15 minutes, and thus there are 4 squares between each applied hour indicator. The small gaps between these blue squares are where you point the red-tipped alarm hand to set the alarm in 15 minute intervals. That's about as precise as the alarm gets, although I suppose you could land the alarm pointer directly upon a blue square to split a 15 minute block, but if I needed an alarm that precise, I'd probably be relying on something digital!


At 3 o'clock in the alarm track, we find the oft maligned date window. I generally detest date windows as they almost always throw a huge spur in the symmetry of a dial, but I don't mind it here. First, Helbros acknowledged the date window would crowd the 3 o'clock index, so they omitted that index entirely. Then they lined the date window with a stepped steel surround, complimenting the index, and improving the date window from a hole in the dial, to a feature that flows with the overall aesthetic.

Just inside the blue alarm track we get another splash of color, with the Helbros logo in red, paired with the red-tipped alarm hand. Under the red logo, we find the brand name in individually applied steel letters. Printed below, just above 6 o'clock is the single word "ALARM". 


Finally, we arrive at the center of the dial, with the four hands radiating outwards. The hour and minute syringe hands are fully lumed, while the central seconds hand is only lumed at its pointer tip, with a long tail landing in the center of the applied indices as it traverses the dial. The aforementioned red-tipped alarm hand  mimics the seconds hand, albeit shorter, non-luminous, and with a shorter tip that lands precisely between the blue alarm track squares.


I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the user end experience of the alarm function. Unlike digital alarm watches and there soul-less "beep beep beep", the mechanical "Wrist-Alarm" releases kinetic energy from winding the 2 o'clock crown in an unmistakably mechanical sound, much akin to one of those gag shock buzzers you see in old television shows during handshakes. Another good comparison is a cicada call, and interestingly enough, I had the alarm go off outside this summer, and I swear it set off a cacophony of cicada chirps in reply! In a word, I'd call the alarm function "effective", as I inevitably forget about it once set, until it vibrates on my wrist, accompanied by the cicada mating call that would wake me from a coma.

Zooming back out, all of the aforementioned details come together and present a watch that's loaded with detail, but not overly so. Taking away any of the details above would negatively impact the aesthetic, and adding anything would be frivolous. The best part? Super cool, unique watches like this one are still under the radar, and devoid the premium of more well-known vintage chronographs and three-handers. I'm still quick to spend for the right vintage chronographs, premium be damned, but it's finding quiet, little gems like this that really satisfy me, and give me an honest appreciation of realizing the little details that make vintage watches so great.