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Helium Escape Valve: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Helium Escape Valve: What Is It and How Does It Work?

The helium escape valve is a safety mechanism that allows trapped helium gas to be released from a watch during decompression. Explore how it works here!
May 18, 2024

The term helium escape valve might sound complicated for others but not for dive watch enthusiasts. Helium valve on watch is mostly common in professional diving timepieces and many top luxury brands would include this part in their dive watches. However, do you know what is the actual purpose of the helium escape valve in watches?

Amid the vast array of features adorning dive watches, the helium gas escape valve remains an enigmatic component, often misunderstood in the realm of watch collection. Despite its association with dive watches, the purpose of helium escape valves in watches might initially seem perplexing. 

Contrary to common belief, its existence isn’t related to scuba diving or water resistance. Surprisingly, needing a watch with a helium escape valve doesn’t equate to being submerged; instead, it’s more likely to occur in a scenario where neither you nor your timepiece will even be wet at all.

So, what exactly drives the integration of helium escape valves in professional dive watches? In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about the helium escape valve, including its function and how it works. Let’s get straight into the discussion.

What Is Helium Escape Valve (HEV)?

The Helium Escape Valve (HEV) is a small but crucial feature found in some high-end dive watches. It’s a specially designed valve integrated into the watch case to release trapped helium gas molecules that might accumulate during deep-sea dives. It’s worth noting that it isn’t a requirement outlined in ISO 6425 for a timepiece to be called a dive watch.

During extended periods underwater, helium, being a tiny gas molecule, can slowly seep into a watch due to the pressure difference between the outside environment and the inside of the watch. As a diver resurfaces, the pressure decreases, causing the trapped helium inside the watch to expand. Without a way to escape, this expanding helium can potentially damage the watch’s internal mechanisms.

The HEV is engineered to address this issue. When the pressure inside the watch reaches a critical point, the HEV automatically opens, allowing the accumulated helium to escape. This prevents the watch from sustaining damage during decompression.

It’s important to note that HEVs are mainly included in professional-grade dive watches intended for saturation or commercial divers who spend prolonged periods in pressurized environments. For most recreational divers or everyday wearers, a watch with a helium escape valve isn’t necessary, as it’s designed to handle extreme conditions that typical watches won’t encounter.

The Purpose of Helium Escape Valve

The primary purpose of a Helium Escape Valve (HEV) in certain dive watches is to safeguard the timepiece’s internal mechanisms during decompression from deep-sea dives.

In environments with high pressure, such as deep underwater conditions where professional or saturation divers operate, helium – an extremely small gas molecule – can seep into the watch case. 

As the diver ascends, the external pressure decreases while the trapped helium inside the watch expands. Without an outlet, this expanding gas can potentially damage the watch’s delicate internal components – the HEV acts as a safety mechanism.

Read also: Everything You Need to Know About Ceramic Bezel + Comparison

How Does Helium Escape Valve Work?

Helium escape valves in dive watches can be classified as either automatic or manually operated. Despite their variations, both types serve the same core purpose: they act as one-way valves, releasing pressure while keeping water and debris out of the watch case.

Automatic valves are circular and flush with the case. Triggered automatically by increasing internal pressure, they need no user input. Closed by an internal spring, the automatic valves swiftly open to release trapped helium and seal shut once pressure equalizes.

On the other hand, manually operated valves appear as additional crowns. Unlike automatic valves, they require unscrewing before releasing trapped helium and need to stay open during decompression to balance pressure.

In functionality, automatic valves offer ease of use and minimal risk of debris entering the case, opening and closing swiftly without user involvement. Some collectors prefer manually operated valves for their visual appeal and the option to screw them shut for added security when not in use.

Dive Watches with Helium Escape Valve

Below are some recommendations for dive watches that feature helium escape valves for enhanced safety. Let’s dive in!

Dievas Maya MK III Black

Dievas Maya MK III Black
Movement Swiss SW200-1 automatic movement
Dimension 40.5mm in diameter, 49mm lug to lug, 13.8mm thick
Water resistance 1000m

The Dievas Maya MK III Black is a formidable dive watch that boasts an integrated helium escape valve, affirming its suitability for serious diving expeditions. The valve is placed at the crown side – on the side of its robust case. Along with that, the watch features an impressive water resistance of up to 1000m. 

Price: $1,240.00 USD

Steinhart Triton 1000 Titanium

Steinhart Triton 1000 Titanium
Movement Swiss ETA 2824-2/SW 200
Dimension 45mm in diameter, 15mm thick. 144grams
Water resistance 1000m

The next dive watch with a helium valve is the Steinhart Triton 1000 Titanium. The valve is placed at the 2 o’clock position. Crafted from lightweight yet robust titanium, this timepiece combines sleek aesthetics with impressive underwater capabilities. 

With a water resistance of 1000 meters, a helium escape valve for extreme diving conditions, and a reliable Swiss automatic movement, the Triton 1000 Titanium offers a compelling blend of reliability and style for diving enthusiasts.

Price: $740.00 USD

Squale 101 ATMOS Black Heritage Edition

Squale 101 ATMOS Black Heritage Edition
Movement Swiss automatic movement Sellita SW200-1
Dimension 44mm in diameter, 49mm lugs to lugs, 16mm thick
Water resistance 1000m

The Squale 101 ATMOS Black Heritage Edition is a tribute to both vintage charm and modern functionality. It features an automatic helium escapement valve(HEV) integrated into the case at 9 o’clock for saturation divers.

Crafted with a robust stainless steel case and powered by a reliable Swiss automatic movement, this timepiece boasts a water resistance of 1000 meters, delivering exceptional performance for professional divers. 

Price: $1,440.00 USD

Do You Need a Helium Escape Valve?

Whether you need a Helium Escape Valve (HEV) largely depends on your diving activities. If you’re a recreational diver or wear your watch casually, an HEV isn’t a necessity.

HEVs are specifically crafted for professional divers, particularly those engaged in saturation or extended deep-sea dives where helium might accumulate within the watch during prolonged exposure to high pressure. These valves ensure the watch remains undamaged during decompression by allowing trapped helium to escape.

For most divers or everyday wearers who don’t engage in such extreme conditions, a watch with an HEV might not be essential. It’s more of a specialized feature catering to professionals facing prolonged exposure to pressurized environments, ensuring the watch’s resilience in unique scenarios.

Ultimately, whether you need an HEV depends on your specific diving practices and the environments you encounter. For most everyday wearers or recreational divers, a watch without an HEV would serve perfectly well.

Many watch enthusiasts love having a helium escape valve on their dive watches primarily for aesthetic purposes and to appreciate the historical significance. It’s a symbol of the time when humans were first starting to explore the ocean.

Final Thought

In conclusion, the Helium Escape Valve (HEV) represents a remarkable innovation in the realm of dive watches, designed to address a specific challenge faced by professional divers in pressurized environments. While its inclusion in timepieces adds a layer of resilience and functionality, it’s important to recognize that an HEV isn’t a universal necessity for every wearer.

Read also: Mechanical Watch Anatomy: Exploring the Intricate Marvels

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