Last year began with the welcome dinner. Wearing a blue tuxedo with hair gelled to the back, I put my perfume on before leaving for the car. My girlfriend complimented my outlook, but I felt naked like something was missing. I looked at my wrist to note the time, and there it was, the vintage Benrus watch I had inherited from my grandfather!
Being a history fanatic my entire life with a deep love for antiques, vintage watches are not a subject foreign to me. However, owning a vintage watch and being informed about an antique piece are two very different subjects!
So, to make things easier, I’ve developed this guide to address all your queries regarding a vintage Benrus watch. This includes a brief history of the company and a comprehensive list of the 10 most valuable Benrus watches. I will also have tips to identify vintage Benrus watches and a value and price guide to help you buy/sell the timepiece.
Benrus – A Brief History:
Founded by the three Romanian immigrant brothers in 1921 in New York, Benrus took its name from the first syllable of Benjamin’s name and the last syllable of the family name Lazrus. The company was stationed in Manhattan, New York.
After the First World War, a significant shift was observed, both politically and domestically. Once a symbol of wealth and aristocracy, the pocket watches slowly started to lose their charm. With their sleek design and remarkable Swiss engineering, wristwatches were to replace the older worn-out models. It was then that Benjamin and his brothers noticed this opportunity and got into the wristwatch business.
The casings of the timepiece were manufactured in the United States, while movements were imported directly from Switzerland. This was because Swiss watch movements were considered premium and luxurious at the time. As a result, Swiss delicacy combined with American innovation gave birth to the much-loved Benrus Watch Company, the beginning of a magnificent journey.
Sleek designs, coupled with extraordinary advertising strategies, are what drove the Benrus business. Not even 5 years after its official unveiling, the watch company partnered with one of the most famous celebrities in the world in 1926, Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly an aeroplane across the Atlantic. The baseball superstar Babe Ruth was another ambassador of the brand in 1929.
Similarly, 1929 was once again the year that Benrus cemented its foothold in the wristwatch business with the release of the “Airman”, a watch with a cutting-edge case and black enamel eagle heads in each corner a true masterpiece of its time. The watch was unveiled as the official timepiece for an airline which later became the world-famous “United Airlines”.
The 1940s marked the Second World War; it was a time when military superiority was demanded on all fronts. Benrus was one of the first companies to deliver on the matter with the release of military models. Once the war was over, the brand once again launched an advertising campaign promoting the timepiece during the post-war period.
The 1940s’ also saw the release of one of the company’s most famous models, the Sky Chief. Benrus’s remarkable design, coupled with the requirement of airlines and pilots, gave birth to the company’s first chronograph, claiming to be the “Official Watch of Famous Airlines”.
The 1940s-1960s saw many improvements in the overall design and reliability of wrist watches, with the introduction of the wrist alarm in future models, making the company’s business boom. Some famous models at the time were Sealord, Dial O Rama, Vietnam-based models, and Citation.
The most popular moment in the company’s history came in 1963 when the Democratic National Convention (DNC) gifted the president of the time, John F. Kennedy, a custom Benrus wristwatch.
Other famous models of the brand that remain valuable collectibles today are the Benrus Type I and Type II, durable diver watches designed for the American military.
Soon after, the quartz crisis set in. Mechanical movements were quickly replaced with affordable battery-powered quartz movements, marking the end of classic movements. This also disrupted the Swiss market significantly, which relied heavily on the production of mechanical movements. During the process, the company saw a steady decline.
The following years saw the Benrus brand struggle, including changed ownerships and management multiple times. Today, the brand has made a comeback into the market led by a group of investors. The most recent release is the graceful Heritage collection that you can find at stores and on the company’s website.
10 Most Valuable Vintage Benrus Watches:
Whether it’s the yard sale season or you’re a vintage enthusiast trying to get your hands on “the perfect wristwatch”, the name Benrus holds a special place in the history books for its remarkable design and spectacular engineering.
Not every wristwatch is worth a fortune, but some can fetch a lot. Here’s a list of the 10 most valuable vintage Benrus watches ever sold:
1. 1940’s Benrus Sky Chief BE-11 Venus 178:
As already mentioned, the iconic Sky Chief model from Benrus made its way to the headlines as the “Official Watch of Famous Airlines”. This Sky Chief model, manufactured between 1940-1949, is a vintage model with a push/pull crown.
The case features a round shape with stainless steel material to complement a black dial. The movement is a unique Venus 178, and the watch is in very good condition overall.
This specific piece was sold on eBay for a whopping $3,999.
2. Men’s Benrus LED Pop-Up Digital Watch – $3,050:
With Benrus Techniquartz Citation Elegance Alpha VI as its full name, this 1976-made beauty is one of its kind as it features an LED display and a silver-colored casing. The case is square with a relatively smaller case size, and the back is stamped “Base Metal Bezel, Stainless Steel Back, Benrus USA”.
