Well over 70 years past its prime, the P-51 Mustang airplane is still considered one of the most beautiful military machines America has ever created. The perfectly proportioned design is met with admiration and fascination, despite its wartime roots. It was built for a very specific purpose: To establish air superiority and support Allied efforts in WWII. It was designed with pure functionality in mind, but a spillover benefit of functional design is that it can sometimes be beautiful.
Such is the case with the BENRUS Type I. The watch was originally designed to support the Underwater Demolition Divers and is the horological equivalent of the P-51 Mustang. It’s built for ultimate functionality, but it’s also unexpectedly beautiful. Originally produced from 1972-80, it’s now been revived and improved by BENRUS in the modern era and is available once again. Except this time, a U.S. Navy special operations background isn’t required. We think this is one of the best so-called “reissues” out there – one that doesn’t simply riff off the original design and create something new “in the spirit of the original,” but instead, really nails the details that made the original so attractive – and you can find it right here, in the HODINKEE Shop.
The BENRUS Type I Limited Edition
What’s special about the Type I is what’s not present, rather than what is. You won’t find a novella on the dial, and you won’t find any visual flourishings that don’t serve a purpose. The dial is sterile, featuring stark toothpaste-white markers against a deep black background. The only text present isn’t necessarily text at all – it’s a 12-hour scale around the bi-directional bezel, reproduced in a font that BENRUS had created to exactly mimic the original.
Scholarship around American mid-century horology has remained limited compared to Swiss counterparts in the industry, but the modern BENRUS has certainly made tremendous strides in understanding and capturing the BENRUS of yore. For instance, the original Type I used a top-loading design where the movement was loaded in through the front and the crystal pressed in, facilitating a 30ATM depth rating. This design is unconventional compared to contemporary watches that used a traditional screw-in caseback; it was most likely a cost-saving measure.
It’s important to remember that these watches were equipment produced for the military and designed with the end-user in mind – those end-users being special forces operators who certainly didn’t care if the watch was pretty or not. Military equipment is produced to a much different standard than equipment for the civilian world. Walk into a brand new Boeing 787 commercial passenger airplane, and you’ll notice rainbow LEDs, auto-dimming windows, and modern materials. Walk into a C-17 cargo plane the U.S. Air Force operates, and you’ll notice nylon webbing for seats, exposed hydraulic lines, and nary a window in sight. The original Type I was produced like every piece of equipment destined for service in the armed forces: Built with value in mind, following strict production schedules, with an emphasis on usability.
That get-the-job-done philosophy has now been taken one step further. While keeping the appearance almost identical, the folks at BENRUS have improved aspects of the watch that can’t be seen. The ’72 design is often said to have a “monobloc” case construction. This means the one-piece case is milled from a single piece of metal, including the caseback. In fact, even though the movement was top-loading, the case construction was not monobloc. Instead, the caseback was stamped and glued in place on the original design. For the time, it was acceptable, but over time, this design would be susceptible to water ingress, shortening the useful life of the watch.
When BENRUS re-launched the watch, they had an opportunity to address this problem and improve on the design. The new watch uses a screwed-in caseback, which makes servicing possible and supports much better, longer-lasting water resistance. The good news? It still carries the aesthetic of the original model, so there’s a sense of authenticity without reproducing a flawed design. Even the same text appears on the caseback as the original, but the production dates and serial numbers have been updated.
The original design featured an acrylic overlay bezel, but now that the watch has been around for over 40 years, we know that this design is prone to damage over the long run. Acrylic suffers from deterioration over time, as it’s essentially a plastic. Designers addressed this with the rebooted version, electing to use an aluminum insert instead. Aluminum is impervious to damage from the elements in a way the acrylic simply isn’t.
Additionally, the case material has been improved. The original watch utilized a ferrous alloy that was “parkerized” for durability and weather resistance. Again, this watch was originally produced with short-term performance in mind. U.S. Navy UDT/SEALs, U.S. Navy EOD, U.S. Navy Divers, Army Rangers, Green Berets, and CIA operatives needed the watch to get the job done – it was never meant to be a collectible piece of horology. Using a ferrous alloy instead of stainless steel (which typically lasts much longer) was a totally acceptable design choice when the watch was created in the ’70s, but with the reboot, there was an opportunity to address the shortcomings of the original design. Now, it’s rendered in 316L steel and blasted to a finish that mimics the original.
Another feature of the original case that’s been improved is its use of fixed spring bars. This was cheaper and easier from a production standpoint, but it’s quite limiting when it comes to strap options. The original only facilitated a single nylon pass-through strap, and again, the watch wasn’t intended for horology enthusiasts when it was initially created. But a second chance at getting a design right rarely happens, so when it does, one must exercise prudence and a commitment to improvement. The new design uses traditional spring bars, which allow for a large selection of straps to be used; now the watch is far more versatile.
Discover Your New Favorite Watch For Civilian Missions In The HODINKEE Shop
The BENRUS Type I is special in that it was designed for operators and service members during a very specific era of American history. It was an incredibly successful design during its time in service, and with the improvements over the original design, the relaunched BENRUS Type I is ready for the toughest civilian missions. You can learn more about the BENRUS Type I and purchase one for $ 1,695 right now, in the HODINKEE Shop.