Throughout the 20th century, watches were an indispensable tool in nearly every major endeavor, large or small – from scaling the heights of Everest to descending the Stygian depths of the Marianas Trench to landing on the moon. Those monumental events stand out for their magnificence, perhaps not to mention the durability of their watch, for a soldier who relied heavily on precision. An essential tool not only for telling time, but also for coordinating movements and missions; Ultimately, a tool for survival. It’s no surprise that military-issued watches are a major focus for many vintage watch collectors who connect to the past by wearing a watch that resonates with history. However, 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 might not be something you want to wear every day. While there are plenty of homages to vintage military watches, modern re-issues of mil-spec watches have been subtly recreated by the brands that originally produced them, allowing fans of these vintage military pieces to enjoy the benefits of modern movements while enjoying that connection to the past. , 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 US military.
Founded in 1921 in the heart of New York City, Benrus’ history is deeply rooted in 20th century Americana. In the mid-1920s, Charles Lindbergh, a world-famous aviator and one of the biggest celebrities of the time, was the brand’s main ambassador. Later, icons such as Babe Ruth would advertise Benrus’ sports watches, while Steve McQueen wore a Benrus field watch in Bullitt. However, the Vietnam War shifted the brand’s focus from creating jump hour digital watches to electronic watches (pre-quartz) to help fulfill contracts for the US military.
Like other American brands, when the US military called for watches during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Benrus stepped up to the plate, eventually winning the contract to create the DTU-2A (MIL-W-3818) field watch. At the beginning of the next decade, the US military was once again called upon to produce the MIL-W-50717, a robust dive watch intended for UDT, Navy SEALs and other special operators who could withstand deep diving. Abuse in combat situations. As a result none of the Type 1 and Type II watches were made available to the public. Produced from 1972-1980, only 16,000 of these watches were made and issued to elite troops. Type I has 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 fitted 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 set forth in MIL-W-50717, plus some additional improvements for everyday 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 get all the modern accessories like a double-domed sapphire crystal, an excellent lume and 300m water resistance.
Benrus Type II represents another case of measurements that tell only part of the story. Although the Type II measures 42.5mm in diameter, this is largely due to the asymmetrical case design, which adds dimensions on paper. In practice, however, the watch looks and feels like a 40mm watch, with the 3 o’clock side of the case essentially serving only as massive 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. Additionally, the slim mid-case reduces visual weight with sloping lugs. The only place you can’t stray from the dimensions is the lug-to-lug distance, which measures in at 47.5mm and looks and feels exactly like 47.5mm. Ultimately, the watch is comfortable to wear and the 20mm lug width makes it easy to change the straps to your preference. On the wrist, the watch feels substantial, but not heavy or bulky, and the constrained dimensions of the dial and bezel (relative to the on-paper dimensions of 42.5mm) mean that visually the watch looks more modest than the specs suggest.
Like the case, the dial and bezel of the Benrus Type II is an exercise in clarity and restraint. You get everything the military asks for in MIL-W-50717 and nothing they don’t. No branding on the dial, no Type II designation, no water resistance rating, no Swiss made appeal. Just numbers and symbols. The Type II is designed to tell time quickly and easily, and that’s it. And it certainly does. Like pilot watches, field watches are among the most legible and legible watches you can buy, and if you need 24-hour time telling, they’re hard to beat. The 24 Arabic numerals on the dial (along with the 12-hour, bidirectional friction bezel) won’t be for everyone, as it’s functional but busy on the dial. Fortunately, you can always opt for the stripped-down Type 1.
On a watch as bare-bones as the Benrus Type II, details matter and the brand has done an excellent job with typography, ensuring a consistent and historically accurate typeface on both dial and bezel (see 3), a detail that a surprising number of brands miss. Additionally, the use of BWG9 Super-LumiNova on the markers and hands gives the dial a clean white against the matte black. Benrus could easily have gone with a faux aged loom on the dial and hands, but thankfully they avoided the temptation. This is not a reissue of the original, a tribute, or a vintage inspired piece. That simple choice – and, of course, Benrus was one of the original producers of these watches – helps set the Type II apart in a market full of throwback watches.
Benrus Type II is powered by the Swiss Soprod P024 automatic movement. The Soprod movement is a nice change of pace from the ubiquity of the Sellita SW200 movements commonly found on watches in this price range, and it seems to be growing in popularity recently. Unfortunately, like the ETA 2824 and SW200, the power reserve is still a measly 38 hours.
The Benrus Type II is fitted with a black 20mm two-piece nylon strap with quick-release spring bars. The choice of a two-piece strap is a smart one, as it avoids the extra thickness that comes with a typical NATO-style strap, while retaining much of the same aesthetic. Like many premium aftermarket offerings the strap is thick with a tight weave. From both comfort and look, the strap is spot-on, but it runs on the small side. My wrist is 6.75” and I am sitting at the 5th hole, looking out of the second keeper at the end of the putt. Those with larger wrists can opt for a longer strap. Fortunately, this is the type of watch that looks great on almost any strap, from an olive canvas strap to a rubber tropic strap.
Benrus is one of those Type II watches that is a hard sell to most non-watch enthusiasts. It costs just under $1,500, features a simple, fully beaded case with zero regard for aesthetics over function. The dial has no branding and it also uses a friction bezel. Furthermore, it is for these reasons that others adore the watch. In other words, if you’ve got it, you’ll get it. If you don’t, you won’t be sold any descriptions on Benrus Type II. But, for those who see the Benrus Type II and find exactly the watch they’re looking for — because of its association with military history or simply because of the allure of a stripped-down, only-the-essentials watch — you’re unlikely to be disappointed. The construction is excellent and the details are all on point. Only 500 original numbers available with serial number engraved on caseback, priced each $1,495 USD. For more information about Benrus and the Type II watch, please visit Brand’s website.
> Brand: Benrus
> Model: Type II
>Size: 42.5mm diameter, 47.5mm lug-to-lug, 15mm height, 20mm lug width
> When the reviewer personally wears it: Hiking, camping or long days in the field.
>Friend we recommend this first: A fan of vintage military watches is looking for a watch that they can wear every day without worry.
> Best feature of the watch: Faithful to the original design with modern materials and construction that only enhances functionality.
> Worst feature of the watch: Busy Dial is not for everyone; Fortunately, Type I exists.