Common as they are today, wristwatches are a relatively new entry into the world of timepieces. In fact, as recently as the early decades of the 20th century, men considered wristwatches too effeminate, instead favoring traditional pocket watches. While a variety of factors helped shift consumer tastes, Gruen did more than perhaps any other watch company to make the wristwatch popular.

D. Gruen & Son was founded in 1894 by Dietrich Gruen and his son, Fred; Dietrich had previously founded the Columbus Watch Manufacturing Company in Columbus, Ohio, in 1876, but left in 1894 when the company went bankrupt. In 1900, D. Gruen & Son became D. Gruen, Sons & Company when George Gruen, Dietrich’s other son, joined the firm.

At first, Gruen imported movements from Switzerland, which the company finished with cases and then sold. In its early years, Gruen sold only pocket watches, but even then the company emphasized size and comfort for the user—while other companies were making big, heavy 18-size watches, Gruen manufactured smaller 16-size watches, and later 12-size watches. This approach quickly led to the first Gruen watch of many that would change the market.

Gruen released the VeriThin in 1904. By rearranging pieces of the watch movement, Gruen managed to make a watch that was only about 7 mm thick—a third thinner than most other watches—while still meeting railroad watch precision standards, the most exacting accuracy tests of the time. Unlike most other companies, Gruen sold its watches as complete, finished products, rather than as pieces to be assembled by a jeweler.

In 1908, Gruen released its first wristwatches for men and women. From the start, women’s wristwatches sold much better, beginning with a convertible model. This wristwatch was shaped just like a pocket watch but had detachable straps. Thus, women could wear it as a wristwatch, as a pocket watch, on a chain, or in a number of other ways.

At the time, men generally preferred more rugged, precise pocket watches. World War I, however, changed that. Down in the trenches or on a plane, soldiers realized that wristwatches were much more practical and convenient than pocket watches.

Gruen and other companies manufactured both wristwatches and pocket watches for the military, but it was careful to call wristwatches “strap watches” in order to avoid any femini...

The 1910s saw a few notable changes for Gruen: Dietrich Gruen died in 1911, and the company broke ground on its own Swiss-style movement factory in Cincinnati, later to be called “Time Hill.”

Wristwatches became more popular in the 1920s, especially with women. In 1921, Gruen released the Cartouche for ladies, the first wristwatch featuring a movement designed specifically for this new form of timepiece. Previously, wristwatches had round pocket-watch movements, which largely dictated the shape of the case. The Cartouche movement, on the other hand, was rectangular, which allowed a sleeker wristwatch design. The Cartouche was successful, far ahead of its time.

In 1924, Gruen released a watch to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dietrich Gruen’s patent for an improved movement piece. This pocket watch featured a movement of solid gold and always came in a luxurious case. Only 600 were made—one for each month of the 50 years—and the exquisite quality of these watches helped Gruen build its reputation.

The following year, Gruen began selling the Quadron, a men’s wristwatch similar in design to the women’s Cartouche. The Quadron was the first wristwatch in the market to be as accurate as a high-quality pocket watch, and its precision helped Gruen market the Quadron as a “manly,” reliable timepiece.

Gruen continued to influence the market later in the decade when it released the Techni-Quadron in 1928, one of the first “doctor’s watches” (so-called because the watch’s separate second-hand dial made it easy for a doctor to take a patient’s pulse). Gruen continued to make doctor’s watches into the mid-’40s, as well as nurse’s watches.

In the 1930s, Gruen managed to weather the Depression. Not coincidentally, many of the companies that failed to survive had not entered the wristwatch market. Gruen, on the other hand, released one of its most successful wristwatches in 1935, the Curvex. This watch utilized a patented curved movement design, which allowed for a bigger, and therefore more accurate, movement inside. The sleek design curved around the wearer’s wrist and was quickly a hit.

Curved wristwatches became more and more popular, largely due to the Curvex. In 1937, Gruen released its Ristside and Curvex-Ristside wristwatches, men’s watches that Gruen marketed as “driver’s watches.” In this peculiar design, the watch’s face sat not on top of the wearer’s wrist, but next to his thumb. This design allowed the wearer to check the time while driving without removing his hand from the steering wheel. While these watches were not hugely successful at the time, they are extremely rare and collectible today.

With World War II, Gruen switched to wartime manufacturing, making instruments and dials for the military. Government contracts gave the company good business, but because American watch companies were prohibited from making watches during wartime, Swiss companies began to enter the American market.

These changes set the stage for Gruen’s decline. In 1945, Fred Gruen died, and his brother George passed away soon after, in 1952. The following year, the Gruen family had sold its interests in the company. Although 1953 was Gruen’s best in terms of sales, the company had lost its direction. Faced with debt, anti-trust lawsuits, and more, Gruen fell apart.

