Hands-On: Dan Henry 1937 Chronograph

More than an homage

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By: Charlie Dunne

An impressive first impression

When I first saw the Dan Henry 1937 last year, I thought “Wow. How is this $270?” Among the four dial options, the “silver” model was the one I gravitated towards (with the “Onyx” dial a close second). Each version features an optional date complication positioned between 4 and 5 o’clock. However, the date window — or any watch with a date window for that matter — isn’t for me. Nevertheless, I can respect the thoughtful gesture towards those interested in having a functional element for daily wear.

The Dan Henry 1937 comes with two non-stitched straps, one black, the other a tanned brown. Both incorporate an easy-release handle and are accompanied by a signed “DH” buckle. I don’t typically opt for easy-release straps, but it’s a smart decision here because the feature is so practical. The straps themselves are high quality and have a firm structure, starting at a 20mm lug width and tapering down to a comfortable 16mm. They’re stamped “Fabrique En France” which I will be inclined to bring up casually in the event anyone ever comments on it.

Additionally, the 1937 is delivered with a leather/canvas watch roll which will come in handy during watch get-togethers in a galaxy far, far away.

Dan and the details

The Dan Henry 1937 is powered by a Seiko VK61 mecaquartz movement. Mecaquartz is essentially a marriage between a quartz movement and a mechanical chronograph module. The heavy lifting in accuracy is done by the quartz movement, while the chronograph provides a sensory appeal. The tactile rectangular pusher jumpstarts a smooth sweeping hand invoking a Pavlovian smile. Dan Henry cites the benefits to mecaquartz as durability, accuracy, and a more streamlined service process. 

The 1937’s case measures 38mm, making it the “ideal size”.1 The lug-to-lug measures just over 46mm and its 12.7mm in thickness gives it a comfortable height. Due to the VK61 mecaquartz movement, the watch is slimmer than what you would find in a comparable automatic. Although I can’t recall the last time I wore a dress shirt, I am confident it will fit under a cuff [insert colloquial watch talking point here]. Oh, and the 1937 has drilled lugs

As far as water resistance, the screw back case cites 30 meters, so I'll wear it doing dishes when I am feeling adventurous. The caseback is decorated with the New York Central Hudson Streamliner, an homage to the engineering achievements that inspired the watch. 

The smooth, mirror polished applied numerals match the feuille hands. The dial itself has an opaline, vertical satin-lined center, subdials, and exterior, while the hour and minute track both feature a contrasting circular brush. The appearance mirrors vintage dials which capture this concentric look via a technique called “spinning.” The bold semi-circle and hours on the interior give off an impression of fantastic depth and layering to the dial. Depending on the vantage point, this transitions into a dark silver or very light grey. The hour and minute track are constrained by railroad tracks.

The thickness of these lines pass off as vintage dials that would have incorporated a raised enamel giving off an actual galvanized look. Nevertheless, the illusionary appearance from a combination of brushing, calculated spacing, and bold lines are spectacularly executed.  

Only recently have I begun to closely examine the kerning, sizes, and font on dials. This one provides a lot to admire. The dial includes a tachymeter scale, which is most often used for measuring speed (and in some cases distance based on speed). The earliest ones were printed on the dial itself, while later they were incorporated onto the bezels of many sport watches. I’ll admit, I don’t anticipate using the tachymeter anytime soon, but the legibility is extremely clean. This is one of the areas where the minor details can drastically affect the overall aesthetic. While it likely gets overshadowed by the more discernible details, it is an integral factor of why it is worth celebrating.

The branding is well-balanced: not the focal point, but still legible. If it were a tad bit thicker, perhaps the name would be a bit more noticeable, which is important for many people. I’d assume this was a conscientious decision to make it balanced for the vintage enthusiasts and those ambivalent to watch minutiae. I’d be curious to see the reception if it were a sterile dial. While I would be even more excited by a move like this, casual watch lovers might not understand it.

Strapping it on

To be a bit of a rule-breaker, I wanted to show a different side to the watch. In no way am I insinuating the DH straps aren’t good — they’re actually much better than I anticipated. But switching things up really highlights how dynamic the watch can be. A pastel blue calfskin strap accents the dial perfectly and makes for a cool, understated vibe. It has a very subtle and clean look against the light grey, while also giving off a sharp metallic tone when the light transforms the sector dial.

