When it comes to the names of American watch companies that stopped operation long ago, Benrus is one that is sometimes overlooked in favor of the more prominent names like, say, Hamilton or Elgin. Funnily enough, those brands were competitors for Benrus back in the day. As with so many watch brands, they did not survive the quartz crisis, filing for bankruptcy in 1977. Then, in 2014, the brand was purchased by by Giovanni Feroce. While the brand is very much a “lifestyle” label (as you can see on their site), watches are a big component of what they are doing. While the company has a fairly wide lineup, we will focus in today on what is likely the most famous name for the brand, the Benrus Sky Chief.
We will cover the comparison between the new Benrus Sky Chief and the original a bit further down. At this point, though, we will just say that it is a more fashion-oriented take on a vintage look with the Benrus Sky Chief. For starters, take a look at the strap. It is a comfortably padded leather strap, one with an integrated look in the lugs (something you do not often see, especially at this price point). It also has that softly crackled look that you can see on an old leather jacket, or on a well-worn leather chair. The vintage-look styling continues on the dial, which has the look (I could not tell if it is printed on or not) of a scratched up piece of metal. While this is not quite the same as a dial that has become crazed with age and UV exposure, it is a similar effect. For all practical purposes, it lightens up what could otherwise be a darker dial, and gives some texture to things.
On top of that dial you have the raised, luminous indices, so time-telling is a rather simple affair. As I have seen more watches with this particular font used for the numerals, I have come to appreciate it more when we see it utilized in a sandwich dial format, rather than raised up on top of a dial. Yes, I know brands do it both ways (Panerai, anyone?), but it just feels like a more planned effort with the cutout construction. Also here, on the Benrus Sky Chief, the brightness (in daylight) of the numerals sort of stands out against the other vintage cues; a more aged-looking paint may have been appropriate.
The dial on the Benrus Sky Chief also belies the fact that we have a quartz chronograph function underpinning things. In contrast to what you might normally expect, the central seconds hand is actually the running seconds; for the chronograph, you’ll need to watch the subdial down at 6 o’clock, with the chrono minutes appearing at 9 o’clock. That leaves just the subdial over at the 3 o’clock position, which is a 24-hour indicator for the main time. No, you cannot set it independently of the time, so it is a simple day/night indicator that also manages to give the dial a balanced feel).
Wrapping around all of that, we have a 41mm stainless steel case with a gunmetal finish (that I rather liked, as it toned down reflections even on the polished parts), sandwiched between a mineral crystal on top and a stamped (not engraved, though it looks it) case back. While that case dimension might suggest a smaller watch, I found that on the wrist, it wore a bit larger, due in part, I feel, to the darker color scheme, taller lugs, and integrated strap. That all said, the 70g Benrus Sky Chief felt perfectly comfortable on the wrist, and it worked for daily wear to the office, as well as on the weekend.
With a watch like the Benrus Sky Chief, the comparisons to the original are inevitable, especially given the enormous popularity of the original. Fortunately for fans of the predecessor, it seems, to my eye, that they did manage to replicate things pretty closely. The subdial layout and spacing are slightly different (due to the change in movement), but this actually gives the improvement of not having any cut-off numerals on the dial. The font used on the numerals is similar, but not exact (I think I prefer that of the original). The handsets are quite close as well (identical on the subdials), with the main difference being the absence of extended needle tips on the hour and minute hands. Finally, the printing on the dial is also close, with a block Benrus topping a script-like Sky Chief (here, again, I prefer the original). The overall effect is the ability to definitely reference the source material, while updating the watch to meet more modern tastes.
Having not spent time with the original (while certainly being aware of it), I was happy to spend some time with the reincarnated Benrus Sky Chief. While purists may prefer to hunt out the original, a more modern mindset may prefer the asking price of $295 (versus the $2,500 a vintage one in good condition might run), and be willing to take some of the trade-offs. You may not care for the quartz movement contained therein, but there is no disputing the accuracy you will get out of it and its chronograph complication. The new Benrus Sky Chief is what I would call a faithful homage to its forbearer, one that students of those old-school pilot watches will no doubt recognize. benrus.com
Tech Specs from Benrus
- 41mm stainless steel case with Gun Metal plating
- Brown genuine leather strap
- Chronograph function
- Stainless steel etched signature buckle
- Stamped stainless steel case back
- Luminous hour and minute hands
- Black textured dial
- Japanese quartz movement
- Water resistance 5ATM
- Integrated strap construction