Following a series of articles I’ve written on military watches (for example: this one about the Dirty Dozen, this one about WWII pilot watches, and that other one about WWII field watches,) perhaps it’s time to take a look at a brand that made history in more ways than one: namely their sheer capacity for innovation and masterful creation of an eclectic catalog. The brand is Benrus, an American watchmaker born in 1921, which you may know for making iconic watches such as the Type I and Type II multipurpose military divers. Benrus was more than that, however; today we’re going to take a look at two of their recent military recreations after a brief history. A bit like Vertex, Benrus went through many phases of development as they adjusted to post-World-War-II atmosphere and the Quartz Revolution of the early 1970s.
Brief History of Benrus
Founded by Benjamin Lazrus and his two brothers, Benrus started by importing Swiss movements and casing them in the United States: New York to be precise (doesn’t this remind you of how Rolex got started?). Like Rolex, Benrus made a name for itself by launching intricate marketing campaigns showing off celebrities wearing their models. Quickly, however, Benrus started to create novel designs which became popular, and now extremely sought-after, amongst collectors. For example, the 1929 Airman showcasing a rectangular case with wide, engraved lugs, or the 1930 gold plated gentleman watch whose case sides resembled that of iconic Manhattan sky-scrapers.
Further innovations include the 1956 Dial-O-Rama, a unique watch with a jumping hour showing the time by way of rotating discs, and the Wrist Alarm developed between the 1950s-1960s which, as its name indicates, was equipped with an alarm function. Everything changed for Benrus, however, in the late 1960s when the brand started making military watches. As we will see below, the brand first made a field watch, then a diver, then another military watch. The brand seemed, at that point, to become unstoppable. Although Benrus created many iconic military and tool watches, we’ll focus on the two that forged its reputation for making tough and reliable watches for the U.S. Government.
The Benrus DTU-2A/P Field Watch
In the early 1960s, when the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War, the U.S. Government issued Mil-Spec MIL-W-3818 for a rugged and reliable field watch. Benrus was the only brand to win this contract and started producing the DTU-2A field watch en masse. Its modern recreation looks very similar to the original but comes with modern technology, for example a Sellita SW200-1 caliber, as well as modern proportions coming in with a diameter of 39.5mm (the original had a diameter of 34mm). However, like the original, the modern iteration has a thick domed acrylic crystal for ultra durability which also endows this model with a true vintage vibe. The dial is legible given the full stack of Arabic numerals, the syringe hands, and monochromatic color scheme.
The Benrus Type I
Following the creation of the DTU/2A field watch, Benrus responded to another request from the U.S. Government for an even more robust, versatile, and highly legible watch for all of its covert operatives—the CIA, Green Berets, Army Rangers, and the predecessors to the Navy SEALs, amongst others. The Government issued Mil-Spec MIL-W-50717 for a multipurpose diver that had 1,200 feet of water resistance (roughly 365 meters,) a movement resistant to shock and changes in temperature, and one that was built to survive the harshest operational conditions. Benrus issued the Type I which paved the way for many military divers since. The modern version measures 42.5mm in diameter and is equipped with an ETA movement and a sapphire crystal. Subsequent to the Type I, Benrus also created the Type II based on the same Mil-Spec, but adapted for land operations: the Type II comes with a full stack of Arabic numerals and a 24-hour military scale.
When Benrus started producing the DTU-2A in the 1960s, it entered a different phase in its development as a brand. It went from making innovative, funky looking watches to serious military timepieces. Besides having created some of the most iconic military watches in the history of horology, Benrus also made some of the most iconic divers. While it should perhaps be the subject of another article, it is worth mentioning the Sea Lord, Orbit Robot, and the Ultra-Deep announced a few days ago.
Finally, I would say that I find Benrus to be an interesting brand for two reasons. First, it was highly innovative when it first got started. Second, it totally switched focus to support its country and numerous military engagements abroad. These conflicts created many of today’s elite U.S. covert units who needed the appropriate timekeeping devices, which Benrus knocked out of the park.Featured image: www.analogshift.com