Ever heard of Benrus? No, it’s not one of those ubiquitous and unfamiliar Chinese start-ups you find offering a cornucopia of low budget gadgets, clothes, and accessories on Amazon. It was at one time among the top three largest American watch manufacturers and even attempted to acquire Hamilton back when America led the world in watchmaking.
Now, just in time for its 100th anniversary, Benrus breathes again. It has been acquired and recapitalized and will be headquartered in New York City, the same city where the brand was born in 1921. Benrus was originally founded in 1921 by Romanian American Benjamin Lazrus (the Ben in Benrus) and his two brothers, immigrants to New York. In 1926, Charles Lindbergh, at the time one of the world’s most famous celebrities, endorsed Benrus and helped put the brand on the map.
Later Benrus also developed a rich military history. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the brand became a key military supplier by developing shock-resistant timepieces during WWII, and then later in the Korean and the Vietnam Wars. The DTU-2A was the first military watch produced by Benrus as the sole source of the 1964 U.S. military contract for the Vietnam War. This led to the inspiration for the Type I and II, which went on to define the brand as the “must- have military watch.”
From the 1940’s to the 1970’s Benrus was well known for its military, aviation and dive watches which featured unique groundbreaking functions and quality Swiss movements. Notable Benrus watches include the Ultra Deep Super Compressor and the Benrus Sky Chief, which became the designated watch for the airline industry. They were even given as gifts by U.S. Presidents, Ted Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
Steve McQueen, like Charles Lindbergh in the 1920s, made the brand memorably cool by wearing a Benrus #3061 civilian version of the military watch in the 1968 movie Bullitt.
Sadly, it was only a little over ten years later that low-cost Japanese imports fitted with quartz movements forced Benrus to file for bankruptcy in 1977 and beyond that its path became somewhat checkered. In 2017 Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer Michael Sweeney had a Richard Gere moment as in the movie Pretty Woman, and decided he wanted to acquire and build something rather than merge and purge. And so Benrus will be reopened in its new headquarters in its original home at the Hippodrome on 6th Avenue.
“The more I learned about Benrus and its military heritage, the more I found myself wanting to preserve and rebuild this wonderful historic brand, which helped our armed forces protect the USA,”
Going forward, plans for Benrus are ambitious. Former Bulova executive Michael Goeller has taken the helm and assembled a team of watch industry veterans. Benrus will soft launch in early 2020 with the presentation of its new Heritage collection imbued with features of Benrus’ past designs. The official launch will take place later in the year with the reissue of what has been described as “highly collectible” vintage Benrus watches.
“We have a true passion for this project, this brand and the people who believe in us. For this reason, we have recruited top talent in watch design, sales, and management. We look forward to building Benrus back to full strength in time for its 100-year anniversary in 2021.”
The Benrus Heritage collection will sell between $895-$1,395 via the company’s website, as well as at brick-and-mortar locations including Westime in Beverly Hills and Goldtinker in Red Bank, NJ.
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