Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire’s weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world.
It may be hard to imagine it now, but the USA was once a leading player in the watchmaking world, able to give Geneva and London a run for their money. Until the middle of the 20th century, American brands, centered largely in Massachusetts and New York, led the way (against growing Swiss competition) with timepieces created expressly for a world expanding through the development of the railroad, the internal combustion engine, and the airplane.
Benrus—if you know your history—is one of those rather celebrated names, known for its functional tool watches from the 1920s, when it was established in New York city. That run produced some memorable and innovative watches, particularly in the early 1970s, just before the quartz crisis propelled Benrus away from these authentic mechanical pieces towards all quartz and, for a time, relative oblivion. After several decades of changing hands and mixed fortune, Benrus was finally reestablished in 2020 by a group of venture capitalists intent on reviving the brand and playing into the vintage-inspired watch market.
One of the newly reinvigorated company’s first special editions was a widely liked and hotly discussed take on the Type 1 diver originally issued only to certain U.S. military units during the ‘70s. Largely faithful to the original (and highly collectible) diver, the Type 1 included some subtle updates for modern tastes. Last week the brand launched another rather different diver from its past, 1972’s Orbit Robot. Like the original, it features a 41mm UFO-style cushion case, a fumé (smoky) gray dial, orange markers, and a domed sapphire crystal—design cues straight out of the civilian dive watch playbook. The original day-date function has been reduced to date-only to improve the look of the dial design in line with modern tastes. Similarly, the lug width has been increased to 20mm to suit the wider straps preferred by modern wearers. Inside, the watch is driven by a Swiss Soprod 24 automatic movement offering 38 hours of power reserve, while the screw-down crown guarantees 200 meters water resistance.
But even if you’re never going to dive with the Orbit Robot, there’s something distinctly appealing about it. Will it be the first watch in an aspiring collector’s lineup? Probably not. But it’ll be a welcome addition once the expected stuff gets played out and a funkier option is required.
Nick Sullivan is Creative Director at Equire, where he served as Fashion Director from 2004 until 2019. Prior to that, he relocated from London with his young family to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He has styled and art directed countless fashion and cover stories for both Esquire and Big Black Book (which he helped found in 2006) in exotic,uncomfortable, and occasionally unfeasibly cold locations. He also writes extensively about men’s style, accessories, and watches. He describes his style as elegantly disheveled.