2. [1920- 1945] The Beginning: The first years or “…a watch at the hand of Liberty Statue”!
One can surely state that the presence of Lazrus brothers in the history of watches companies is due to Benjamin Lazrus. His interest for watches and jewelries, in whose field he started a business, appears to have begun (as mentioned by his death announce in New York Times) at 18 years, meaning 1912. Other documents specify 1919 and an address, 1st Beckman Place, in Manhatann, location (famous now and important then) on the East River Side. It is interesting how the beginnings of the company are also related to other places filled with history in NY: The Hippodrome or Jewelry District in the middle of Manhatann for the 47th Street section between 5th & 6th Avenue where there seems to have been another location for Benjamin Lazrus’s businesses.
The documents that were found but not presented in either one of the known histories are related to the obtaining by Benjamin Lazrus of his first passport, necessary for a trip outside USA.
So, on 30th of January 1920, S. Brunner (“Manufacturing Jeweler|Watch Bracelet a Speciality”, 64 Fulton Street) recommends B.L. to the American authorities as “having the knowledge of the business to which he engaged” and offers himself as a guarantor for the emission of a passport necessary to his business trip in France, Switzerland and Germany.
Benjamin Lazrus, who described his occupation as being a “wholesale watches” could depart in the trip he desired, in Switzerland, in order to “buy watches movements”. This first “business” trip (after 1918-1919 when he participated to WW1) in Europa, took place sometime during 1920-1921. He came back to USA on 23rd of February 1921 and I personal consider this moment the beginning, more or less documented, of Benrus Watch Company.
A second trip took place during 1921-1922, journey for which the obtaining of a new passport (due to unknown motives) was necessary. The presented documents with this occasion include a declaration (presented ’in premiere’ below) where in header can be noticed “Benjamin Lazrus – importer of watches” but also a very clear mention: “I am the proprietor of the above named concern …”!
The registration of Benrus name in USA was made the latest in 1922 and in Switzerland on 14th of May 1923, at the address: rue du Parc, no. 122, La Chaux-de-Fonds (extract from patent archives for companies names below). It is not clear whether all the three brothers were involved from the beginning in the activity of the company considering the fact that I found contradictory stories over this moment. In order to also elucidate this matter I kept a quotation (that I find to be very important) that specifies:
“The idea was Benjamin’s, and the company took its name from the first syllable of his name and the last syllable of the family name. The three young men combined $5,000 in savings and starting importing Swiss watch movements and casing them here.” (New York Times, 6th of September 1959 – at the death of Ralph S. Lazrus).
Archives de L’Horlogie | Recueil de Marque de Fabrique Horlogeres | vol.IX, pag. 123
The Benrus watches from the beginning period (1923-1945) are briefly presented in different histories as being “Art-Deco” watches. They were not particularly noticed or documented, being a period from which many details of Benrus models were not remembered.
It may be an entitled attitude but, I try to present next the most important models from this period with the help of some marketing materials from that epoch. You will notice special watches, reason for which the Benrus beginnings should begin to be regarded with different eyes!
The company has started aggressively with a consistent advertising (next to “heavy” names from that epoch – Elgin, Hampden, Hamilton, Illinois), especially in the local press, where “new style strap watches” were offered in exchange of old pocket watches, both as an advance and as a commitment of the payment of a weekly “rate”.
The first materials that I found are from the 1923-1927 period and illustrate precisely the Benrus endeavor to impose itself next to the already “heavy names” mentioned | see , ,  and .
In 1926, once with the involvement of Oscar M. Lazrus, in the life of the company also appears the first “spectacular” presentation of how Benrus tried to make itself noticed among the wristwatches producers from that period. At that time, Oscar Lazrus made an offer to the American authorities to install at the hand of the Liberty Statue a watch with the electric illuminated dial.
In the rejection answer of the government, a question mark was placed over: “…congruity of so modern an ornament as a wristwatches upon the classically robed figure.” (Hanford MacNider, Assistant Secretary of War, 1926).
The opportunity that the Lazrus brothers appear in numerous press releases was so created. Few of these are as follows (and attached ):
extras: "The Bridgeport Telegram", 2nd of March 1926
And, because I made a reminder above about the Benrus’s addition to USA effort for WW2, recent stories mention the American Export Airlines - AEA/AmEx pilots’ equipment with Benrus Sky Chief watches, pilots that took part in the materials and troops transportation between USA and Europe after the ‘D’ Day. Anyway we should not fall into the trap of assimilating Sky Chief with a military watch.
Beginning with 1926 Benrus Watch Co. is starting another interesting marketing campaign, by publishing a series of ads in which different personalities of that epoch are “shown” next to Benrus watches. Of course, the names from the sports environment had a privileged position. But, among the most spectacular ones we can mention also the “association” to Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator. Here they are (but also ,  and  from the right column):
In such a mixture (Babe Ruth association) in 1929, a "sport-aviation" model was launched, model that I dare to consider the first important Benrus watch, although I did not succeed to see one in any collection - Benrus Airman (see also ) presented as being accepted, in those times from the beginnings of transport aviation, by N.A.T. (National Air Transport) Company:
It was only the beginning because Benrus Flyer (1929)  and Benrus Pilot (1931)  models were launched in the next years.
