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    

Mens Pristine 1951 Gruen Knotted Lug 14k Solid Gold 17j Precision Art Deco WatchGruen Vintage Deep Diver 1500f 500m Swiss Automatic 730 Compressor No Reserve!Rare Vintage Gruen Mens Doctors Watch Veri-thin Swiss Mvmt 10k Gold Fill BezelLot Of 8 Vintage Wrist Watches Seiko Gruen Waltham Timex Omega Nice Lot AllVintage Gruen Veri-thin Pan Am 24 Hour Pilot Watch 17j 10k Solid GoldVintage Men's 1960's Gruen Panamerican Precision 24 Hour Veri-thin Watch RunsRare Gruen Techniquadron Techni Quadron Duo Dial Doctor's Mens Watch Caliber 877Vintage Gruen Pan American Wristwatch Runs Strong Keeps Excellent TimeGruen Air Flight Precision 24 Hour Day & Night Jump Hour 510 Rss 17jLot Of Ww2 Men's Military Watches Gruen Doxa Lathin Rodania Feruz Defender HomisVintage Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Wind Men's Wrist Watch # 512 Cd Day Date 3 & 6Huge Estate Watches (lot Of 140+) -stauer, Bulova, Gruen, Ingraham, Elgin, MoreVintage Gruen Curvex Precision 17 Jewel 440 10k Rose Gold Filled Art Deco WatchGruen Curvex Executive Solid White Gold 14k - Perfect Case And Runs Very WellRare Vintage Art Deco Gruen Guild Gold Man's Black Dial Watch, Stunning! No Res!Gruen 770 Ca Vintage Steel 7734 Chronograph For RestorationVintage Lot Of Mens Watches Bulova Gruen Elgin Waltham Gold Scrap Parts Repair 6Vintage Lot Of Mens Watches Bulova Gruen Elgin Waltham Gold Scrap Parts Repair 5Vintage Gruen "precision" Mans Watch,working Order,mechanical..5963 O Sz 17j Gruen D&s Hunter Movement Only - Runner - Smith Patterson Co - NrVintage Lot Of Mens Watches Bulova Gruen Elgin Waltham Gold Scrap Parts Repair 4Lot Of 12 Not Working , Hamilton, Bulova, Zodiac, Gruen, Geneva, Lot Working Ladies Wrist Watches ~ Bulova ~ Pulsar ~ Elgin ~ Gruen ~ Swiss ArmyRare Size 16 Madretsch Model Gruen Precision 21 Jewel Open-faced PocketwatchLadies Vintage Watch Lot Hamilton Diamond Waltham Gruen 2r Solid 14k Gold ScrapVintage Lot Of Mens Watches Bulova Gruen Elgin Waltham Gold Scrap Parts Repair 3Gruen Calgary Buffalo Beer Swiss Vintage Pre-owned Automatic Men`s Date Watch10 Old Vintage Ladies Watch Face Lot For Parts Repair Bulova Benrus Elgin GruenLadies Vintage Watches,hamilton Wittnauer Caravelle Baylor Corocraft Gruen PaulLong 1930's Gruen Precision Curvex Mens Wrist Watch 14k Gf 17j Cal. 311Vintage Gruen Veri-thin Mens Precision Swiss Switzerland Verithin Military StyleLot Of Men's&ladies Quartz Wrist Watches-gruen-timex-seiko-milan-elgin (vt 153)Gruen Octagonal Red Led Watch- Works Great!Watchmakers Special 6 Vintage Wrist Watches, Bulova, Gruen, HamiltonVintage Lot Of Gruen Ladies Dress Watches Gold Scrap Parts Repair- Nice - 14k Gf Gruen Curvex Precision 17 Jewel Ladies WatchVintage Lot Of Mens Watches Bulova Gruen Elgin Waltham Gold Scrap Parts Repair 1Vintage Lot Of Mens Watches Bulova Gruen Elgin Waltham Gold Scrap Parts Repair 2Vintage Men's Gruen Curvex Precision WatchGruen Curvex Precision 14k Gf WristwatchLot Of 15 Lady's Assorted Vintage Gruen Wristwatch Movements-parts-steampunkLot Of 4 Vintage Lady's Wristwatches 2 Bulova Benrus Gruen For Parts Or RepairWomen's 14k White Gold Gruen Vintage Evening WatchVintage Gold Plated Gruen 23 Jewel Geneve Precision Powerglide Wrist WatchVintage Men's Gruen Precision Wrist WatchLqqk!!!...rare Vintage Gruen "spider" 10kt Gold Filled W/"super Fancy Lugs/case!Vintage Gruen Curvex 10k G.f Mans W/watch 1940s As IsVintage Gruen Veri-thin Men's Wristwatch 17 Jewels Cal. 430 10k Gf Case Repair25 Vintage Mens & Womens Wrist Watch Movements Parts Helbrose Bulova Gruen EtcGruen Veri-thin Precision 1940's Copper Dial Watch With Leather StrapVintage Lot 5 Gruen Art Deco Lady W/watch & Bands 20s 60sMans Gruen 15 Jewels Wrist Watch Runs 1939Mens Vintage Gruen Precision Wrist Watch Autowind 25 JewelsVintage Gruen Precision Waterproof 17 Jewel N510ss Gold Plated WatchLot Vintage Ladies Gold Filled 10k R.g.p. Watches Parts Repair Helbros GruenMovado, Gruen, Benrus & Cinderella Watches & Costume Watches - For Parts Or WearVintage Men's Gruen Precision 17 Jeweled Mechanical Analog WatchVtg Lot Of 10 Mens & Womens Wrist Watches Hamilton , Royal, Elgin, GruenVintage Men's 17 J Wristwatches Waltham Premier Crescent St 750 Movement & GruenVintage Lot Of Mens Watches Bulova Gruen Elgin Waltham Gold Scrap Parts Repair 7