If you’re interested in classic watches with timeless designs and history, it’s time to learn about the Benrus brand.
Benrus has created some iconic designs throughout the years that are easily identifiable by the company name on the face, among other details depending on the model. Modern Benrus watches run upwards of $500, while antique or reissued historic Benrus models often cost over $1,000 apiece.
This article will describe the top Benrus watch models, how to identify them, their price, and where they’re sold.
1. The History of the Benrus Watch
The Benrus company was founded over 100 years ago in 1921. Three Romanian-American brothers in New York started the company with a humble beginning, importing Swiss watch movements to case and sell in the United States.
By 1929 Benrus developed a strong marketing strategy. They even had celebrity campaigns with big names like Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh.
The Airman watch was a hot item this year, as it became the official watch of the National Air Transport, now known as United Airlines. This watch is easily identified by its cut corner case with an eagle head design.
In the 1930s, Benrus began selling gold-plated watches to match the art deco style of the era.
Keeping up with its fame among fliers, the company also began incorporating some navigational aspects to create the Sky Chief watch, a watch used primarily among pilots in the 1940s.
One of the most famous Benrus watch designs appeared in the 1950s and 1960s through the Dial-O-Rama. There were a few different dial versions of this watch, with the Chevron dial dominating in popularity. This watch used the jump dial and was also dust and waterproof.
During this same period, Benrus came out with an alarm wristwatch. This was before the times of digital watches and cell phones, making it a big hit with those across the U.S.
The year 1964 brought a large win for the company as they were given a government contract to create the field watch for U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. These watches were created in both steel and plastic and worm by the military through the late 1960s.
Later military creations also included the Benrus Type I and II. During this time, Benrus also began to create dive watches like the Ultra Deep and Sea Lord. They continue to create and sell wristwatches today under a different owner.
2. Early Manufacturers of the Benrus Watch
Benrus watches have always come with the famous Benrus brand name, but the company was acquired by various entities over the years.
From its modest beginning, Benrus was family-owned until 1967.
Before being sold, the company tried to take over the Hamilton Watch Company which was based in Switzerland. They did so by purchasing a large quantity of Hamilton stock. This move was countered in court and Benrus lost its hold on Hamilton, which is now part of the Swatch Group.
Victor Kiam purchased Benrus in 1967. He is most famous for his purchase of Remington Products Company in 1979.
Kiam held the Benrus company for a decade and competed against the Japanese competition by diversifying military pieces and costume jewelry designs. Even with his efforts, he filed for bankruptcy in 1977 which led him to enter a joint venture with the Wells and Roka Watch Company.
Wells and Roka Watch Company
During this joint venture with Benrus, company watches were marketed under both Benrus and Sovereign. By 1981 Benrus had filed for bankruptcy once again, and by 1984 it had changed its name to Wells-Benrus Corporation.
This name change came from a bankruptcy agreement where Benrus owed Kiam over $12 million. The joint venture allowed the company to continue making watches.
Clinton Watch Company of Chicago
After some time, the Clinton Watch Company of Chicago purchased Benrus from the venture and renamed its entire company the Benrus Watch Company. This spread the Benrus brand into big-name department stores like Kmart, Walmart, Sears, and JC Penney, where it thrived through the 1990s.
Benrus Holdings, LLC
After various acquisitions and owners, the Benrus company seemed to have reached its end but then, in 2017, a group of investors relaunched the popular brand. Benrus is currently trademarked and owned by Benrus Holdings, LLC.
3. How to Identify an Antique Benrus Watch
Antique Benrus watches can be identified by the printed brand name on the watch’s face or by certain model designs.
Identifying an Antique Benrus Watch by the Brand
A Benrus watch is easy to spot because it has the brand name printed directly on the face; although, a few have the name on the back of the case instead. Some models, such as the Benrus Sky Chief, also have the type of watch or name of the line printed on the face.
Identifying an Antique Benrus Watch by the Model
You can also identify a Benrus by the model, as there are a few standouts.
The Sky Chief is one of the most famous, crafted for in-flight use by pilots and the company’s first-ever chronograph. From the side, you can view its unusual depth, identifiable by its telling thick case.
