The Benrus watch company was an early American titan in timepiece manufacturing, and vintage Benrus watch identification is pivotal in evaluating their historic watches' collectible values. Unlike their historically low-cost mission, vintage Benrus watches can compete with the prices of luxury manufacturers making them a great brand to be on the lookout for when perusing your nearby vintage shops and second-hand retailers. However, you'll want to specifically keep an eye out for these covetable Benrus watches.
Benrus Company's History
To ring in the (what would eventually become) roaring '20s, three Romanian immigrant brothers named Benjamin, Oscar, and Ralph launched a watch company entitled Benrus in New York using their combined $5,000 savings. Benrus began importing Swiss watch movements to the United States and then packaging them in cases in New York, and the company soon connected with notable celebrities like Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh. Unsurprisingly, this relatively affordable watch brand began competing with top American watch manufacturers like Bulova and Hamilton, while simultaneously entrenching itself in the post-war American culture. This mid-century period is considered Benrus' most lucrative era, and while the company continues to manufacture watches for sale, their vintage mid-century watches are the most collectible of their historic various series for timepiece enthusiasts today.
Vintage Benrus Watch Identification
Identifying vintage Benrus watches is relatively easy given the fact that each of their different timepieces have their company name printed directly onto the dial. Similarly, the company name can be found on the back of the case in the odd instance that it is not visible on the dial. Unfortunately, many vintage Benrus watches resemble other American manufacturers' watch styles of the time period, and so it is important to pay particular attention to these specific, more discernable, watches because of their greater collectible value.
Benrus Sky Chief
The Sky Chief was first launched in 1941 and was the company's response to growing access to commercial aviation. This aviation watch was designed to be friendly for in-flight use by pilots, and various airline corporations equipped their pilots with these watches. This chronograph is rather unique because of how thick the case is in comparison to other popular aviation watches made at the time, and when viewed from the side can be easily identified as a Benrus because of this unusual depth.
Benrus' reaction to the avant-garde movement of the mid-century was to release their own stylized wristwatch entitled the Dial-O-Rama. This unique watch exhibited a jump dial which displayed the time of day through a small aperture using two different numbered discs. In retrospect, the Dial-O-Rama appears reminiscent of the digital watch displays that would later mystify the world. These statement watches from the 1960s are highly collectible because of their aesthetic appeal and connection to the arts.
Benrus "Bullit" Watch
Sometimes referred to as the "Bullitt" watch, Benrus' #3061 series featuring a black dial has substantial Hollywood connections; Steve McQueen wore one of these iconic mid-century watches in the critically acclaimed film Bullitt. Interestingly, the watch was designed as a civilian response to the manufacturer's military watches, and only grew in popularity due to the film's success and McQueen's cultural iconography. Hollywood collectors and watch enthusiasts alike enjoy collecting these watches because of their cultural relevance.
Benrus Type I and Type II
Perhaps the most collectible of all vintage Benrus watches is their 1970s military dive watch series, the iconic Type I and Type II. These two editions of dive watches were adopted by the elite forces of the United States military during the Vietnam War, and they were never made available to the public making them both difficult to find and highly collectible.
Vintage Benrus Watch Values
Vintage Benrus watches are not the most expensive vintage watches on the market, but certain editions can bring in close to a thousand dollars for sellers and retailers. The company's luxury men's and women's Art Deco wristwatches made of fine materials are often valued between $500-$1,000. Similarly, unique watches can be worth sizable amounts of money, like this Dial-O-Rama and "Bullitt" which are both listed for a little over $1,000. Additionally, different editions of their aviation watch, Sky Chief, can be worth more than their regularly estimated prices; for example, a 1950 Sky Chief is listed for nearly $5,000 at one online retailer. However, if you're in the market for the Benrus Type I or Type II military watch, you're in for a long search. These rare watches are difficult to find, especially since the company recently reissued the watch to the public.
When to Keep or Sell Your Vintage Benrus Watch
Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of vintage Benrus watches on the market and given that the company does not have as many iconic watches as some of its American and Swiss competitors do it might be more advantageous to keep your historic Benrus watch in your personal collection. However, most Benrus watches have a timeless design, making them perfect vintage watches to incorporate into the modern wardrobe. So, perhaps take your vintage Benrus to a repair shop to be cleaned and then debut it in your next fashion ensemble.