March 1, 2023
by Nick Lehner
When most collectors think of Benrus in a modern context, military watches come to mind. Since its relaunch, the brand has reissued a number of field and dive watches styled after those it produced for the U.S. military. In its original form, Benrus also produced a number of watches for civilians throughout its more than 50 years in business. Last year, it reintroduced the Sea Lord dive watch, and now it is reissuing a skin diver from its history (specifically, 1972): the Orbit Robot.
As I hadn’t received photos before Benrus loaned me the watch for this review, I searched for images of vintage examples to have an idea of what to expect. It turns out that the originals are quite rare, but there are a few photos floating around on the Internet. What I found was a very ’70s UFO-style case with an attractive, smoke-colored fumé dial. On top of that, you’ll find jewel-like hour markers and contrasting neon-orange hands.
Upon opening the waterproof case that the modern version ships in, I found something very similar to the vintage photos. On the wrist, the dial and hand combination gives it a very fun and funky appearance. As you might expect, the crystal has been upgraded to sapphire as a modern concession/improvement, but it retains the domed shape. This produces an attractive and subtle distortion. The crystal does not appear to have any anti-reflective coating on it, so it creates a lot of reflections. Legibility is still quite good thanks to the bright orange hands. I would have preferred more distinction in size and thickness between the minute and hour hands, but they are faithful representations of the original. Additionally, the brand name is printed on the dial, rather than the applied metal rectangle of the original. I like how Benrus refrained from adding additional text to the dial. It is clean and simple like the original.
Those bright hands, as well as the applied metal hour markers, are filled with Super-LumiNova to provide nighttime legibility. The triangular pip on the bezel glows green, while the hands and dial use BWG9 blue lume. The lume is not as bright as other dive watches I’ve worn but is still easy to read once your eyes adjust to the darkness.
The brushed stainless steel bezel is also a throwback to the original. I would have preferred a uni-directional bezel with distinct clicks, but I find bi-directional friction bezels like the one on the Orbit Robot quicker to use for timing things in daily life. Unfortunately, in this case, the rotation is not very smooth; it has a bit of friction. (For reference, it feels similar to the Vostok Amfibia divers I’ve owned.) My assumption is that the original also had a friction bezel, and Benrus did this to keep it authentic. The bezel is at least easy to grip, and I do enjoy the appearance of a stainless bezel without an anodized insert. The screw-down crown, with its sharp edges, is also very easy to grip and operate.
Skin diver cases tend to make for comfortable dive watches due to their low centers of gravity and curved side profiles. While modern reissues often take on modern (read: larger) dimensions, the recent trend in downsizing watches has resulted in more faithful renditions being produced by some brands. At 41mm-wide and 13mm-thick (13.5 with crystal), Benrus says that the Orbit Robot’s dimensions are the same as those of the original. Even so, it still offers 200 meters of water resistance. Benrus also did owners the favor of increasing the lug width to 20mm to offer better compatibility with aftermarket straps. Because of its sub-38mm bezel and short 43mm lug-to-lug height, it looks compact and wears comfortably.
The Orbit Robot’s entire case is brushed with bits of polishing on the bezel, caseback, and bracelet, providing a bit of sparkle. Said bracelet is also a modern interpretation of the original. The five-link design with polished centers, and brushed outer links look cohesive with the rest of the watch. The sides of the links are also polished, as are the chamfers on the two-button deployant clasp. I like that it has built-in quick-release spring bars. This makes installing your favorite 20mm strap a quick and easy process if owners wish to change the look. The lugs are compact, meaning that there is no unsightly gap when installing a straight-end strap.
While Benrus Orbit Robots were powered by Seiko movements in 1972, this 2023 version is Swiss Made, and thus uses a Swiss caliber to keep time —specifically, the Soprod P024. Operating at 28,800 vph, this ETA 2824 clone offers 38 hours of power reserve. Unlike the originals, this version loses the day display but adds hand-winding and a date that is advanced by turning the crown (rather than pushing it in toward the case). Originals used a front-loading monocoque case design (think Seiko Marinemaster), but the Benrus reissue uses a conventional screw-down caseback. It’s not unique, but it should make the watch easier to open up when servicing is required. Referencing the watch’s model name, an image of a cute robot orbiting a three-dimensional globe is formed into the caseback.
Reissuing the Orbit Robot is a logical next step for Benrus, as vintage-style skin divers have become quite popular recently. Since the brand seems to be sticking to its existing heritage designs, this is an interesting, if lesser-known, model to bring back. While there is a lot of competition in this segment (and price range), the Orbit Robot’s dial and handset help it to stand apart from the crowd. The attractive fumé pattern offers depth that gives it an attractive ’70s charm. With bright hands and blocky hour markers, it’s a fun watch to wear. Additionally, the case dimensions make it more wearable than larger offerings might. For fans of the Benrus brand, it is an appealing and fresh offering. The MSRP for the Benrus Orbit Robot is $995 USD. For more details, please visit the Benrus website.
>Model: Orbit Robot
>Size: 41mm diameter, 43mm lug-to-lug, 13mm thickness (13.5 including crystal), 20mm lug width.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Swimming or on the weekend. Any time that I wanted to wear something a bit different.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone who appreciates ’70s style and interesting use of color or who appreciates the history of the Benrus name.
>Best characteristic of watch: The dial. Smoky fumé, attractive applied markers, and the sunburst pattern underneath play with light nicely.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The bezel. I’d prefer a uni-directional bezel with clicks. The rotation of the friction bezel is not very smooth.