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    

60s Gruen Precision Super Compressor Deep Diver 1500 Ft Stainless Automatic 2fixAntique Vintage Platinum 26 Genuine Diamond Gruen Wrist Watch Art Deco 15.gTimex, Wittnauer, Benrus, Elgin, Gruen, Vintage Mechanical Watch Lot!!! L@@k!!!Vintage 14k Gruen Embossing Enamel Case Caliber 705 Serviced And No Reserve.Very Nice Solid 14k Gold 50's/60's Vintage Gruen 23j Automatic Not Scrap 1951 Vintage Gruen Veri-thin 21 "squire" Usa 335 10k Gold Filled Men Watch 1930’s Gruen Man’s Vintage Wrist Watch Deco NrVintage 1920's Alpina Gruen Guild 835 (rolex 200) High Quality Nurse WristwatchGruen Pan Am 24 Hour Veri Thin Mens Running Vintage WatchC.1940 Vintage Gruen Curvex Men's Wristwatch14k Solid Gold Rose Cut Diamond Gruen Watch Working Condition - No Reserve1942 Mens Gruen Veri-thin Vintage Gold Curved Style Stepped 10k Gf WatchMens Solid 14 Karat Gold Gruen Quadron Rare 3251 CaliberGruen 14k Solid Gold Men's Verithin Precision Watch, Exc W/ Box No ReserveLot Of 8 Lbs Of Junk Watches - Parts, Steampunk, Crafts Elgin Gruen Seiko TimexVery Unusual 1955 Gruen Precision 17j Gents Ref 998 Barrel Shape Wild Dial- Ufix15 Vintage Watches Elgin Gruen Bulova Wittnauer Lord Nelson Klaus Kobec WorkingGruen Quadron 157 "alpina" ModelGruen Quadron 157 With Beautiful Satin Raised Marker DialLot Of Working Mens Retro Quartz Wrist Watches ~ Gruen ~ Pulsar ~ JunghansVintage 1960s Gruen Autowind Automatic 17 Jewels Men's Swiss Watch St Steel CaseVintage Gruen Precision Mens Watch 1960's Swiss 17 Jewel Manual MovementVintage Gruen Triple Date Calendar Watch LookVintage Art Deco Gruen Guild 14k Gold Filled 15 Jewel Mans Watch 1938 Gruen Tonneau 15j Cal:704 Case:358 10kgf; Sub Seconds Dial. RunsVintage Mens Gruen Wristwatch 15 Jewel Swiss 885 Runs! Vintage Art Deco Benrus Elgin Waltham Premier Monarch Clinton Gruen Veri-thinVintage Gruen Watch Lot, Geneve 23 Precision Powerglide, Precision & Waterproof Rare Vintage Gruen Solid 14k White Gold Ladies Bracelet Watch W/ Original Box Nr1930’s Gruen Art Deco 15 Jewel Fancy Runs Curved Case Green Crystal Men’sVintage Gruen Precision American Airlines Award WatchVintage 40mm Gruen "curvex" "440" 17 Jewels Wadsworth Gold Filled CaseLot Of 6 Ladies Wrist Watches-elgin-gruen-ernia Watch Co- Parts Or Repair (ct)Gruen Curvex Precision Diamond Dial Expansion Dress Watch 17j In 14k White Gold1960 Gruen Men's Manual Wind Watch, 14kt CaseVintage Gruen Veri-thin Automatic Wristwatch Watch Mens RunsWomen's Gruen Swiss Diamond Watch Gsl051 Valais Mop And Gold Tone Runs I2Mens Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Wristwatch Gents Gruen Curvex Circa 1990's Measures 45mm Long Lug To LugVintage Gold Fd Large Antique Art Deco 21 Jewels Gruen Curvex Mens Watch ... NrVintage Gruen 15 Jewel Gold Filled Wrist Watch Needs Balanced Gruen Vintage 570 Ss Men's 17 Jewel Automatic Wrist Watch, Fix Or PartsAntique Gruen 10k Gold Filled Non-running Watch 15 JewelsGruen Vintage Square Men’s Watch1990's Vintage Mens Gruen Precision Quartz Watch Day Date Gold Tone Stretch BandVintage Gruen Hand Wind 17 Jewel Mens Watchchrome & Stainless Steel 510rss 1960sNo Reserve! Tripled Stepped Gold Fill Gruen Veri-thin Gents Wristwatch, ServicedGruen Quadron Caliber 117 Enameled CaseVintage Lot Of 14 Watch Faces Quartz Gruen Rolex Nike Nautica Lucerne CannesGruen Veri-thin Solid 14k Fancy Diamond Dial Gents Vintage 1950's WristwatchCertina, Gruen, Concord, Benrus, Baylor And Many More 100 Plus MovementsVintage Watch Lot Most Automatic _ Timex,waltham,gruen,carleton_ Scrap Or RepairVintage Gruen Curvex Parts Movement And Partial CasesVtg. Art Deco Gruen Pink Rose Gold 17 Jewel Mechanical Men's And Deco Watch BandGruen Precision 25 Jewels Autowind Vintage Men's Wrist Watch Gold Plated WorkinStunning Rope Lug 10k Gold Fill Gruen Curvex Gents Watch, Faceted Crystal Runs! Vintage Gruen Veri-thin Precision Cal. 425 Mens Wrist WatchLot Of 4 Men's Wrist Watches Parts Or Repair-gruen Precision-elgin Selfwind (ct)Gold Plated Gruen Mechanical: Hand-winding,open Face Vintage Watch16 ~ Vintage Wristwatch Movements Lot Bulova / Gruen / Elgin / Benrus / Waltham