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American Watchmaker Benrus Relaunches With Three New Models

American Watchmaker Benrus Relaunches With Three New Models Watch Releases

It may be difficult to imagine after many decades of Swiss and Japanese dominance of the watchmaking industry, but the United States was once a watchmaking power in its own right. Hamilton, Bulova, Waltham, and many others were all founded in America, but one of the unsung heroes of the golden age of American watchmaking was Benrus. Founded in New York City in 1921, the brand produced a wide variety of timepieces until its dissolution in the 1970s, including several different general-issue field watches for the U.S. military, the innovative Ultra Deep super-compressor diver, and the legendary Sky Chief chronograph, which became the watch of choice for commercial pilots at the dawn of the airline industry. Now, nearly a century after the brand’s inception (and several years after a minor lifestyle brand revival in 2015), a New York-based investment group has revitalized the Benrus name and brought it back to its original home at the Hippodrome on 6th Street in Manhattan. To coincide with the relaunch of the brand, Benrus has debuted an inaugural collection of three models inspired by past Benrus icons: the Field, the Classic, and the Air Chief chronograph.

American Watchmaker Benrus Relaunches With Three New Models Watch Releases

The first of these, the Field series, takes its inspiration from the ‘60s Benrus Series #3061 which was a civilian issue version of the GG-W-113 standard issue US Army field watch. One of these Series #3061 models was famously owned by movie star Steve McQueen, who wore the watch in the classic 1968 film “Bullitt.” The new Field takes this classically simple military design and updates it for a modern audience, upsizing the case to 41mm while adding 100 meters of water resistance, a mineral crystal display back, and amenities like a signed crown and optional black IP plating. For the most part, the dial of the Field cleaves very close to the vintage original, as well, with the mix of printed wedge indices and Arabic numerals paired with a set of tapering syringe hands and the distinctive red-tipped seconds. The colors of these models, however, take the design in a new direction with exaggerated “fauxtina” khaki lume, a silver dial option, and a pop of contrast from the red, white, and blue stars beneath the Benrus logo. Inside the Benrus Field is the tried-and-true Miyota 9015 automatic movement, dressed up here with a skeletonized signed rotor and Côtes de Genève on the movement plates alongside a respectable 42-hour power reserve. Most of these models take a conservative approach to strap pairings, with tan or tobacco brown embossed leather with white contrast stitching. For the IP plated black model, however, the brand opts for a wild camo-pattern NATO strap on matching black hardware. Pricing for the new Benrus Field stands at $1,095.

American Watchmaker Benrus Relaunches With Three New Models Watch Releases

The second model of the trio, the Classic, shares many of the same design principles with the Classic but reinterprets them in a dressier package. The same 41mm stainless steel case is used here, but brushed rather than fully polished for a more finished look. Likewise, the dial shares a passing resemblance to its stablemate, but the triangular indices are now applied and lengthened, while numerals are reduced to 12, 6, and 9 o’clock. The complicated syringes of the Field are replaced with elemental straight swords with a generous fill of Super-LumiNova. Color is a bit more playful here as well, ranging from black to a sandy tan and a vibrant royal blue. Like the Field, the Classic is powered by a decorated Miyota 9015 movement. Strap options include embossed brown leather, a khaki NATO strap, and a signed Milanese mesh bracelet. MSRP for the Classic line begins at $1,195.

American Watchmaker Benrus Relaunches With Three New Models Watch Releases

The Air Chief is the last of the new models, offering a very loose reinterpretation of the iconic Sky Chief chronograph. Like the other two models, the Air Chief shares the same basic 41mm stainless steel case, with the obvious addition of chronograph pushers along with an engraved solid caseback. At the outset, this style of case is a far cry from the light and delicate 37mm case of the original Sky Chief except for the rectangular pushers, and the differences grow deeper when looking at the dial. The Benrus Sky Chief had a distinctive and balanced dial dominated primarily by its rounded Arabic numerals, syringe hands, and balanced subdials. The Air Chief diverges in everything except the most basic forms. There are printed Arabic numerals here, but rendered in a modern and militaristic stencil font, while the syringe tips of the hour hands are significantly shorter and less distinct. Most notably at a glance, however, are the oversized chronograph subdials. These are less of an aesthetic choice than a concession to the movement, but it drastically changes how the chronograph presents to viewers. That said, there is a fair amount of variety in dials among variants, including black, gray, and a unique reverse panda with a different set of flieger-inspired indices. Perhaps the greatest departure from the Sky Chief comes with the Ronda quartz split seconds chronograph movement. While almost necessary for a chronograph at this price point, it’s hard not to wish for a mechanical option. Benrus offers the Air Chief on an array of different straps, including a gray NATO, black or gray embossed leather, and a Milanese mesh bracelet. Pricing for the Air Chief begins at $895.

American Watchmaker Benrus Relaunches With Three New Models Watch Releases

These three watches are only an opening salvo for an extensive campaign by Benrus in 2020, with plans for later in the year including faithful reissues of several iconic models to accompany these looser reinterpretations. All three model lines are available now online and through authorized dealers. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.

