Monday, July 17, 2017

MEET THE WATCH: Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph - The Vintage Inspired Bargain

Last Christmas, my lovely wife asked me what I wanted for my "big present". It is a tradition in our household to give each other a wish list. Narrowing the options makes for a more enjoyable Christmas day. On a side note, some of the worst gifts I ever received (or gave) ended up as legendary stories later. To protect the well-intentioned innocent, I won't go into detail here.

The Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph makes a wonderful present for those interested in the "look" of vintage watches
I had heard about the hot new retro-styled Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph and knew that was what I wanted to put on Santa's list. Given that we set a couple hundred dollar limit for all the presents, this watch fit nicely into our requirements. Technically, it would have busted the budget cap, but I found one on eBay at a cost lower than the MSRP of $230. I simply bought it (for my wife) and handed her the package when it arrived. She wrapped it, and I even feigned surprise when I opened it!

Christmas in our household...
The Dan Henry collection of watches has already been reviewed extensively by other watch blogs, and I invite you to read the wisdom of those talented reviewers at Worn & Wound and ABlogToWatch. Even though the Dan Henry watches universally seem to be held in high regard, I would like to give a slightly different take on the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph. I owned this watch for just a few days but ultimately decided to send it back. Read more to find out why.

Dan Henry, the man, is a highly esteemed watch collector who has a jealousy-inducing collection for the ages. If you don't believe me, then check out his ever-expanding online watch museum at www.timeline.watch. Are some people lucky or what? It could be argued that a collector like Dan Henry made his own luck since skill and dedication was a prerequisite to amassing a world-class watch collection like his.

Pack a lunch if you visit www.timeline.watch by Dan Henry. You will want to spend some time there.
The kind of detail you can find on www.timeline.watch by Dan Henry
Dan Henry, the eponymous watch making company, creates affordable watches in the style of different eras including 1939, 1947, 1963, 1968 and 1970. Each model is representative of the time period but does not clone a specific watch. Instead, each model takes inspiration from an iconic timepiece of the period... or looks like it could have existed during that calendar year.

Dan Henry Collection of retro-inspired watches. Photo: www.danhenry.com

Retro Styled Watches Made in the Modern Age

For a while now, the watch world has been buzzing about retro-style timepieces. By 2017 many major watch brands had released homages to their own vintage designs. Blue chip watch manufacturers with celebrated heritages even re-issued 1-to-1 replicas or modernized versions of their most famous models to much fanfare. These companies included Omega, Oris, Longines and Tag Heuer to name a few.

2017 Omega watch re-issues look like the 1957 originals. Photo: www.OmegaWatches.com
Some of the factors driving buyers to return to "vintage style" watches (with modern internals) include:
  • Personality - the designs of yesteryear can be surprisingly daring, iconic or quirky
  • Wearability - Smaller sizes than today's big watches feel great on the wrist
  • Reliability - The look of a rare watch, but with modern technology and a warranty
  • Exclusivity - Wearing an analog watch in a world where most people just use a phone to tell time can make you feel like a rebel!
Maybe watch companies are trying to reconnect with collectors who are buying pre-owned watches in the vintage market instead of new watches. Vintage watches do not make watch companies who want to sell new products any money at all.  It can be argued that watch brands are attempting to recapture some of their former glory by revisiting their past, which might directly translate into greater sales for them in a challenging market. They may be thinking "If you can't beat them, join them."

The wonderful distortion of an acrylic crystal on a Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph
While the thought of buying a pre-owned vintage watch might appeal to many, for some it is simply out of their price range or comfort zone. Buying a vintage watch can be a daunting and potentially risky venture. If you do not know exactly what you are buying, you could easily make a costly mistake. The cost of ownership might be high for actual vintage watches since they might require maintenance using hard-to-find parts that are getting rarer each year. And lastly, the challenge of finding a trustworthy watchmaker who can work on fragile and precious heirlooms is not always easy.

The Dan Henry watch company offers a cheaper way to enjoy retro design, without the risk, investment or hassle involved in buying actual vintage watches. Think of it as the equivalent of buying a replica of a famous sports car. You get to enjoy the thrill of driving your favorite car that might be unobtainable otherwise.