The wristwatch offers a popup mechanism that shows the hours and minutes on the first pop, the date and day on the second pop, and the seconds on the third pop. The chrome-finished wristwatch has a funky look and is considered a symbol of luxury at the same time.
Although missing its original tags and box, this iconic piece was auctioned on eBay for $3,050.
3. Vintage Benrus Sky Chief Valjoux 72 – $2,125:
Another of the Sky Chief family, this stainless-steel casing wristwatch offers the same remarkable features provided by other Benrus models, such as a chronograph. The piece is unisex, and whether you’re a teacher, a doctor, a firefighter, or enlisted in the military, the Benrus Sky Chief Valjoux 72 will compliment your outlook.
In addition to the casing, the dial color is black, and the mechanical movement is a travel back in history before the quartz movements took over!
This remarkable piece was recently auctioned off on eBay for $2,125.
4. Benrus 14K Rose Gold Case & Bracelet Wristwatch – $1,699:
The 1950s’ Swiss-made model of Benrus features a rose gold snapback case with a 14K gold bracelet to go with it. The case is rectangular in shape and follows an Art Deco design and a 17-jewel studded manual-wind mechanical movement. The hour markers are covered with silver, and the wristwatch offers a second hand at the 6’o clock position.
The watch was initially designed and marketed as men’s wear. Still, the overall elegant look of the timepiece allows it to be wonderfully worn by both genders. The only downside of the antiques of the era was that they did not offer water resistance, which is also valid for this piece.
This piece was auctioned on eBay for $1,699.
5. 1960s’ Benrus ref. 3061 Bullit Steve McQueen Wristwatch – $1500:
This iconic civilian version of the military issue Benrus 3061 has a lot of provenances attached to it. Starring in arguably one of the most famous films of the time, “Bullit”, this gorgeous piece found its way to the wrist of the legendary Steve McQueen, rightfully earning it the title of “Benrus Bullit”.
The watch has a military look, but after being built for the civilian market, the dial was signed by Benrus. The second hand is tipped with red, and the case is polished, proving an exception to the matte finish on the military version.
The watch’s overall design is strictly utilitarian, with no fancy jewels or bezels in place and a simple hand-wound mechanical movement.
The Benrus Bullit enjoys remarkable popularity among collectors and enthusiasts as the watch Steve McQueen wore. It was sold on eBay at a jaw-dropping price of $1,500.
6. 1967 Benrus Ultra-Deep 666 Feet Super Compressor Wristwatch – $1,444:
The Ultra-Deep SuperCompressor model was another innovation supported and used by Benrus. This piece was designed especially for divers and possessed a unique sealing system that got tighter as the water pressure increased.
Another feature that set it apart from other watches back in the day was a three-prong method of securing the bezel. The bezel of other diver watches rotated in both directions, resulting in divers miscalculating the amount of air they had left. The newly designed three-prong system turned the bezels in one direction and afterwards locked them, thereby providing a protective mechanism.
The watch features a beautiful matte-black dial and an original leather strap that comes along with it. It was auctioned on eBay, with the winning bid going as high as $1,444.
7. Benrus 14K Gold Wristwatch – $1,200:
This unique 14K gold casing wristwatch is undoubtedly one of its kind. With an elegant rectangular casing and a gold-plated bracelet to go along with it, this elegant Benrus timepiece is definitely one to wear!
It was auctioned on Bonhams for $1,200.
8. Benrus 14K White Gold Vintage Diamond Wristwatch – $1,195:
A 1960-made vintage beauty, the watch features a round 14K white gold casing with sapphire crystals studded in the face. The case material and the bezels are also white gold, while the dial is silver.
The case size is a minimal 13mm and thus, is mainly worn by women. Overall, the watch gives a graceful look and is a hot item for collectors and enthusiasts. It was sold on 1stDibs for $1,195.
9. Benrus Estate 17J. BB14 14K Wristwatch – $995:
The 1950s’ Retro Estate series of Benrus includes the BB14 with a 14K gold-plated round casing. The band offered is a two-piece leather strap that can be changed. The dial of the piece has Arabic numerals engraved with smooth bezels and features a 12-hour dial, acrylic crystal, and a smaller second, non-numeric marker.
The color of the dial is silver, and the movement features the classic Swiss mechanical movement. The only downside of the watch is that it does not offer water resistance, and only an escapement lever is available.
This beauty was auctioned on eBay for $995.
10. Benrus Military Watch MIL-W-3818B DTU-2A/P Wristwatch – $750:
The 1965 military-style Benrus wristwatch was the contribution of the company to the Vietnam war. The company was the first to win the contract as a military timepiece supplier, producing the Mil-W-3818B. The watch possessed clean white hands, 12 and 24-hour markers and Arabic numerals to go along; the model reflected the requirements of the US military.
A 17-jewel hacking made its way to the design, and the timepiece was powered by a hand-wound mechanical movement. The watch ultimately became the most iconic military watch to be produced, paving the way for modern military watches by big guns!