By 1958, Gruen was divided up and parceled out—Rolex bought Gruen's Precision Factory, built in 1921. Unfortunately for collectors, its new owners destroyed all of the company’s pre-1958 factory paperwork, wiping out all records of serial numbers, production dates, quantities, and other valuable data.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Gruen: The Art and Mystery of Watchmaking

Gruen: The Art and Mystery of Watchmaking

Paul Schliesser's elegant site offers a comprehensive history of the Gruen Watch Company of Ohio. The easy-to-navig… [read review or visit site]

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Mens 1940s Gruen Veri-thin Precision 10k Rose Gold Fill 17 Jewel Art Deco WatchMens Nice 1930s Gruen 45mm Long Curved 10k Ygf Black Dial Art Deco Swiss Watch1938 Super Curved Ultra Long 52mm Gruen Curvex Triumph! The Long One! Wow!48mm Gruen Precision Curvex W/ Vintage Gold Filled Bracelet- Super Long CurvexRare - Small & Elegant Platinum & Diamonds Gruen Cal 161 Ladies WatchVtg Gruen Precision Autowind 10k Gold Filled Men's Automatic Wristwatch WatchVintage Gruen Precision 25 Jewel Automatic Men's WatchMen's Vintage 25-jewel Gruen Precision Auto-wind Wrist Watch(na11) - Very Nice Gruen Curvex Dial - Cal. 500 15j Gf Bezel Men's Wrist WatchGruen Curvex Cal.440 14k Pink Gold Gents Watch 1940's. Not Running (c3218) Gruen Precision 770r Venus 188 Manual Wind Chronograph With All Original BoxWristwatch Gruen Precision Veri- Thin 435 17 J Swiss 10 K Gold F. Fancy LugsMen's Vintage Gruen Curvex 440-449 10k Gold And Matching BandLow Reserve! 1950s Swiss Gruen Precision Watch, Cal. 510, Great Dial, Runs!16 Vintage Bulova Sea King Red Dial Whale Zodiac Wyler Gruen Caravelle S.s.Gruen Precision Autowind Automatic Stainless Men's Watch No Reserve * Keeps TimeVintage Gruen Precision 17j Alarm Date Men's Watch W/ Original BandArt Deco Gruen Curvex Veri Thin Gentlemens Swiss Wristwatch Sub Sec Fancy Case16 Vintage Gruen Enicar Bulova Caravelle Automatic Military Self Wind PartsGruen Precision 770r Venus 188 Manual Swiss Chronograph With All Original Box Antique Gruen 21 Jewel Precision Wristwatch Barclay "spider" 14k Gold FilledVintage Gruen Gf Curvex Ref 330.339 20mm By 44mm For RestorationSterling Silver - Gruen Unique Link Round Face 30.9g - Watch Sk8852Very Nice Running 1910’s Early Gruen 15 Jewel Sterling Case Wire Lug WristwatchNice Looking And Running Vintage Gruen Precision 17j Automatic Men's WatchLot Of 3 Vintage Antique Gruen Gold Filled Ladies Swiss Wrist Watch Vtg 1940s Gruen Veri-thin 10k Gold Filled Men's Wristwatch Watch Bubble CrystalAntique Ladies Gruen 14k Solid Gold 1920'c WristwatchVintage Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Watch Lot, 445ss, N510 & N510 R..all RunningWitnauer, Elgin, Gruen, Vantage, Bulova, Wyler, Swiss Vintage Watches 4 RepairGruen Swiss Automatic 2824 WristwatchVintage Gruen Precision 14k White Gold & Diamond Ladies Watch Runs Well ExcVintage Gruen Precision Swiss Wristwatch 510 Movement 17 Jewels Manual Wind41mm Gruen Curvex 440 Wrist Watch Ca. 1940's-- No ReserveVintage Gruen Veri Thin Mens Wristwatch 10k Gf Bezel 17j Gxc RunningVintage Gruen Watch Black And Gold Dress WatchVintage Gruen Precision Autowind Mens Watch With Date (e43)Gruen Precision 14k White Gold Ladies Watch,17 Jewels, Swiss,unique Shield ShapeGruen Vintage Art Deco Mens Wristwatch, Original Dial And Band!!Vintage Men's Electronic Wrist Watch Lot Gruen Precision Legant Parts Repair NrGruen Automatic Cal. 790cd As 2066 Vintage Watch Movement Complete & Working 69Nice Men's Gruen Vintage Watch - No Reserve Auction Solid 14k Gold Gruen Precision Heavy Mens Swiss - Watch Fix Wear Scrap Or MeltVintage Gruen Nice 17 Jewel Mens W/ Watch 60sWristwatch Gruen Precision Veri- Thin 435 17 J Swiss Fancy Lugs Diamond Dial5 Pc Lot Vintage Wristwatches Waltham Bulova Gruen 10k Gf Elgin Deluxe Gold FillScarce 1932 Vintage 14k Gold Fil Ladies Chased Diamond Gruen No Reserve! Wow!Vintage 1942 Men's Gruen Veri-thin Rose Gold Filled 17j Cal. 405 Watch 4 RepairVintage 14kt Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Ladies Wrist Watch 275 UnadjustedWomen's Vintage 14k Solid Gold Gruen Precision Swiss Watch. 18.3 Grams. Runs.(4) Four Gruen Watches, 2 Curvex, 2 Veri Thin.Gruen Precision Divers Style Rotating Bezel Wrist WatchVintage Lot Of 9 Watches Bulova Benrus Fremax Gruen Vulcain Helbros Kienzle30 Vintage Watch Lot All Mechanical Repair Parts Restore Wittnauer Gruen Timex +Vintage Ladies 14k Gruen Precision 17 Jeweled WatchVintage Gruen Precision Mechanical Wind Men's Watch Second Dial 10 K Rgp BackLot Of 40+ Vintage Ladies Gruen Wristwatch Watch Movements Parts RepairVintage Gruen Men's Wrist Watch Running Windup 17 Jewel Watch Makers Estate SaleVintage Lot Of Watches Watch Lucerne Alarm, Waltham, Timex Electric, Gruen SeeGruen Precision Autowind 17 Jewels