A stitched butterscotch calf leather strap adds a bit more of a serious look to the watch compared to the blue. While not as formal as the original black strap, it makes for a perfect balance of professional and casual. The tan color also refocuses the attention towards the dial rather than blending in.

I tend to enjoy smaller case dimensions than most people (somewhere in the ballpark of 33mm-36mm). However, 38mm isn’t an extreme jump up and alternating from a strap to bracelet can actually get the watch into a sweet spot. Worn on a matte-finish beads of rice bracelet, the watch transitions nicely, with the matching lugs harkening back to a mid-century vibe. 

Divine inspiration

The 1930s were a burgeoning period for wristwatches and quickly the admiration for complicated wristwatches was capitalized on by manufacturers, most notably Patek Philippe. Many of the “officer” chronographs of the 20s-30s would feature vertically fashioned registers, as offered in the Dan Henry 1937. While the Dan Henry line also features the later and more recognized horizontal subdials, the inclusion of a vertically oriented dial layout can only be surmised as a testament to the brand’s admiration for Patek Philippe’s diverse heritage.

The initial Patek Philippe reference 130s were “monopoussoir” (monopusher) chronographs, meaning they were operated solely through a single pusher, in this case embedded in the crown. These earlier models featured both vertically and horizontally fashioned registers and were powered by an ebauche by Victorin Piguet. Prominently shown in Patek Philippe Steel Watches by John Goldberger (also available in digital format via the App Store), the watch differs in that it is a doctor’s watch (due to the pulsations scale). 

Shortly after the monopoussoir reference 130s, the watch would be updated to incorporate two square pushers for the chronograph. The movement by V. Piguet was replaced by a manually wound Valjoux calibre 13’130. The evolution of this watch accompanied a wide breadth of dial configurations, including an expansion of the popular sector dial variants. This watch as a whole is likely inspired by the Patek Philippe reference 130 with square pushers (as opposed to the earlier mentioned monopusher version). Note that the Patek Philippe ref. 130 seen above in Patek Philippe Steel Watches is just one of several dial variations within the watch. A variety of configurations include Arabic numerals (both enamelled or applied) on the interior or exterior center ring.

According to Dan Henry, the watch is “a tribute to the cosmopolitan Art Deco style of the 1930s when watches such as these were worn by stylish New Yorkers from Rockefeller Center to Wall Street. The 1937 Dress Chronograph recalls timepieces that combined sophisticated elegance with the modern-age trendsetting of the decade.”

So when comparing the Dan Henry specifically to the ref. 130, there are some factors that deviate. The key elements include a more practical 60-minute subdial, an optional date window and vertically aligned registers for “Gilt” and “Silver” options.

What collectors are saying

Roni Madhvani is a Ugandan collector who has spent over 30 years obsessed with watches. He’s on a never-ending quest for vintage timepieces from Audemars Piguet, Cartier, and Patek Philippe, to name only a few. He recently dipped his toes into the modern scene with a 1937 “Gold.”

“Dan Henry watches are incredible in every way possible given the amazing value for money proposition. Wearing one on the wrist sure does raise curiosity from everyone as to what the watch is! And Dan Henry is the man when it comes to being the face of the brand and someone all the major brands can learn from in terms of PR and marketing.” 

- Roni Madhvani 

Eric Wind, founder of Wind Vintage, is one of the leading experts in vintage watches. With the chronograph being his favorite complication, he has taken an interest in everything from Universal Geneve, Gallet, Heuer, and more. Despite his proclivity for the old school, he’s been quite vocal about his love for the new kid on the block.

“The Dan Henry 1937 Chronograph with silver dial has one of the most beautiful dials I have seen on any watch made in the last 40 years and is just a spectacular watch for the money. It gives people a taste of having a rare 1930s chronograph for under $300. I love the company’s founder and his mission to make great vintage-inspired watches. I hope to collaborate with him on making a watch in the future!”

- Eric Wind

Watchistry is the nom de guerre of a collector that wears several hats. He is an author, YouTube content creator, and watch community organizer. His tastes are quite diverse, ranging from vintage military watches, chronographs, divers, homage watches and microbrands. He recently sang the Dan Henry 1937’s praises while reviewing it for his channel.