This simple yet elegant beauty was recently sold on eBay for $750.
The value of an antique is only as much as a buyer is willing to pay for it. The same is true for Benrus watches, which are not the most expensive timepieces available on the market. However, this does not stop owners from listing them at jaw-dropping prices. Some examples include:
- Benrus Type 1 Class A – Service Papers Vintage – 1979: listed for $12,750.
- Benrus Sky Chief Ref.280 Valjoux 72C: listed for $5,046.
- Benrus Sky-Chief Calendar Chronograph Stahl/Leder Valjoux 72C: Listed for $5,261.
- Benrus Sky Chief Valjoux 72 Vintage Chronograph: listed for $4,164.
- Benrus Sky Chief Valjoux 72C: listed for $4,750.
Benrus Watch Value and Price Guide:
When it comes to antiques and collectibles, you must be well informed about the purchases you’re going to make. Identification of your piece is the most necessary step that you need to take before buying/selling or putting your article on your wrist.
Since 1921, many models of Benrus wristwatches have made their way to the market. As with every brand, some models have been built by the thousands. Other limited editions of the timepieces have also won collectors’ hearts!
To provide assistance, so you don’t end up selling yourself short, I have developed this extensive guide to help you in the valuation process of your Benrus wristwatch.
Benrus Watch Identification:
Identifying these timepieces is relatively straightforward, considering the company’s name on the dial.
However, it is crucial to mention that the brand doesn’t have signature identification marks. In this case, you should know the hints the brand has stored in its timepieces.
The brand used extensive materials to manufacture its watches, including gold, silver, and stainless steel. These materials differed according to models, with stainless steel being a vital feature of the Dial O Rama series.
Similarly, the classic Steve McQueen wristwatch, Bullit, was constructed using silver to imitate a bullet. The Citation series had heavy incorporation of gold in its structure. The watches generally featured a leather strap, which was considered.
As a result of their relations with the Swiss movements cartel, Benrus never manufactured their own movements but instead imported them directly from Switzerland.
So, when evaluating a watch, match the movement’s “country of origin” to the casing. However, it is vital to mention that this should only be used for identification because it is impossible to assess the originality of the movement simply by looking at it.
All Benrus watches feature the name on the front of the watch face, and in case the front is damaged, it is also stamped on the back of the casing. Models such as Sky Chief and the Wrist Alarm were different because instead of the company name, they featured the model’s name on the watch.
Different models of wristwatches had different designs.
The Sky Chief was unique because of its sleek design. It was engineered to fulfill the requirements of pilots and airlines, with a thick contrasting case that was unlike watches at the time. If you view a Sky Chief from the side, the timepiece shows depth in its structure which is a characteristic finding.
The 3061 model was specially designed for the Hollywood blockbuster Bullit. As already covered, the watch was created as a civilian response to the military issue of it.
Dial O Rama:
The Dial O Rama was Benrus’s reply to the Avant Garde movement of the mid-century, making it one of the most sought-after pieces when it comes to collectible Benrus watches. The piece featured a jump dial that displayed a time through a small opening, an innovation at the time.
Type I and II:
Type I and II were designed for the United States military as diving watches. Many adjustments were made to the design at the request of the US military during the Vietnam War.
The original Type I and II were never released to the general public, making them the rarest collectibles to get your hands on!
Benrus watches are valued according to their models, and the timepiece isn’t the most expensive vintage wristwatch on the market. Still, specific models can bring in a decent amount of money. For example, the Sky Chief and the Type I and II are worth the most.
Condition is critical when considering any antique, including Benrus wristwatches. Damaged or scratched casing, movements, and worn-out parts are some of the problems that can significantly reduce the price of a vintage Benrus watch. Similarly, if your wristwatch is in excellent working condition, it will fetch a lot of money.
Provenance is another factor that influences the value of this watch. Timepieces with an element of historical significance attached, such as the Benrus Bullit, worn by Steve McQueen, are valued between $500-1000. Similarly, other models of the Sky Chief or the Type I and II that have soared the skies in times of war or freedom are also valued higher than others.
However, the company recently released Type I and II issues in the market, making the original piece even harder to find. Finding these models in any condition is almost impossible. If you do, it’s never without a jaw-dropping price tag.
In short, if you’re considering selling your vintage Benrus watch, you should consider putting it back in your wardrobe unless it’s a Sky Chief or the iconic Type I and II.
The Benrus brand is an accurate representation of American heritage. The brand is a true reflection of quality and service to one’s country. The company name isn’t the biggest when it comes to timepiece companies. Yet, Benrus has a significant standing in the market. The designs are truly timeless and give a vintage outlook to whoever decides to love them.
Some of the models covered in this guide that Benrus has to offer form an integral part of collectible watches. If you’re an enthusiast or a collector of unique timepieces, keep an eye out for those specific pieces.
So, the next time you dust around the attic to find family heirlooms to sell or decide to wear a vintage outlook, a Benrus wristwatch might be your saviour!