Throughout the 20th century, watches were an indispensable tool that played a part, large or small, in nearly every major achievement — from scaling the heights of Everest to descending the stygian depths of the Marianas Trench to landing on the moon. While those monumental events may stand out by virtue of their grandiosity, it was perhaps the soldier on the ground who most depended on the accuracy, not to mention durability, of their watch. A tool that was needed not just to tell the time, but to coordinate movements and missions; ultimately, a tool for survival. No surprise, then, that military-issued watches are a major focus for many vintage watch collectors, connecting to the past by wearing a watch that resonates with history. Yet, for most of us, vintage watches are a minefield of fakes and frankenwatches. Even if you’re lucky enough to score a quality, authentic piece, it may not be an item you want to wear every day. While there are plenty of homages to vintage military watches, modern re-issues of mil-spec watches meticulously recreated by the brands that originally produced them allow fans of these vintage military pieces to attain that connection to the past while enjoying the benefits of modern movements, materials, and construction. Case in point: the Benrus Type II, a spot-on faithful recreation of the iconic Vietnam-era Type II field watches commissioned by the U.S. military.

Founded in 1921 in the heart of New York City, Benrus’ history has been deeply entrenched in 20th-century Americana. In the mid-1920s, Charles Lindbergh, world-famous aviator and one of the largest celebrities of the time, was the brand’s chief ambassador. Later, icons such as Babe Ruth would promote Benrus’ sports watches, while the one-and-only Steve McQueen would wear a Benrus field watch in Bullitt. However, the Vietnam war would shift the brand’s focus away from creating everything from jump hour digital watches to electronic watches (pre-quartz) to helping to fulfill contracts for the U.S. military.

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Like other American brands, when the U.S. military put out a call for watches during the Vietnam war in the 1960s, Benrus stepped to the plate, ultimately winning the contract to create the DTU-2A (MIL-W-3818) field watch. Early in the next decade, the U.S. military once again put out a call to produce the MIL-W-50717, a robust dive watch intended for use by UDT, Navy Seals, and other special operatives that would need to withstand deep diving and serious abuse in combat situations. The result was the Type 1 and Type II watches, neither of which were made available to the public. Produced from 1972-1980, only about 16,000 of these watches were produced and issued to elite forces. The Type I featured bold, oversized circular markers with rectangles at 3, 6, and 9 and a triangle marker at 12. In contrast, the Type II — designed more for use in the field — was equipped with a 12/24-hour dial and small triangular indices.

Both the re-issue Benrus Type I and Type II watches mirror the originals in design and detail, meeting or exceeding the specifications laid out in MIL-W-50717, yet with some added improvements for daily use. The Type II features an asymmetrical 42.5mm sandblasted stainless steel case, a bi-directional 12-hour bezel, and a solid caseback. However, you do get all the modern accouterments like a double-domed sapphire crystal, excellent lume, and 300m of water resistance.

The Benrus Type II represents yet another case of dimensions only telling part of the story. Though the Type II measures in at 42.5mm in diameter, this is due in large part to the asymmetrical case design, which adds to the dimensions on paper. In practice, however, the watch looks and feels more like a 40mm watch, the 3 o’clock side of the case essentially acting only as oversized crown guards. Height-wise, the Type II measures in at 15mm, but a good millimeter or two can be accounted for by the highly domed sapphire crystal. In addition, the slim mid-case with sloping lugs reduces the visual weight. The only place you can’t get away from the dimensions is with the lug-to-lug distance, which measures in at 47.5mm and looks and feels exactly like 47.5mm. Ultimately, the watch wears comfortably and the 20mm lug width makes it easy to swap straps to whatever your preference. On wrist, the watch feels substantial, but not heavy or unwieldy and the constrained dimensions of the dial and bezel (relative to the on-paper dimensions of 42.5mm) mean that visually the watch appears more modestly proportioned than the specs might suggest.

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Like the case, the dial and bezel of the Benrus Type II are an exercise in legibility and constraint. You get everything the military asked for in MIL-W-50717 and nothing they didn’t. There’s no branding on the dial, no Type II designation, no water resistance rating, no Swiss Made appellation. Just numerals and markers. The Type II is designed to tell the time quickly and easily and that’s it. And that it most certainly does. Like pilot watches, field watches are among the most legible and readable watches you can buy, and, if you have a need to tell 24-hour time, they’re hard to beat. That said, the 24 Arabic numerals on the dial (along with the 12-hour, bidirectional friction bezel) won’t be for everyone as it does result in a busy, albeit functional, dial. Luckily, you can always opt for the stripped-down Type 1.

In a watch as bare-bones as the Benrus Type II, the details matter and the brand has done an excellent job with the typography, ensuring a consistent and historically accurate typeface on both the dial and bezel (take a look at the 3), a detail that a surprising number of brands manage to miss. In addition, the use of BWG9 Super-LumiNova on the markers and hands means that the dial is a clean white against matte black. Benrus could have easily gone with faux aged lume on the dial and hands, but thankfully they avoided the temptation. This is a re-issue of the original, not a homage or vintage-inspired piece. That simple choice — and, of course, the fact that Benrus was one of the original producers of these watches — helps set the Type II apart in a market flooded with throwback watches.

The Benrus Type II is powered by a Swiss Soprod P024 automatic movement. A Soprod movement is a nice change of pace from the ubiquity of Sellita SW200 movements typically found on watches in this price range and is a movement that seems to be gaining in popularity recently. Unfortunately, like the ETA 2824 and SW200, the power reserve is still a modest 38 hours.

Benrus has equipped the Type II with a black 20mm two-piece nylon strap fitted with quick-release spring bars. The choice of a two-piece strap was a smart one, as it avoids the extra thickness that would come from a typical NATO-style strap while retaining most of the same aesthetic. The strap itself is thick with a tight weave similar to many premium aftermarket offerings. From both a comfort and looks perspective, the strap is spot-on, but it does run on the small side. My wrist is 6.75” and I’m sitting at the 5th hole, the end of the strap just peeking out of the second keeper. Larger-wristed folks may want to opt for a longer strap. Luckily, this is the type of watch that’s going to look excellent on almost any strap, from an olive canvas strap to a rubber tropic strap.

The Benrus Type II is one of those watches that’s a difficult sell to many non-watch enthusiasts. It’s priced at just under $1,500, has a simple, fully bead-blasted case with zero regard for aesthetics beyond function. There’s no branding on the dial, and it even utilizes a friction bezel. And yet, it’s for exactly these reasons that others will adore the watch. In other words, if you get it, you get it. If you don’t, then no amount of explanation is going to sell you on the Benrus Type II. But, for those that look at the Benrus Type II and see exactly the watch they’ve been looking for — whether due to the connection with military history or simply the allure of a stripped-down, only-the-essentials watch — you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Construction is excellent and the details are all on point. Only 500 originally numbered pieces with the serial number engraved on the caseback will be available, each priced at $1,495 USD. For more information on Benrus and the Type II watch, please visit the brand’s website.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Benrus
>Model: Type II
>Price: $1,495
>Size: 42.5mm diameter, 47.5mm lug-to-lug, 15mm height, 20mm lug width
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Hiking, camping, or long days in the field.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Fan of vintage military watches looking for a watch they can wear every day without a worry.
>Best characteristic of watch: Faithful to the original design, with modern materials and construction that only enhance the functionality.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Busy dial won’t be for everyone; luckily, there’s the Type I.

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