The excellent Dan Henry website is a pleasure. Photo: www.DanHenry.com
With prices around $230 including free shipping, Dan Henry just might be the leader in affordable neo-vintage. At those prices, people on a budget can afford to pick one up as their main watch, and collectors with many timepieces might see it as a well-priced novelty to wear occasionally. It might also fall into the sweet spot for gifts for birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, weddings, groomsmen or graduation.

While the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph is not a direct copy of any particular watch, many watch nerds might guess at its possible inspiration. That would be none other than the amazing first-generation Heuer Autavia that sold at auction for a staggering $125,000. Is it a direct copy? No, but comparing the models below might convince you of the similarities.

Both models of the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph compared to a first gen. Heuer Autavia.
If you are still reading, you might be wondering where the watch review is. I am getting to that, but I thought that some background would be helpful to show how the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph fits into this neo-retro market, which is exploding... with new "old" designs.

The Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph Watch Review

I should first state what many reviewers have already said about this watch, which is that you'll be getting a great value for your money. Dan Henry did not cut many corners and I am not sure how the company produced the watches and made money on them. Asian production might be the short answer (unconfirmed), but that should not be a slur. Leveraging world-class production facilities can result in an amazing product. As consumers, we should be happy about this, especially for a watch at this price point.

The 1963 Chrono's vintage style without the headaches, cost or maintenance or a real antique watch.
There are 2 versions of the watch with the color of the bezel being the only difference. One has a stainless steel metal bezel and the other a black bezel. The latter makes the watch look smaller and that is the one that I tested. More on this later. Both models are limited editions with only 1963 of each being produced.

The Miyota 6S20 mecha-quartz moment has a date wheel, but the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph does not use it
The watch is powered by a Miyota 6S20 mecha-quartz, and not a mechanical movement. This is perfectly acceptable for the price, and this movement has a great party trick with the central chronograph hand smoothly sweeping instead of ticking. The second's hand moves 5 micro-movements per second and the dial even has hatch marks in 1/5th of second increments. Ironically, this movement would likely be more accurate than mechanical movements that cost way more (rated at +/- 20 seconds per month). The smooth sweep gives the illusion that the watch is a mechanical chronograph when activated.

The excellent presentation and attention to detail hide the fact that this watch cost only $230 shipped.
The width of the case is 42.5 mm, which is going to fill the sweet spot for many wearers. The lug-to-lug distance is a very wearable 50 mm, and that also will fit a wide variety of wrists without hanging over the sides. The height is about 14.5 mm tall so not too high for most people.

The crown has no crown guards and the and is signed with the Dan Henry logo.
The dial is a tri-compax design with 3 sub-dials showing running seconds, 1/10th of a second and a 1-hour chronograph totalizer. Each sub-dial has circular graining and a raised metal edge. While it can be confusing to figure out in photos, the dial at 6:00 is the second's dial that continuously runs.

Close inspection of the rest of the dial reveals that the 12 and other stick indices that are actually cutouts in the 2-layer dial qualifying this as a sandwich dial. Most companies would have probably just printed those features on the dial (to save money) so you have to applaud Dan Henry for going the extra mile. White is used for printing the logo and hatch marks for the chronograph, theoretically giving the chronograph 1/5th of a second accuracy. There is no date on the dial, which is definitely retro. This keeps the layout clean.

The satin black bezel has 12 distinct positions and is used for tracking a 2nd GMT time zone
The polished steel hands are covered in false patina lume, as is the lower layer of the sandwich dial. Tritium lume that was used on watches of the mid 20th century eventually changes to a similar color, which adds to implied age of the watch. The shape of the hands is classic without seeming to be copies of any particular watch. To my eye, they are perfectly sized and have enough variation in width to be useful. The diamond-shaped tip of the chronograph hand is pure joy.

The dome crystal as an interesting reflective quality showing the environment the watch is in... like a fisheye lens.
The crystal is highly domed mineral glass with a sapphire coating and anti-reflective treatment. I had not heard of sapphire coating on the mineral glass, but apparently, this combination exists. I would suspect that this costs more than just regular mineral glass so kudos to Dan Henry once again. The high dome shape significantly adds to the vintage vibe on this watch. It greatly distorts the dial on the sides and creates the illusion of old hesalite (acrylic) crystals, which were used on watches in the 1960s and beyond.

