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April 15, 2007

Don't eat me!

Today I bought what might be the world's funkiest dive watch. And I didn't even mean to. It was completely by chance.

I'd gone to Walmart with my son to poke around a bit. The local Walmart is one of the stops on our weekly Sunday trip that also includes the Bagel place, Walgreens, Target, the One Dollar store and others. It's a modern day father/son bonding routine, with each of us pursuing our little pleasures. At Walmart, for him it's the arcade games. For me it's looking at Blue Jeans, sunglasses and watches.

So there I am, scanning the displays with all those cheap watches, always on the lookout for one with extra-large digits so I don't have to put my reading glasses on to be able to tell the time. Yup, that's one of the pitfalls when you're north of 40, by a year or three. I see an odd looking watch with a reasonably large readout and take a closer look. Hmmm... interesting; it seems to tell not only the time, but also barometric pressure. I kneel down, put my glasses on and take a closer look. It's pretty ugly, all plasticky and with toy-like colors. It also has a huge crown and a chintzy-looking lever that, apparently, serves to lock the watch so you don't mess things up when you inadvertantly touch the crown, which from the looks of it might be often. There is no manual.

There are two others like it, or almost like it, and one has a manual. It mentions the barometric pressure reading and even a compass and a dive function. Now I am intrigued! The watch is marked down from 25 to 15 bucks and so I decide to buy it. The one with the manual in its package has strange orange accents and feels even more plasticky than the other two, but I figure I need the manual and so I take that one.

At home I take a closer look. The manual is apple-shaped and battered. The writing is tiny. Now I see that the watch is actually a TIMEX! I hadn't even noticed that. I play around with the crown and the buttons but can't find the barometric function. The instructions begin with, "If you have this manual, then you've bought one of the following HELIX watches: the ABT, DM, or WRKS (if you look at the back of your watch, you'll see that we're being honest with you.)" Not really. Mine says "HELIX Depth".

Google to the rescue. I type in "timex helix review" and the mighty search engine delivers pages of results. Among them a 2004/2005 archive from scubaboard.com. It's a discussion of the Timex Helix and it explains everything.

Seems like the Helix had been a circa 2003 Timex attempt at offering an inexpensive outdoors watch. I learned that there had been three versions. The ABT model had an altimeter and a thermometer. The WRKS had the altimeter, thermometer and a compass. And the DM "Depth" model had a thermometer and a depth gauge. Quite confusing. Apparently so much that no one knew what to make of it and Timex quickly passed the Helix inventory on to Walmart where they went for low, low prices. Word got around and cognoscenti quickly snatched them up. Why a few are now at the Walmart in Folsom, California, in the year 2007 is anyone's guess.

Anyway, the Helix Depth is quite remarkable. It's, of course, a full-function watch with time, date, second time, timer, alarm, count-down and so on, on four lines of display. There's the cool Timex Indiglo illumination. The big crown has no fewer than four positions for all sorts of settings. I learned that all from a PDF of the user manual I downloaded. The Timex website no longer has the PDF, as if the company had been so embarrassed with the Helix that it even yanked its manual. But I found it elsewhere on the web.

The manual is as funky as the watch. It's totally tongue-in-cheek, so much so that it's actually refreshing. And occasionally hokey to the max. How's "The two first positions are for more common or "serf" adjustments while the second stops are for more noble or "royal" adjustments. It's medieval modern."

Well, whatever. Turns out the Helix Depth automatically starts reading depth (down to 133 feet) and water temperature every five seconds as soon as you reach 5 feet. It also keeps track of bottom time. There is a Track and a Chrono mode. In Track mode the Helix simply displays data, and at the end of the dive maximum depth and total dive time. You can also opt to have the watch continue keeping time during a surface interval or not. Chrono mode is for when you want to separate a dive into different segments, or record multiples dives so that you can later view them. Pretty impressive.

But then it gets funky again. The manual warns that the watch is waterproof to 133 feet, but that crown and buttons not be pushed or operated while underwater. And that right after it explained which buttons to push in underwater chrono mode. Well, which is it?

The final caution, in bold, is Do not eat watch. Yes, no kidding. And the picture is right in the manual. The Timex Helix Depth was special alright.

The scubaboard folks had lots to say about it. Mostly good. Most viewed it as an inexpensive backup to a dive computer or depth gauge. Some reported it didn't really like very low temperatures, and that some parts fell off. They just glued them back on. One flooded at 110 feet, but once dried out it was fine. Pushing buttons underwater, apparently, caused no harm.

So there. Looks likeI have stumbled upon one of the oddest dive watches of all time. At some point it went for over US$100. I guess fifteen bucks is a pretty good deal for a backup depth gauge that can do a bunch more, and is a genuine Timex. I wonder what John Cameron Swayze would have thought of it.

Posted by conradb212 at April 15, 2007 11:10 PM