Affordable Vintage: The Bullitt Benrus

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Hitting the auction block this weekend is Steve McQueen’s 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4. With estimates ranging from $8-12 million, the car is on track to break sales records and demonstrates that the King of Cool’s legacy is still very much alive. More than thirty years after his death, everything the man touched remains Cool with a capital C. That’s certainly the case with watches, where the models that McQueen wore command a premium in the market. For most buyers, that means a McQueen watch–a blue-dial Heuer Monaco 1133B, a Rolex Submariner 5512, or a Hanhart 417–is in grail territory. However, there is a far less well known and far more attainable McQueen watch, and that’s what we’re looking at today: the Benrus Series #3061 black dial. It’s what we like to call the Bullitt Benrus.

BULLITT_MCQUEENWhen McQueen took delivery of his Ferrari 275 in 1967, he was in the middle of filming what would become arguably his most famous film: Bullitt. The movie follows San Francisco cop Frank Bullitt (McQueen) as he navigates his way through a tricky situation involving politicians, mob informants, and the mob itself (and, most famously, navigates his dark green Ford Mustang GT fastback quickly and screeching through the San Francisco streets in one of the greatest movie car chases ever made). And on his wrist is this little civilian mil-watch.

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BULLITT_BENRUS_7Since the mid ’60s, Benrus had been supplying the U.S. military with reliable timepieces under two specifications, Mil-W-3818B and GG-W-113. Both watches had one-piece parkerized cases, 17-jewel hand-wound movements, and unsigned military-style dials.  Although the late ’60s were a time when military fashion was not as influential on commercial fashion as it’s been before or since, Benrus recognized the quality of the simple military designs they were producing for the government and decided to make civilian a civilian version of the watch available for the commercial market.

BULLITT_BENRUS_12The Series #3061 is Benrus’ civilian version of their iconic military watch, and it features one big similarity to and three noticeable differences from its issued brothers.  The big similarity is found under the hood: the Benrus DR 2F2 movement, basically a Benrus-signed ETA 2372.  The same movement is found in Benrus’ military watches, and it’s a great little 17-jewel, hand-wound, hacking movement.  The three noticeable differences between the #3061 and the mil versions are what makes us able to identify it on McQueen’s wrist in Bullitt.

BULLITT_BENRUS_5

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First, the case is polished and shiny, in contrast to the matte parkerized finish of the mil-watches (it’s also a couple millimeters shallower in the back).  Second, it’s signed ‘BENRUS’ on the top half of the dial, as opposed to the unsigned dials of the GG-W-113 and Mil-W-3818B. And third, the second hand features an arrow tip painted red, while the mil-watches have luminous paint down the length of the second hand. Although we never get a great, close-up view of McQueen’s watch in the movie, it’s clear to see that it has a polished case, signed military-style dial, and red-tipped second hand. Based on those clues, it’s easy to believe that this little civilian Benrus is the Bullitt watch.

Though not as common as its military brothers, the Bullitt Benrus is fairly easily found in good condition. Benrus made at least one other dial version of the #3061 (a silver dial with applied numerals and markers and dauphine hands), as well as another military-dialed civilian watch (the Series #3065, which featured a parkerized case), so pay attention to what you’re looking for when you search. Good-quality examples usually sell for prices comparable to the Benrus milwatches, in the $100-500 range.

BULLITT_BENRUS_3Steve McQueen remains the King of Cool, and the watches he wore live on as some of the best examples of his style and collectable vintage timepieces. If you’re lucky enough to be bidding on his Ferrari this weekend, then you’re also lucky enough to afford a vintage Monaco or 5512. For the rest of us, there’s this Bullitt Benrus and McQueen’s work on the big screen to keep us happy and entertained.

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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
  • I.RY

    I love this watch so much. I regret not buying the one you pointed out on Ebay

  • lactardjosh

    Nice write up, great information!

  • lactardjosh

    By the way, there was one on eBay that looks like it just sold for $218 BIN.

    • Dennis T.

      I think you’re speaking of the one I just picked up! Bullitt was my first McQueen movie.. had to get it after reading this write up! Will share pictures once I receive it. 🙂

  • hope none

    The movements in Benrus mechanical watches are quality movements. I have serviced
    Rolex and Benrus watches and don’t see much of a difference in the quality of the watch
    parts. I have bought countless Benrus watches off the boards, and 99% of them just
    need a cleaning, or a stem. I think Benrus watches are are truly under appreciated–at least
    the one’s from the 40’s to late 60’s. This goes for all models.

  • David Richards

    After reading this I checked an old box where I store keepsakes and found the one I bought about 1966 to replace an earlier identical watch that had been corroded by salt water due to a cracked crystal and a fall overboard. I wore it daily until 1971 when I set it aside in favor of my Dad’s Bulova Accutron, which I received on his passing. One thing to note: apparently not all had a red-tipped second hand. My second hand has a yellow tip. I believe it originally had a luminous dial and hands, so perhaps the color change is a consequence of that plus being nearly 50 years old.

  • samking73

    I’ll be darned if I don’t have the non military version 3061 in my collection of vintage watches. I had been wearing it as a work watch for about a week now. Guess I’ll stop that as it’s in close to mint condition. I love vintage watches, and Steve’s model is awesome. I knew I liked it for some reason.

  • Russ

    Any screenshots of him wearing this watch? That’s a pretty cool Benrus.

  • Burr Mobley

    There is a current one on e bay for $360 BIN. I figure the guy really likes it and will only part with it for that amount. I would love to have it. It looks nice.