Helium Release Valve
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2016

    Helium Release Valve

    Recently purchased a dive watch that has a helium release valve. Being only a desk diver I am curious as to how this valve is used? Why is it needed? Where does the helium come from? Why don't all dive watches have one? Any information would be appreciated. Thanks.

    Watch, a Citizen
    BN0176-08E, is pictured below.
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  2. #2
    Member Alysandir's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Maryland, USA

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    I'll leave a full answer for the real divers here, but my understanding is that the HEV is meant for divers going very deep - in diving bells - where the air mixture contains helium or hydrogen. Since helium molecules are smaller than oxygen, they can get into the case of the watch. If you go through decompression too quickly, the trapped gases can cause the crystal to pop off unless the gases have another means of escaping.

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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2009

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    Totally useless to 99.99% of the population, and to almost all recreational divers. It's useful for professional divers doing saturation dives, I think going down more than 250ft.

  4. #4
    Member Narc'd's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2012

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    They always call it a helium release valve or helium escape valve. All it is really is an over pressure relief valve, as fitted to many pressurised pneumatic and hydraulic systems, it just sounds fancier. So how would the inside of the watch get over pressurised as opposed to coming under pressure from the outside water pressure - since it's a dive watch?

    The relief valves are supposed to be for watches used by saturation divers. These divers work in deep water - to go to these depths and safely return to the surface without risking decompression sickness would take many hours, possibly a couple of days. This just isn't practical so what they do is get pressurised equivalent to their working depth in a pressure chamber on board a dive support vessel. The divers live under this pressure for their whole shift - say 2 weeks or so. Because they spend so long under pressure, their bodies absorb as much gas as possible under those conditions - they can't absorb any more - or they are "saturated". The "sat" divers transfer from their pressurised living quarters on the vessel to a pressurised diving bell that transports them down below the surface to the depth where they will work. Then back up again when the are finished the task at hand.

    Nitrogen makes up about 78% of the air around us and under normal atmospheric pressure it has no effect on us. Under higher pressures, even those experienced during recreational SCUBA diving the nitrogen in the air has a narcotic effect on the body called "nitrogen narcosis" on the "narc's / narks". The effects can be very mild and the diver may not even be aware they even suffered any effects after the dive or they can be serious and cause the diver to make mistakes - misread pressure gauges for depth, their tank pressure, their dive time, get lost, etc. The strength of the effects depends on the depth and also the individuals tolerance for nitrogen, similarly to how people can tolerate altitude sickness in different ways.

    To get around the nitrogen narcosis problem for deep divers, the nitrogen is removed from the air and replaced with another inert gas - helium. Saturation divers will breathe this helium enriched gas for the duration of their 2 or 3 week rotation. If you ever see any videos of these divers you'll hear the funny squeaky voices they have caused by the helium tightening their vocal chords.

    Helium gas molecules have an extremely small size - smaller than water molecules - so sometimes this helium can squeeze through tiny, microscopic gaps between the watch gaskets that would normally be impenetrable to water. Therefore the watch internals get pressurised to the same pressure as the working conditions in the chamber or dive bell. This doesn't become a problem until conditions change in the chamber - like when the the divers are going to work at shallower depths or are finished their rotation and are returning to surface pressure. Under these conditions, the watch will still have the higher pressure helium gas inside it from the greater depth and if this cannot escape it can damage the watch, usually what you read about is it blowing out crystals but I'd imagine it makes crowns hard to open also. This is where your helium escape valve comes into play, this acts as an over pressure relief valve and opens when the internal pressure of the watch exceeds a preset amount above the external pressure, equalizes the two pressures and prevents damage to the watch.

    The helium escape valve operates most of the time in bone dry conditions inside the pressure chamber the divers live in. If a watch is never exposed to helium gas, like when a diver enters the water at the surface, does the dive and returns to the surface, then a helium escape valve is of no use at all. For about 99.9% of watches this valve doesn't serve any practical purpose as the owners aren't ever going to work in hyperbaric chambers, it's really there for the "cool factor", "because it can".
    Last edited by Narc'd; February 17th, 2017 at 19:27. Reason: Typos

  5. #5
    Member Sea-Dog's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2015

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    Narc'd knows what he's talking about! Cheers, man. I'd never have the patience to explain something so well that could've been googled quickly.

    Instead I would've been a bit more sarcastic and say: it's just a hole in your watch with a fancy name. You will never use a helium valve if you don't get paid to be a professional deep diver. Heck, you won't even use it while actually being in the water. Watch companies put them on dive watches to impress people who don't actually know what they are. 99,9999999% (rough estimation) of helium valves will never see any action.

    I prefer my watches without them. They're not even sophisticated mechanisms that could count as an interesting complication. Just a dang hole in your watch.
    Last edited by Sea-Dog; February 17th, 2017 at 19:46.
    Narc'd, Bradjhomes and TheGanzman like this.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2016

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    Thanks all who answered my question especially Narc'd who gave a great understandable explanation. And "just a dang whole in your watch" is a great "non-technical" answer. Again, thanks all I really appreciate the time you took answering, Joe.
    Narc'd likes this.

  7. #7
    Member Stellite's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2011

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    To follow on what narc'd stated, at submerged pressures the helium gas that gets into the watch is compressed. As the diving bell goes back to the surface, which causes the helium gas molecules to expand. When they expand, they become too large to exit through the microscopic area that they entered. If the pressure is great enough, they will pop a crystal. Most watches are designed to take compression forces not expansion forces from within, so it does not take much pressure to pop a crystal out. If you do not plan to go down in a diving bell, there is no need for an HEV.
    JimBass likes this.
    Hate-on troll. You didn't earn my money. Mind your own business you incredibly smug, supercilious, inverted snob.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    San Clemente, CA

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    Alternately, it's just ONE more place for your dive watch to LEAK!
    Theo Sudarja and topol2 like this.

  9. #9
    Member sticky's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    South Yorkshire

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    The most vital use that most of us desk dwellers put their HE valves to is bragging rights down the pub (in the bar)

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2017

    Re: Helium Release Valve

    Don't know if this is on topic but I know for a fact that plastic honey packets will on gas Helium and will not off gas it fast enough not to explode during D-SAT.
    Bob Duckworth likes this.

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