“The Dan Henry 1937 makes the classic styling of early sector dials accessible — not just from a financial perspective but an everyday-wear one too. While I do find myself wishing it had a pure mechanical movement — and would be willing to pay more for the privilege — with the mecaquartz's chronograph running, I quickly move on and get back to enjoying it, especially when dressed up with a nice aftermarket strap.” 

- Watchistry

Comparative options

When considering the quality of the dial, I wanted to provide a few watches as comparisons that I have handled in person, the first watch being the Vulcain Cricket. The sector dials, more recently nicknamed “LBJ” dials, were among the first that the iconic alarm watch featured. After owning my first vintage example for over a year, I’ve grown to appreciate the contrasting blue decimal scale on the outer edge. And while I am a huge fan of the tropical appearance it has taken on, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dan Henry got more love at a meetup. While I can appreciate the radium-filled numerals, the tight railroad tracks and intensely busy dial on the 1937 just has a more harmonious execution. A solid vintage Cricket could easily run you 4x above that of the DH 1937, but I think it is worth consideration.

I’m a fan of what Baltic is doing. Like Dan Henry, they have a range of watches that are not only affordable, but super appealing to vintage enthusiasts. I’ve been quite impressed with the watches from the Aquascaphe and the Bicompax collection primarily, and when they released a manually-wound sector dial, I gave the head nod and double-tapped. While not as busy as the Dan Henry, the radial numerals and sand-like texture are thoroughly interesting and distracting on wrist. 

While it is twice the price of the Dan Henry, I can’t really present that as a negative due to the fact I think it’s still a great value. I personally favor the more complex 1937 dial, though Baltic gets credit for its manual movement (a Seagull STI901). But, both brands are doing great stuff at this price point. Heck, you could even get both for just around $1,000 USD! 

One more watch line that came to mind was Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Control 25th anniversary collection. I recall seeing these when they first came out; I loved them then, and I love them now. Don’t get me wrong, I understand comparing these two watches is going to leave a few people turning their nose up, but bear with me.

I really enjoy the hollow syringe hands, almost as much as I enjoy mispronouncing the brand (#JayJayLaColt). On top of the really great dial, the blue tachymeter scale (and accents on the other two) are superb. When the watches were released in 2017, the chronograph was priced at $8,000. On the secondary market, it seems to be accessible around the same price. Yes, you will be getting a lot more in heritage, watchmaking and brand prestige with the Jaeger-LeCoultre. However, from appearance alone, the Dan Henry is a serious competitor to the watchmaking juggernaut.

Closing thoughts

The value proposition is where I think the Dan Henry 1937 deserves the highest praise. I envision this as a fantastic watch for a multitude of people. Perhaps it could be an excellent choice for the high school student who is passionate about vintage watches, yet their summer job at the grocery store doesn’t open up the doors to a vintage Rolex Datejust or Omega Constellation just yet. While down the line, an entry-level vintage icon is on the list, they are able to appreciate a masterful homage to a legendary watch at an accessible price.

Or perhaps it could appeal to a collector who’s already gotten their feet wet in the vintage collecting scene. They may already have a multitude of watches that they love and can appreciate a great watch regardless of the prestige. Quality is quality and a great watch is a great watch. Additionally, some situations call for discretion. One doesn’t always want to wear a delicate (and expensive) watch. An option at $270 gives the wearer some peace of mind, all the while being able to look down at their wrist with the utmost pride and joy. 

Maybe the watch resonates with someone who doesn’t have a penchant for vintage watches at all. It is quite plausible this watch makes sense for someone just interested in a great-looking watch, that is not only reliable but in the same price range as the Seikos or Bulovas offered at the mall down the street. 

After two weeks straight of wearing this timepiece, it proved itself worthy of much more praise than it has gotten thus far. There are so many aspects to this watch that were done from the perspective of a collector, and I am quite sure that I will notice more in the future. Often, collectors are quite vocal about what they want in a watch. Whether it comes in the form of sounding off in the comment section or critiquing the most minute aspects of a watch once it’s entered the collection. When the initiative is taken to deliver on as many collector cues as humanly possible, it is worth celebrating. I hope to see more watches the Dan Henry 1937 created.


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1

According to Mark Cho’s study.