Benrus comes from its founders, Benjamin, Ralph & Oscar Lazrus. I guess of the three possible combinations, BenRus sounded better than RalRus or OscRus! Formed in New York in 1921 the company was set up to take advantage of the small investment at the time in wristwatch production for the masses. Although companies like Elgin & Waltham were well on the way to moving the majority of production to wristwatches, it was considered by the brothers that there was room for at least one more company.
Each of the brothers had skills that they could bring to the new company, Benjamin controlled the operations of the business, Lazrus looked after legal and financial aspects and Ralph looked after sales. Although run from the US, Berus watches came from Switzerland, where at the time cheap movements were being produced in their thousands. Watch cases were made in the US and the whole watch was assembled in their own factory in Waterbury.
In an effort to diversify their watch making activities the Company also developed timing mechanisms for weapon systems during World War II, as well as supplying the market for affordable but reliable timepieces for servicemen. The general public was also catered for, with good quality timepieces continuing to flow from the Benrus factory.
The company has always had a strong attachment to the military and after the war ended Oscar Lazrus' sons, Julian & Jay, who both served in the armed forces, joined the company. One would imagine that with such a strong military connection, there might be a tendency to create more rugged, military styled watches. However, Julian & Jay were both in touch with the modern post-war society and this showed in the designs that came out of the factory. Far from producing military styled watches, Benrus gave the public a refreshingly new line of stylish watches that proved an instant hit when released.
At the beginning of the new age of consumption in the US after the war, the Company was perfectly aligned to take advantage and they did so, making thousands of timepieces for a demanding public. By 1950, when other watch manufacturers were finding the going tough, they were in the top five producers in the US. Although quantity sometimes replaces quality, this cannot be said about Benrus watches, their reputation for quality remained throughout their high-growth years.
The Company's fortunes continued until the late 1960s, when due to retirement of Ben and Ralph, the company ended up in the hands of Oscar who sold out to the Remington Razor company in 1967. Unfortunately the new owner, the famous Victor Kiam, was not sentimental when it came to business - he used the company to market quartz and LED watches which were, as we now know with the benefit of hindsight, doomed to failure, proving to be just a 'fad'. Most of the company's assets were stripped and Benrus became just another cheap watch maker.
The Benrus watch company as it was is no longer in operation, having been declared bankrupt in 1977 after the demise of several sister operations proved financially crippling for the company. Several attempts were made to revive the old Benrus name by many companies, however the final blow had been dealt and the company never really recovered.
Today, many of the old Benrus models like its Art Deco, military and especially the solid gold case models are very sought after by collectors. Surprisingly they are comparable bargains, in my opinion, than other makers' watches, and can be bought at very reasonable prices. If you are looking for a good quality, collectible watch you would be hard pressed to beat a good Benrus.
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