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    

Vintage Gruen Veri-thin 17 Jewel Men's Automatic Bumper Wrist Watch 462 Ss Runs Gruen Precision Chronograph Tachymetertelemeter With Valjoux 7734 MovementVintage 60s Gruen Precision Divers Watch Parts/repair4x Signed Vintage 1950s Gruen Autowind Automatic Watch - Sunburst Dial - 10k GfRare 1952 Gruen Precision 21j Gents Ref. 723 Spider Lugs Black Dial Exotic CaseC1950s Lot Of 6 Vintage Mens Wristwatches Elgin Benrus Bulova GruenExceedingly Rare 1930's Art Deco Enamel Gruen 18k Fine Jadeite Jade Large WatchLadies Vintage Watch Lot Of 7 Hand Wind Bulova Diamond Cocktail Gruen Precision Vintage Gruen Super Rare Quadron Watch Solid 14k White Gold Caliber 117/64 Vintage Lot Of 12 Men's Watches -gruen-waltham-lasalle-benrusVintage Gruen Mans 14k Solid Gold Wrist Watch W/ Diamonds No ReserveGruen Curvex 7 Jewels Swiss Made 10 Micron G.p. Men's Wrist WatchVintage Gruen Guild 15 Jewel 4 Adj Wind Ladies Wrist Watch Runs All 14 K GfVintage Gruen Precision Mens Wrist Watch Automatic Date/day Running No ReserveAntique Gruen Wrist Watch-14k White Gold Watch-10k White Gold Band-blue StonesMens Gruen Gold Plated 415r Manual Wind Mens Vintage Watch 35 Mm Gruen Duo Tone Vintage Gold Filled Alarm Watch 920ss To Restore No ReserveGruen Precision Vintage Bumper Autowind Textured Dial Sweep Seconds No ReserveVintage Assorted Mens Wrist Watch 9 Piece Lot Gruen Citizen Mavrin Genova BulovaVintage Gruen Wrist Watch Pan American Very Thin 12-24 Hour Dial VgcMagnificent Gruen Precision 17 Jewels Men Watch / Good Condition Great Looks!!!Gruen Long Curvex Large Curve 45mm Long 330 Not Running For Repairs Parts EtcVintage Gruen Curvex Wrist Watch Manual No ReserveLot Of 3 Vintage Lady's Wristwatches Bulova, Gruen, Lucerne1950s Gruen Precision Autowind 17j Men's RunningVintage Gruen 17 Jewel Mechanical Wind Men's Wrist Watch 227 R Runs Black DialLot Of 203 Ladies Quartz Wristwatches Parts Repair Waltham, Gruen, Armitron +5 Vintage Ladies Watches Bulova Gruen Benrus Wittnauer Some Gold FilledMen's Running Vintage * Gruen Curvex * Authentic 1930*s Fair Condition!!!Vintage Gruen Swiss Made 15 Jewels Curvex Conoruma Gxc Men's Wrist WatchLot Of 18 Mens Gruen Wrist Watch Movements Curvex Adjusted & DialsVintage Men's Gruen Precision Auto Wind With Bumper FeatureMen's Watch Lot,benrus Elgin Fossil Gruen Casio Waltham Helbros Budweiser & More80+ Watches Lot Parts-repair Gruen Fossil Relic Pulsar Disney Timexetc. #1Old Vintage Mens Gruen Veri-thin Stainless Wristwatch Very Nice Nos Gruen Precision Mechanical Men's Dress Swiss Wrist Watch - WorksColumbus Watch Co No 2724 Gruen Patent Nickel Hunter Lever SetVintage Gruen Men's Wristwatch Automatic 25 Jewels For RepairVintage Gruen Veri-thin Mens Expandable Wrist Watch Manual No ReserveVintage 1927 Solid 14k White Gold Gruen Ladies Watch--not RunningVintage 1970's Men's Gruen Precision Waterproof Mechanical Watch RunsVintage Gruen 28.5mm Movement W/ Porcelain Dial RunsLot Of 10 Vintage Bulova Gruen Illinois Benrus & More Watches - As Is For PartsGruen Curvex Tiger Claw Art Deco Men’s Watch 17j Wristwatch Not RunningMans Quartz Watch Embassy By Gruen With Leather BandVery Unusual 1950 Gruen Precision Ref. 769 17 Jewels 480 Ss Automatic Star Dial4 Vintage Womans Ladies Mechanical Watches-wittnauer Benrus Gruen TimexAntique Sterling Case Gruen Veri Thin Watch Mexican Silver & Gold Band RunsLot Of Gruen Watch CrownsLot Of 5 Parts/repair Men Watches 10k Gold Ep Gf Benrus Gruen Elgin Diamonds? 62 Mens Watches Gruen Ii & Fossil Blue Chrono Styled Ss Bq-9035 W/bands Both WorkMens Mechanical Watches For Repair.gruen Helbros Onsa Watch.helbros No CrystalVintage Antique Old Wrist Watch Bulova Gruen Parts Repair Craft As Is Lot CVintage Women's Gruen 17 Jewel Wristwatch 14k White Gold Diamonds RunHigh Grade 21 Jewel Nickel 39mm Gruen "precision" Mov't & DialEmbassy By Gruen - Women's Wrist Watch, Quartz, L@@kMens Gruen 5atm Quartz WatchVintage Gruen Veri-thin Mens Wrist Watch Expandable No ReserveVintage Ladies Gruen Precision Watch Ladies Gruen Luxury Dress Watch14k Solid White Gold Gruen Curvex Ladies Watch, Pristine Condition, 17 Jewels