The Dan Henry 1970 is a compressor-style automatic watch that comes in two colours (grey and orange) and two sizes (40mm and 44mm). The eponymous owner is a Brazilian collector with over 1,500 watches and counting, and the brand’s philosophy is to give buyers the opportunity to combine iconic vintage looks with modern durability all at affordable prices. To help achieve that end, most of the brand’s watches (and indeed everything to date other than the 1970) feature quartz or mecha-quartz movements which provide reliability and cost savings, perfectly suiting the Dan Henry ethos.
All of Dan Henry’s pieces are Limited Editions, produced in the same quantity as whatever year the edition is named after; however, as Dan Henry’s only diver and only automatic piece, all but one variant of the 1970 is currently sold out with one, the 40mm orange, often asking significant markups above retail in the secondary market. This review will focus on that particular model and will briefly cover the markup situation since this seems to be happening more often with limited editions and super popular pieces.
Case & Packaging: Thoughtful touches
In the box, you get the watch on an OEM tropic-style strap and a solid canvas and leather three-watch roll. As far as the watch itself, it measures 40mm across and about 46mm lug to lug, with a thickness of just under 15mm and a lug width of 22mm. The thickness and lug width are shared with the 44mm version, which make this watch feel proportionally a bit thicker; however, the domed mineral glass crystal makes up some of this thickness. Overall, with its short, slightly sloping lugs, the watch hugs the wrist nicely and should fit a variety of wrist sizes.
The case surfaces are mostly brushed with a few polished details, such as the chamfering at the lugs, that adds some refinement to the look. The dual crowns are quite large and have a nice cross-hatched design, offering easy functionality and a simple yet effective look. The crown at 2 rotates the internal bezel and the crown at 4 sets the time. The screw down stainless steel caseback is probably my favourite part of the watch, with a stamped graphic of an octopus wearing an old dive helmet (DH calls it a “Scaphtopus”) that is nicely detailed and quite deep.
Strap & Dial: True to form
The tropic-style rubber strap is a little stiff at first but quite comfortable with a little wear; it would have been nice to include quick release straps to make up for the lack of drilled lugs here, but regular spring bars tend to be a bit sturdier and are easier to replace. The dial is a nice matte black with a nicely framed white date window at 3, rectangular vintage lume indices and hands, and an orange chapter ring and seconds hand (featuring a little rectangular lume plot near the end).
All this is surrounded by a nicely angled compressor-style internal dive bezel with metallic applied indices, a lumed triangle at twelve, and numerals every ten minutes. The Dan Henry logo and the two-liner description are evenly balanced and simple. The overall effect is clean, visually interesting, and reminiscent of many old school divers without specifically recalling any single well-known reference.
Movement: Reliable NH35
Powering the watch is the stalwart Seiko NH35 with its 40+ hour power reserve, hand winding, and hacking. It’s an altogether appropriate movement for this watch. Though the winding action on an NH35 always feels a bit too light for comfort, it performs solidly and exactly as expected. I’m definitely not a mechanical watch snob, but where a mechaquartz seems just fine for the chronos, I’m glad Dan Henry went with an automatic for the diver to get that sweeping second on this simple three-hander.
Indeed, the familiar 21,600 bph sweep of the NH35 is pretty smooth with just a little bit of grit that really befits the idea of a vintage throwback tool watch. It’s nothing fancy, but it just works!
Value Proposition: Great at retail, but beware of markups!
Therein lies what is, to me, the crux of this watch: it’s nothing fancy, but it just works. It’s a great modern interpretation of a vintage form factor and design language, made to fit a specific, accessible price point. It’s a watch designed by a deeply knowledgeable collector who knows exactly how to drive home exactly the right feel; there’s style without needless luxury, function without sacrificing too much form, and relatively few compromises all of which are easy to live with for a $270 watch. But what about when secondary market prices are pushing $400 or even higher? To me, anyway, the answer is a resounding no.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this watch and it’s an incredible value at its price point. Honestly, even at a modest markup it wouldn’t be a terrible deal at all for huge fans of the look; it offers a lot of character and capability in a comfortable and attractive package. Beyond this, however, the cost-cutting measures start to show: lume plots that aren’t quite cut out or applied perfectly, applied numerals finished a little too roughly, case tolerances that feel just the teeeensiest bit off, dimensions that just seem that little bit distorted given that the lug width and case height are the same as the 44mm version (that caseback, though, is absolutely perfect – never change, awesome caseback).
Of course, Dan Henry never expected to sell the watch for $400, so it’s just an awesome $270 watch; the rest is just driven up by hype. Fortunately, the other three models seem to be available for much more reasonable prices (and as of this writing, the 44mm grey is still available at retail and from website photos, anyway, looks to be in better proportion as long as your wrist can carry a 44mm watch), and Dan Henry keeps putting out fantastic new models at a pretty regular clip. If you find yourself aching to pay $400 or more for this watch, don’t.
Alternatives to the Dan Henry 1970
So, what should one pick up instead of a marked-up Dan Henry 1970? Again, any of the other size/colour combos of this watch would be highly worthy alternatives, and for the same sub-$300 price point something like an SKX013 * certainly make sense (you can also check out the TBWS Community Review for the SKX013). If you’ve got $400 and are looking for a great vintage-inspired diver, you can’t go wrong with a Lorier Neptune for a pure dive watch or a Hydra for more of an everyday piece. With the 1970 however, as they’ve done with their other releases, Dan Henry has delivered a great value package at a very nice retail price – but buyer beware if you’re thinking about paying too much more!
Read the full history of Dan Henry Watches!
Ever since his first watch, a talking Dick Tracy thing won in a local chicken impersonation contest at age five, Aggressive Timing Habits has been fascinated by all watches from Amphibias to Zeniths and the people who create and collect them. His contributions to TBWS represent a new outlet to discuss the miracle of drilled lugs and debate the virtues of balance bridges vs balance cocks, much to the relief of friends and loved ones.