Pre-Owned Spotlight: Hunting Down American Gems In Today’s Market
For today’s pre-owned picks, we’re going all-American, baby! I go on the prowl for some true gems from American brands in the vintage realm. Now, of course, I could approach this challenge that Nacho set for me in a million different ways. In fact, there is so much to choose from that you could run a Fratello-like magazine focusing exclusively on American watches. I have decided just to follow my tastes and share some pre-owned picks that I would happily own and wear myself.
So without further ado, let’s get into three of my favorite American watches on the pre-owned market today.
Pre-owned pick #1: Benrus Type I
Let me kick things off with a watch that, in my eyes, is one of the best-looking watches ever made. Yes, that is a big statement, but I think it is justified. The Benrus Type I is the epitome of functional simplicity that is often the result of military spec. It is just so beautifully clean and legible, with just the right amount of quirkiness not to be bland.
The Type I was Benrus’s response to the 1970 MIL-W-50717 US government-issued specifications for a watch for its troops. The Vietnam War was still raging, and a robust and legible dive watch was required. A total of 6,000 Type I watches were produced, making it rarer than its Type II sibling with the field-watch dial (approximately 10,000 pieces).
This late example dates back to 1979, just before production ended. A Benrus-modified ETA 2620 automatic caliber powers it. The sterile dial, in particular, is beautiful on this one, and the tritium lume has taken on a beautifully warm hue. The bezel inlay is another thing to look at. It is acrylic with recessed and painted numerals on the underside, resulting in a cool 3D effect. Now, prices have gone up “a bit” recently. If you are used to running into these around the US$3K mark, that will not happen again. This one is on offer at Oliver & Clarke, priced at US$10,850.
Pre-owned pick #2: Hamilton 6BB
Okay, that first one was a bit pricey. You can, however, get a 1970s military-issued watch from an American brand at a much more attainable price point. And interestingly, you can get one that is even rarer (2,000 pieces issued) than the Benrus Type I — the Hamilton 6BB. Granted, Hamilton is a Swiss company today, but at least it has American origins.
But isn’t this a W10? Well, yes and no. It is largely the same model, albeit with a different dial. The W10 designation is for watches issued to the British Army. Those specifically issued to the RAF were labeled 6BB. The watch features a unique pebble-like tonneau case that is front-loaded. In other words, it has no removable case back. Hamilton’s caliber 649 (ETA 2720) powers this watch.
The one we have here is on offer at Antique Watch Co in London. Like the Benrus, it features beautifully aged tritium. Unlike the 43mm Benrus, this is a small watch at 35mm in diameter. Rest assured, though, that it has all the required wrist presence. It has a price of £1,395.
Pre-owned pick #3: Waltham Super Voice Alarm
Enough with the military stuff. Let’s have a look at something elegant next. Here we have a stunning little alarm watch by Waltham. Measuring 35mm in diameter, this one is fitted with the Vulcain caliber 120. Now, that name will surely ring a bell. See what I did there? In all seriousness, Vulcain is known for its alarm watches, and this is an American take on the theme.
I think we should talk aesthetics here because this is quite the looker. The domed sunburst dial has a rich hue leaning ever so slightly towards champagne. The custard radium lume plots and handset emphasize the warm tones. Speaking of the handset, it is a thing of beauty — simple, elegant, and sharp. And then we have those characterful typefaces you only find on vintage dials like this. Look at the “RA” for radium on either side of “Swiss Made.” They are entirely different, confirming this was done by hand in the ’60s.
This Waltham Alarm watch is on offer at Collector’s Corner NY, priced at US$1,900.
There you have it — three American pre-owned picks with tons of vintage appeal! In fact, either of the military watches paired with the Waltham would be a perfect two-watch collection. You could do a whole lot worse.
Which is your favorite of these three? Let us know in the comments below!