The high domed crystal makes for a funhouse view of the dial, especially when seen from extreme side angles.
Now let's get back to those coin-edge bezels. They are bi-directional unlike most diver's watches... meaning that they can turn both clockwise and counterclockwise. They have dual purposes and can be used to track durations longer than one hour, or can also be used as a GMT to track time in another time zone. I have to admit that the bezel was the reason I changed my mind about keeping this watch. Perhaps I am a little snobby about bezels and prefer the feel of a solid clicking 60- or 120-position unidirectional dive bezel. The Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph's bezel just did not cut it for me, but months later I realize that the company never intended for their bezel to act like a dive watch because it only has 12 detented positions (indicating that a GMT was the more likely intent).

Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph on the included black NATO strap. 
The Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph also came with 2 watch bands... an aged leather 2-piece watch band and a black NATO strap. Both are appropriate for the design of the watch and give more bang for the buck.

Each Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph comes with 2 straps.
Also, these are the variety of straps with the lug pins built in... just pull a lever on the strap to release it from the watch case. Nice!

No tools needed for strap changes.
We are not finished yet... turning the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph over shows a wonderful and deep engraving on the back of the world famous Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. This is not some random accident because this record-busting spy plane had its first flight in 1964... as they say "close enough to 1963 for government work." It is hard to imagine that this titanium plane was made before men went to the moon, and its speed record of over Mach 3.2 still stand today. These are declassified figures so only guys with top clearance know the full truth.

The back of the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph has the infamous SR71 Blackbird spy plane!
The packaging was a top notch affair too. A 2-part plastic cylinder with a cool diamond patterning opened to reveal a leatherette watch roll. The watch roll held the watch and 2 bands and would make a great travel case for the watch.

A reusable watch roll stores your watch and accessories. The watch roll came in the plastic tube.
You would think that after reviewing the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph so favorably that I would not have returned it to the seller. I struggled with this decision, and I did not do it lightly. It takes some cajones to return your "wife's Christmas present," but she was not offended in the least. She knows that I am picky.

The truth is, that I could not get beyond that bezel. This is a case of me having a different expectation than what the designer had intended. The bezel is perfectly logical in the context of this watch, in fact, it makes a lot of sense. I was just used to bezels that solidly click and make a lot of racket as they ratchet (say that quickly 10 times in a row!) I will admit that I misunderstood it, but now I get it. Duh!

GMT bi-directional bezel on has 12 detents and low friction. This is not a noisy bezel like you may be used to.
There is another reason that is not exactly fair to Dan Henry Watches but is valid to an opportunistic watch collector on a fixed budget. If you are patient, you can find more valuable watches with even higher build quality for the roughly same amount of money. This, of course, is a form of "cheating the numbers" by comparing pre-owned watch prices with new watch prices. Pre-owned watches almost always sell far below the MSRP (not counting some brands like Rolex that seem to hold their value or go up).

I bought the Victorinox Swiss Army Dive Master 500 Chronograph instead. Photo: Stephen McGee
In this case, I decided that I would rather have a buddy's Victorinox Swiss Army Dive Master 500 Chronograph with a metal bracelet, a watch that originally sold in stores for almost $1100. For me, the DiveMaster 500 was more of my taste at the time, and it is built like a tank being able to dive to 1,660 feet. It also has a 60/60 center chronograph, torch-like lume, and sentimental value since I got it from my good pal Stevo (Thanks, SM!).

Victorinox Swiss Army Dive Master 500 Chronograph with the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph.
In the end, my recommendation for the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph is to just buy it. I have a tinge of regret returning mine. Rarely are watches that are this inexpensive also this detailed, or try so hard to give value for your hard earned money. This retro watch was designed by a man who is as picky a watch collector as the rest of us (or more) and had the vision to make great watch designs available for the masses. Buy one if the retro style tickles your fancy, but don't blame me if people mistake it for a Heuer Autavia at a glance. That can be our little secret.

From a distance, the Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph could be mistaken for a Heuer Autavia.

No comments: