Let's just jump right to the best part: the DuFrane Bergstrom has a hand winding, Swiss made mechanical movement. It's not hard to find affordable watches with quality automatic movements. Indeed, the microbrand world is teeming with Miyota 9015s, Seiko NH35s, and their assorted variants, but with the exception of the occasional SeaGull ST-19 chronograph, hand-crankers are mighty thin on the ground. When I saw that the Bergstrom also had a reasonable size and a distinctive look, I knew I had to give it a try. DuFrane sent a blasted case, horizon dial loaner for this review.
Steven Lee, the man behind the DuFrane brand, is a former pilot and a resident of Austin, Texas. Both of these traits are reflected in the Bergstrom. The watchmaking industry being what it is, he could not manufacture his watches locally. The movement is Swiss, and Ohio's Weigand Custom Watch (of Lüm Tec fame) handles production and testing, but Stephen does his best to infuse his watch with some Austin flavor. The watch takes its name from Captain John August Earl Bergstrom, the first Austin native killed in World War Two, for whom Austin International Airport is named. Austin's own Noah Marion Quality Goods creates the straps and "watch wallets."
That wallet is the first thing you encounter when you open up your package. It is made of undyed vegetable-tanned leather, folded into an envelope and secured with a screwed-in button stud. Inside are two lug bar wrenches, a warranty card, a polishing cloth, and your watch and an extra strap tucked into the pockets behind. It is a delightful little package, and I like the fact that it is relatively flat, so if you use it as a travel case, it will take up less room in your carry-on.
The Bergstrom's proportions are excellent. Measuring 41.5mm wide and 51mm long, it offers more than sufficient presence without needless bulk. Better still it is a trim 11mm thick, making it an easy fit under a buttoned shirt cuff. As a smaller-wristed fellow (6.5"), I appreciate this. Water resistance is 50m; appropriate for most daily activities short of prolonged submersion.
There is little doubt that the Bergstrom is a tool watch, but with a touch of finesse. Straight lugs with screw bars are tempered with curved ends. A fixed, coin edged bezel adds some vintage charm to the slab-sided cylindrical case. The signed, gear-toothed crown is deeply grooved but has a rounded edge, and in welcome contrast to many other sports and tool watches, it is not oversized. Surface options include sandblasted steel or a PVD antique bronze. A domed sapphire crystal with inner anti-reflective coating caps it off.
Flipping it over, you will discover the aforementioned hand-cranker. All movements may be described as the heart of a watch, but sometimes, they can also provide a soul. The ETA 6498-1 is a 17 jewel Unitas design originally used in pocket watches. It is a workmanlike movement. There are no Geneva stripes on the bridge, no blued screws, no polishing or plating, just the Dufrane name engraved on the ratchet wheel. Its 18k bph vibration rate may sound painfully low to those of us accustomed to the 21.6k and 28.8k automatics found in most affordable mechanicals, but what the unit gives up in smoothness, it gains in efficiency, posting a 46-hour power reserve. The 6498-1 isn't sexy, but it is a venerable old engine, and as such, it seems perfectly suited to the Bergstrom.
The dial also offers a throwback feel. Its squelette hands and stylized, serif text, would look right at home on an early 20th-century pocket watch. The DuFrane logo is a neat bit of design in itself, suggesting an hour glass in the negative space between its white brackets. It replaces the 12 on the dial, allowing some breathing room around the brand name. The hands and numerals glow with C3 SuperLuminova.
Perhaps the most distinctive element on the dial is the small seconds counter. Buyers have two options here: basic black or a sky/land horizon dial like the one pictured. Both have an orange hand. In my small sampling of opinion, the horizon proved intensely polarizing. Personally, I like it. There is nothing wrong with the plain black version. It is quite attractive and certainly the safer choice; however, the horizon dial is unique to the Bergstrom, and that alone is reason to choose it.
Buyers have a choice of 22mm leather straps. The review sample came with natural leather and blue suede. Both are handmade, showing meticulous craftsmanship in the cuts and stitching. The natural strap has two steel keepers to match the case and a signed buckle. It is the distinctive pale tan color of new, undyed vegetable-tanned leather that should eventually darken into a mellow caramel. It is a single layer of leather, unpadded and unlined, so it presents a low profile in keeping with the watch head's slim proportions. The blue suede is similarly constructed but with a single leather keeper. It proved to be a pleasant complement to the horizon's blue hemisphere.
Strap changes require the two supplied hex tools. Ah, dual headed screw bars, the bane of my existence. I have enough trouble using a single hand tool without scratching my cases, I don't need the additional challenge of using two at once. That said, I managed these without incident. The bars themselves are generously sized as are the hex-shaped depressions, allowing the tools to seat easily and firmly.
At $875 for the blasted case and $950 for the PVD, the Bergstrom does not come cheap, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable watch with throwback charm and some thoughtful extras. For more information see DuFraneWatches.com.