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  • SuperStrapper

    I was going to have mostly nice things to say here but this pricing is simply ridiculous. The field and classic both have interesting enough appearances but are seriously priced way out of the weight class they should be participating in. Really trying to milk those nostalgia dollars. I’m not so bothered by the miyota movements, they’re nicely reliable and the choice for the 9xxx series was wise, but that they felt the need to scream SWISS MOVEMENT on the quartz chronograph is silly. Why don’t the time only models say JAPANESE AUTOMATIC on the dial? Thankfully they don’t but logically they should, or even more logically, get rid of the swiss movement hyperbole on the chronograph dial.

    Also, wtf is this and why does it cost more than $1:
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b566864ca5f1eb3809b41a7f31c03491c620b7beed1c41033c0e4fe84a2e0bed.png

    Horrible.

    • cluedog12

      Mediocrity saddens me, for it represents effort made with no lasting impact.

    • I bought a mesh bracelet like that a few years ago and within a month the “weld” broke (for no reason) while I was wearing it and, plop, my nice watch fell to the pavement. Boy I was pissed off.

      • SuperStrapper

        That’s actually really shameful. You’ll know as well as anyone that almost no brands make their own bracelets, that is either specialised or catalogue. So, ordering from the back pages on a Tuesday when the blue light turns on to increase your margin by… $10? is a reasonable indication of the brand’s overall consideration of true quality and long term customer satisfaction.

  • Independent_George

    No thanks.

  • Brian the Bad Cheeseman

    This isn’t a knock against Miyota (as I think Timex has done a great job with them) but who is going to be dropping a G on one?

  • Jared

    looks like a $20 Aliexpress special

  • johnwithanh

    As said below, I think they look pretty good (other than the chrono bracelet) but the pricing is a bit too “aspirational.” It’s not clear why these should cost hundreds more than a Hamilton field watch.

  • cluedog12

    Movements are way too small for the case. Could have been refreshing if New Benrus had stuck with the case diameters of Old Benrus. Conceived by somebody with a love for making money, not a love for watches.

  • Mr. F

    I see they’re employing the Shinola strategy–tug on people’s heartstrings using nostalgia and reviving a good ol’ Made in USA name, all while using pretty basic movements and overcharging. Seriously, like everyone else said, buy a Hamilton instead, or at this price point, maybe check out a microbrand.

  • NaJo

    Good dials and history but $1k for a miyota! Even that banglor watch company with sellita 200 is a good value proposition….

  • Joe

    I have mixed feelings about these watches.

    First off, I’m not American.

    Next, I don’t buy watches because I see them as some technical “gizmo”.
    If I choose to purchase a “technical gizmo” then I don’t really care where it was made, so long as quality control is sufficiently high so that it can reliably perform its intended function.

    I buy mechanical watches because something about them…their soul appeals to me.
    My definition of watch soul is probably different to someone else’s and is also going to be challenging to define, but I’ll give it a go…

    Also, I don’t think a watch/manufacturer needs to have all of these attributes to have soul.

    For a watch to have soul, I think it should:
    1) Be manufactured by a company with significant history (even if the company has been bought by others, as long as some integrity has been maintained).
    2) Have a design that is bold and different.
    3) Have exquisite attention to detail, requiring skill (human input) to produce.
    4) Be “patriotic”. eg “Made in America” must mean mostly made and assembled in America, with nothing to hide and manufactured with pride.
    5) Use innovative mechanisms to achieve accurate time-keeping or longevity.
    6) Have superlative (or pleasing) ergonomics or one where they have gone “above and beyond” to make something easier to do (eg easy bracelet size adjustments).
    7) Have a case constructed of an interesting material.
    8) Try to make a statement by being ultra-thin or a BBW (Big Beautiful Watch).
    9) Be honest. One that is priced reasonably considering these other attributes above and compared to its competition.

    Maybe there are others I can’t think of right now.

    I feel that these watches try to be 1 and 4 but fail. They also fail on 9.
    From my (enthusiast’s) perspective they come across as a half-hearted effort, lacking self-belief and commitment.
    “We want to make some money but we’re not sure we can make it work so we will try.”

    • Joe

      I just want to add that my post may come across a little scathing but that wasn’t my intention.
      I’m actually frustrated and a little sad because I see Benrus (and other companies) trying but missing.

      Mechanical wrist-watches are now just status symbols or simply decorative relics to remind us of the past. In order to continue selling them, these companies must somehow generate appeal.
      Unless they can find ways to do that I think the future for them is bleak.

  • ray h.

    You make it sound like a lost cause to hope for a mechanical chrono at $900 .That’s just silly.

  • Gokart Mozart

    I would look for a vintage Benrus, either from a dealer that has been serviced or from Chrono 24 and then get it serviced.

    Something like this.

    https://www.chrono24.co.uk/benrus/alarm-wristwatch–id13140085.htm

  • JFPisa

    A 41mm chronograph? Okay. I can deal. A 41mm field watch that supposed to be retro/vintage? Come on! Should’ve stuck with the vintage sizing. Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical all the way with a much better movement at 1/2 the price.

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