Benrus Type I and Type II MIL-W-50717 Military Dive Watches

Share this story:

When I think about all the things a military issued watch should be (robust, legible, functional), no watch comes as close to perfection as the 1970s Benrus dive watch.  Its super-solid case, highly-readable dial, and simple but functional features make it a real classic among military and dive watches.  Today we’ll take a look at what makes these watches so special.

BENRUS_TYPE_I_3In the early 1970s, while the British were issuing their now-famous, essentially off-the-shelf Swiss military dive watches, American forces wrote MIL-W-50717, a military specification that outlined all the design details they were looking for in a diving watch. Benrus, who had been producing field watches for the US military since the early 1960s, answered the mail with the watches you see here.

BENRUS_TYPE_I_23

Advertisement

These watches had everything divers and other combat units needed and nothing they didn’t. The thick steel one-piece cases measured in at 43 mm wide and 16mm tall, and made the watches impervious to disruption from the bangs and bumps associated with military operations.  That solid case and thick crystal on top gave the watch 1200 foot (about 365 meter) water resistance – pretty impressive for its time.  Housed safely inside is an automatic Benrus GS1D2 movement – a 17-jewel automatic Benrus-modified ETA 2620.

In top form, the movement will run for 40+ hours on a full wind.  The bezel is coarsely notched, making rotation easy for the wearer, even with gloves on. The acrylic bezel insert has numeral marked hours 1 through 11 with minute dash markings from 1 to 20.  The insert has a beautiful three-dimensional effect caused by the markings being painted into recesses on the under side of the insert.

With guidance from the military specification, there were two types of these watches produced: Type I and Type II.  Although the Type is stamped on the back of the case (along with mil-spec number, manufacturer, NSN, manufacturer part number, contract number, production date, and serial number), telling Type I from Type II is as easy as looking at the dial.  Type I’s feature lumed markers at each hour: a triangle at 12; rectangles at 3, 6, and 9; and dots at the remaining hours.  Type IIs have a traditional 12/24 military dial, with small lumed triangles at each hour.

example of a Type II dial. Photo Credit: Brandon Cripps
example of a Type II dial. Photo Credit: Brandon Cripps

There is also an unlumed version of the Type II, designated Class B, which does not have any lume on the dial or hands – they were used in locations containing delicate instruments that might be sensitive to even the small amounts of tritium contained in the lume (like on nuclear-powered submarines).  Like most military watches, legibility is tops on both Type I and Type II.  While I find myself preferring the simplicity of the Type I, the Type II looks more like other American milwatches we’re used to and is helpful in quick conversions from civilian to military time.

BENRUS_TYPE_I_26

These watches wear very comfortably, despite being relatively large and heavy.  Fixed bars force the use of pull-through or open-ended straps, but it’s hard to find a better look than one of these on a black NATO.  They have ridden the wave of milwatch popularity, which, of course, means increased prices and copycats.  However, some of the remakes and re-imaginings are quite good, like the Paradive from MKII or even the Marathon Navigator.

BENRUS_TYPE_I_18Benrus Type Is and IIs were produced for nearly a decade, from 1972 to 1980.  In all, there were a little over 9,000 Type II Class As produced, along with roughly 6000 Type I Class As and about 1000 Type II Class Bs.  There also exist a very small number of “sterile” Type Is – these watches don’t have any of the military stamped markings on the caseback and instead have a single engraved serial number.  The collector community has mostly agreed that these sterile versions were pre-production versions of the watch that made it out into military use.  Of course, watch nerds love a good story, so you’ll often hear how these watches were issued to Navy SEAL teams and other Special Operations units in the Army and CIA, since the lack of military markings on the case meant that the watch (and thus its wearer) could not be identified as American.

BENRUS_TYPE_I_15True or not, it’s a good story, and, along with the scarcity, drives the prices of the sterile version to the top of the Benrus price list – one reportedly sold online last week for over $4000.  Below that are Type Is in good condition – right now they usually go for $2000-3000, depending on condition.  Type II Class As are the most common version, and today they typically bring $1500-3000, again depending on condition (expect to add a couple hundred bucks for the unlumed Class B version).

BENRUS_TYPE_I_28As both a military watch and a vintage dive watch, the Benrus MIL-W-50717 Type I and Type II dive watch delivers high quality and great style for a manageable price (at least compared to other 1970s military dive watches from across the pond).  Finding one is fairly easy – there are usually a few for sale at any given time on online auction sites, as well as in the sales pages of most popular watch forums.  For more information about these watches, and for a good source to pick one up, check out the Military Watch Resource at broadarrow.net.

Watch courtesy of Jed Chevalier (@watchsafari)

Advertisement
Images from this post:
Brandon was raised in a military family, the son of an Army pilot and engineer. An early fascination with all things mechanical developed into a love of watches that remains today. Brandon holds a pair of degrees in experimental psychology and works as a human factors test engineer for Army aviation systems.
brandoncripps
Categories:
  • TrevorXM

    I clicked on the MKII link and found they had no watches for sale! It looks like they produce fun homage watches that are actually high quality and fairly priced, but I’m not sure what kind of a business that is as it appears there are a few for pre-order but not even any pictures of what those exact watches look like. Bizarre. The Marathon link showed they have this style of watch in quartz only, so it’s not really an alternative. What other logically priced alternatives are there with a quality swiss movement that one could buy today? I like this Benrus Type I but with a date and have no interest in an old beat-up watch for 2 to 3k.

    • Brandon Cripps

      We’re kind of into old, beat-up watches around here, but I understand that they don’t appeal to everyone, haha.

      While you’re waiting for MKII to restock, you can check the forums (WatchUSeek and Military Watch Resource, specifically) for pre-owned Paradives; they do show up occasionally.

      Another option is the Kronos brand from Ray Wong. Ray makes a generally well-regarded Type I-style watch with an ETA 2824, but I don’t believe he makes any with a date. Google his brand and name, and you’ll find plenty of discussion on the forums about his watches and where to buy them.

    • Joe

      Smiths/Precista do a version of these, also Dagaz Watch do one called the CAV-10. Both should be readily available. I prefer the original, old and beat-up as it is. It’s just a shame that their price creeps steadily upwards all the time.

  • Myron

    I’ve owned two of these watches. Other than being uncomfortable on the wrist (sharp lug corners) and the strap bars being needlessly close to the case, potential collectors should be aware of the poor stem and case design. It is a two-part stem and prone to pulling out. There is a lack of parts available as well. The case design, while robust, means your average watch servicer may be frustrated. Your best bet is to hunt for a used MkII Blackwater or Paradive.

  • JIM

    I own and dove with both the Type I and II both Mil-Subs preformed as well or better than my Rolex. There are very few things left now in the USA that are truly as American as apple pie, the BENRUS Type I & II Military Divers just might be one…

  • These watches seem to be uncomfortable on the wrist because of the Sharp Lug Corners. They look decent but also look uncomfortable.

  • These
    watches seem to be uncomfortable on the wrist because of the Sharp Lug
    Corners. They look decent but also look uncomfortable.

Article / Crowdfunding

Military Inspired Watches by Helgray

By
Here we are again with a familiar tune: a new …