In 1932 Benrus comes with its first complication, "jumping", launching simultaneous with Bulova a model, Jump Hour, very rare nowadays in collections, which announced the future Dial-O-Rama:
Also, regarding the women watches, Benrus "kept up" with the fashion of those times. The Baguette models from that epoch were found in Benrus collections.
With 2, 6, 8 or even 20 "diamonds"! Below or , and  ... from the right column:
In 1935, Gruen has released his very famous Curvex and of course, Benrus (next to the competition - see ) has reacted (1936) with its models. Of course, not with some kind of ’curved’ movement such as Gruen, but in 1937 he released Kurve King that made a sensation by the amplitude of its ‘arching’. For the chosen solution, Benrus requested in 1936 a patent  obtained (US PAT 2069453) in 1937.
For 1938 Benrus kept the release of its model - Signet, a very interesting solution for individualization for which in 1939, the required documentation for two patents was laid-down  and , given by the American authorities in 1941 (US PAT 2237675, respective US PAT 2240993), both patents obtained on the name of Benjamin Lazrus.
It is known the fact that Benrus did not produce watches issued under the US military specification for WW2. In spite of these stories we can remember that Benrus produced a series of watches (some of them similar to the military specifications from that epoch) called as “military” in presentations, but having the possibility to be bought by civilians. To this kind of watches, the next materials are referring (1943).
The apparition of Sky Chief in 1940 can be considered one of the moments of glory of Benrus Watch Co. The interest for collaboration with aviation companies has already begun (in those very agitated years for the beginning of the transatlantic flights) even since the end of the ’20s when, at the releasing of Airman model  (1929) was mentioned: "The timepiece officially chosen by the Nationat Air Transport (N-A-T) and other leading American Airways carrying U.S. Mail and passengers coast to coast". Also, the Flyer model  from the same year, 1929, specified "Officially adopted timepiece of the Transcontinental Air Transport" (T-A-T) newly funded in 1928. In 1931 the Pilot model  was presented for which the presentation ad noted: "Leading U.S. mail pilots wear this latest 1931 Benrus". And there must not be forgotten the association Benrus | Charles Lindbergh from 1926!
So, beginning with the ’30s, Benrus was entitled to adopt the first variant of a slogan that will add up his watches to some of the most important aviation transport companies during 1930-1965, such as were or still are: NWA, TWA, Delta Airlines or KLM.
Initially (1930-1931), the watches presentation was made - "Benrus Watches - They Time the Airways" but the first known variant (1931) for this slogan was "Officially Adopted by Leading US Airways" modified several years later (1935) under the form "Officially Adopted by Leading American Airways". At the releasing in 1940 of Sky Chief, it becomes "Official Watch of Famous Airlines" variant in which will remain until the end of the campaigns from the ’60s.
It is obvious that through the Sky Chief model, Benrus Watch has answered to the requests from the aviation companies that wished for a cronograph model that could offer more than the simple hour displaying.
Sky Chief was made into two variants with the following movements:
- simple chronograph (steel case)
* movement Venus 178/937 | code Benrus: BE [see 20] | steel case
* movement Valjoux 71 | code Benrus: GHH [see 21] | steel case
* movement Valjoux 72 | code Benrus: VZH [see 22] | steel case
photo credit to: http://www.ranfft.de si S. Walter
(from left to right) - Venus 178 | Valjoux_71 | Valjoux 72
- chronograph day/date (steel and gold case)
* movement Valjoux 72C | code Benrus: VZHC [see 23] | steel or 14K gold case
photo credit to: http://www.ranfft.de
For the simple chronograph variant, there are two case variants known:
- the case with rotating bezel and pointer | white dial;
- case without bezel | black dial in two variants.
Sky Chief | white dial (rotating bezel), black dial
photo: Joel M./MWR, piecesoftime.net, lamesuredutemps.com
For the triple-date chronograph variants, the cases were both from steel but also from 14K gold with only one dial design:
Sky Chief Triple Date, steel | Sky Chief Triple Date, 14K gold
photo: yorktime.com, farfo.com
Regarding the dial, one should remember that the Sky Chief is the only chronograph from that epoch where the dial for minutes counting is "marked" at an interval of 4(four) minutes and not 3(three) as are all the other similar chronographs. The reason for such of a marking interval came from the concrete necessities concrete for navigation during flight in the ’40s.
The appearance of Sky Chief ends a "romantic" period from the Benrus history. Models such as: Airman, Jump Hour, Baguette, King Kurve or Signet I did not have the chance to see yet in any collection. Still, there are watches for which the Benrus history, from those beginning years, should be reconsidered.