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. 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    

Rare Gruen 1930's Solid 14k White Gold Prince Doctors Art Deco Wristwatch Nice1937 Men's Long Engraved Art Deco Gold Gruen Curvex Style Watch1934 Engraved Art Deco Gruen Quadron Tank Style WatchMan's Gruen Pan American Wrist WatchVintage Art Deco 14k Solid White Gold Diamond Gruen Curvex Precision Men's WatchVintage Gruen Veri-thin Precision Wrist Watch -runningHuge Vintage Watch Parts & Tools Lot Longines Gruen Seiko Gucci Screw DriversVintage Gruen Wristwatch 1947 Vintage Gruen Veri-thin 'bruce' 425 17j Swiss Dress Watch Men 10k Gf Vintage Men's Gruen Precision 17 Jewels Watch Working L@@kVintage Gruen Guild Men's Watch 15 Jewels Ca 1929, Running Strong 14k Gf, Nice !Vintage Art Deco Gruen Elongated Ladies Gold Filled Enamel Wrist Watch To FixMens Vintage Gruen Veri-thin Solid 12k Yg Band, Cal 435 Swiss 17 Jewels Luxury Gruen "annapolis Styled" Quadron WatchVintage Gruen Curvex Precision Men's Watch 1942 10k Gold Filled RunningVintage Gold Gruen 10k Rgp Precision Autowind Automatic Mens Watch Working Vintage Gruen 21 Watch Spider Lugs 1940'sLarge Watch Part Estate Movements Cases Dials Nos & Used Elgin Gruen Bulova EtcVintage Gruen Cal 415 10k Rolled Gold Men's Watch W/ Pie Pan Dial 17 Jewel - See - Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Stainless Steel Mens Vintage WatchClassic Vintage Gents Gruen Precision Watch ~ Gold Microns Leather Strap RunningVintage Gruen Precision Wrist Watch - 23 Jewel - RunningGruen Veri-thin Precision 17j Wristwatch, 10k Rose Gold Filled Case - Rf18733Vintage Womens Gruen Guild M Swiss 15 Jewels 14k Gold Filled For RepairMen's Gruen Gold Tone Watch Veri Thin Precision 1940Gruen Veri-thin Wrist Watch 17 JewelsVintage Lot 37 Movements Dials Gruen Waltham Elgin Hamilton Roamer Lecoultre Art Deco Vintage Gruen Guild Watch 14k White Gold Wgf Filigree Case RunningScarce 1940s Gruen Precision 17j Gents Ref. 376 Curved Rose Gold Wild Lugs Runs!Lot Of 12 Vintage Ladies Wind Up Watches Bulova Gruen Duck Etc. Men's Gruen Precision 10k Rgp Day Date Dress Watch - "hamm's Beer" Runs S6 Vintage Gruen Precision Auto Wrist Watch With Day/date - Nice - Working - NorsrvVintage Gruen Watch Mens Curvex Precision 10 Kt Gold Filled Parts WatchLarge 200 Watch Movement Lot Mechanical Craft Steampunk Elgin Gruen HamiltonSmall Vintage Gruen Watch Display Box Paperwork Cincinnati OhioVintage Gruen Quartz Men's Watch Gold ToneLot Of Four (4) Vintage Watch Heads For Parts Gruen Technos Waltham Bulova * EVintage Watch Lot ~ Deco ~ Elgin , Gruen, Banner, Luor.. Steampunk ArtWatchmaker's Tools And Parts Lot (bulova, Gruen, Hamilton, Seiko...)Vintage 1940s Gruen Guild Mens Swiss Manual Wind 10k Gf Watch Runs E.u.c.twistonVintage Watch Lot 5 Mens' Wristwatches Gruen Lucerne And OthersVintage Gruen Precision Wrist Watch - Auto WindGruen Guild Ladies 14k Gold Swiss 4 Adj. 15j Manual Wind Wrist Watch Not RunningDesirable Ca. 1945 Gruen Veri-thin 17j Pan American Military Style Dial Ufix!! Vintage 10kt Yellow Gold Filled Gruen 17 Jewels Curvex Wristwatch With BoxVintage Swiss Gruen Veri-thin 17 Jewel Automatic Men's FilledVintage 10k Gold Filled Wrist Watch Case Parts 4 Scrap Elgin Hamilton Gruen 31g 18 Lot Watch Movements Lecoultre Hamilton Longines Gruen Bulova BenrusLot Nos Antique Watch Parts Staff Crowns Stems Hands Elgin Gruen Bulova WalthamVintage Ladies Watch Movement Lot Hamilton Gruen BulovaEstate Wristwatch Lot. Gruen, Genova,geneva, Pulsar,helbros,timex, EtcGruen Vintage Woman's Diamond And 14k Yellow Gold Watch Lot Of 9 Vtg Ladies Watches ~ Bulova Helbros Gruen Vulcain Timex ~ Parts RepairHuge Lot 23 Watches Gruen Bulova Lord Elgin Wittnauer Benrus Pulsar Seiko HelbroVintage Gruen Precision Self Winding 10k Gf For Parts Or RepairVintage Set Of 3 Watches Hamilton, Gruen & Jules Jurgensen Parts Or Repair#2 Of 2, Old Vtg Gruen Curvex 14k Yellow Gold & Diamond Men's Wrist Watch, PartsVintage Gruen Mens Wrist Watch Curved Tankard For Repair Or PartsAntique Bb 1937 Durex & Planex Watch Crystal Catalog Rolex Bulova Gruen IllinoisGruen 17j Bumper Auto. Men's Wrist Watch Movement (c20)