The Dial-O-Rama is another easy model to spot due to its unique look, almost resembling a digital watch. The numbers on the face are mostly covered as a jump dial displays the time through a small aperture with two different numbered discs. There are various designs in the series, but the most famous is the Chevron dial which features a V-shaped chevron pointing to the digital “actual number readout” format.
Benrus’ #3061 watch has a signature black dial that is hard to miss. It is more commonly known as the “Bullitt” after it was made popular by the Steve McQueen movie.
The most collectible of all Benrus watches are the Type I and Type II designs. These models were made specifically for the military and also used as dive watches. They have a modern, almost digital look to them; however, since they were never made available to the public, they are difficult to find.
Another iconic and extremely collectible Benrus watch is the one late President John F. Kennedy wore on the campaign trail after it was gifted to him by the Democratic National Convention. It is all gold with an inscription on the back that says, “To our president J.F.K.” This watch is currently owned by a private collector.
4. Antique Benrus Watch Value
Priced higher than competitors like Bulova, modern Benrus watches generally cost between $500-$800, while rarer antique models can be worth thousands.
Men’s and women’s luxury Art Deco wristwatches run between $500 and $1000 due to their fine material.
Unique models such as the Dial-O-Rama and Bullitt are worth a bit over $1000, although this Bullitt watch was recently listed on eBay for $1,845.
Benrus’ Sky Chief series watches are more expensive, with one 1950 edition listed for almost $5,000 by a particular seller.
The military-grade Type I, Type II, and JFK’s Benrus watches can be worth over $2,000 if you are lucky enough to find one.
5. How to Date an Antique Benrus Watch
You can date an antique Benrus watch by identifying which model it is, as each design was crafted differently from the next and can be tied to a specific era.
The first Benrus watches were launched in the 1920s, but their most collectible watches were made mid-century and afterward.
The most popular antique Benrus watch models you may identify are the Airman, Sky Chief, Dial-O-Rama, Vietnam Field Watch, dive watch series, Bullitt, Citation, and the Type I and II.
1. Dating an Airman Benrus Watch
In 1929, Benrus launched its first aviation watch called The Airman. This can be identified by its black enamel stylized eagle heads in each corner. It also features a ring of deep cobalt blue enamel set around the hours.
2. Dating a Sky Chief Benrus Watch
The 1940s brought the famous Sky Chief series that carried into the 1950s. This was the company’s first chronograph featuring elongated hash marks and totalizers so pilots had all time and navigation tasks on their wrists.
3. Dating a Dial-O-Rama Benrus Watch
The famous Dial-O-Rama was made in 1956 and is sought after now for its unusual look and “jump hour” design.
4. Dating a Vietnam Field Benrus Watch
The DTU-2A Vietnam Field Watch, one of the most popular military-grade watches, was made in 1964 through the late ’60s. These watches come in steel and plastic, and the MIL-W-4634 version is thought to be the first military watch made from plastic.
5. Dating a Benrus Dive Watch
The early 60’s also brought the first dive watch series from Benrus including Ultra Deep, Ultra Deep Compressor, and the Sea Lord.
6. Dating a Benrus Bullitt Watch
Benrus’ Bullitt watch was made in 1968 and featured in the movie “Bullit” by actor Steve McQueen. It can be identified by its black dial.
7. Dating a 1970s Benrus Watch
The first watches from the 1970s featured a more contemporary design called the Citation.
8. Dating a Benrus Type I or II Watch
Lastly, the hard-to-find iconic Type I and II were introduced in 1972 and made through 1980 for the military. They were never released to the public, so although, they are not the oldest models, they are without a doubt, the most sought after.
6. Where to Sell & Buy an Antique Benrus Watch
Watch enthusiasts can purchase antique Benrus watches:
- Online through auction houses, eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist
- At your local auction house or antique shop
- Through certain watch houses, especially those specializing in antique models
The Benrus brand has been creating iconic wristwatches for over a century. Whether you’re looking to collect an antique, buy a reissued model, or invest in a new one, you can depend on Benrus for a classic look that is sure to impress anywhere you go.