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    

1941 Gruen Doctor’s Duo Dial Quad Signed Men's 17 Jewel Vintage WatchExcellent Vintage Gruen Precision Chronograph Venus 188 Multi-colored Dial SteelVintage 1970's Men's Gruen Precision Automatic Autowind Swiss Watch RunsVintage Gruen Precision Chronograph Valjoux 7734 Multi Colored Dial1947 Gruen Veri-thin Deco 17 Jewel Men's Vintage Watch With Thick Fancy CrystalLadies Vintage Watch Lot,wittnauer Benrus Bulova Gruen Waltham Wyler Elgin MilosGruen Curvex Precision, Vintage, 10k Gold Filled, Original Box, Ref.641, Cal 440Rare And Fine Solid 14k White Gold Gruen Precision "black Tie" With DiamondsVintage Men's Wrist Watch Lot Parts Or Repair Gruen Belair Bulova Chase Henry'sLot Of 5 Vintage Ladies Watches Gruen, Benrus, Waltham, Wittnauer. Vintage Gruen Veri-thin Art Deco Watch C.1940’s 10k Gold FilledSuperb Old Gruen Precision Verithin 17j In Fancy Wadsworth 14k Wgf Pentagon Case1941 Gruen Quad Signed Veri-thin 17 Jewel Men's Vintage WatchVintage Fancy Gruen Ladies 14k Gf Watch WorksClean 1950s Gruen Precision Swiss Made 17 Jewels Sporty Round Case- Runs! N/rVintage & Military Style Watch Lot,gruen Optima Bucherer Monarch Mohawk CornavinHuge Lot Vintage Ladies Mechanical Windup Watches-caravelle, Gruen, BenrusVintage Watch Lot Estate Find Gruen Bulova Corterbert For Parts Or RepairArt Deco Vintage Men's Watch Lot Bulova Gruen Wittnauer Elgin Lot Lot Of 33 Vintage Women's Wristwatches Bulova Elgin Gruen Benrus EtcLarge Lot Of Watches Parts Casio Fossil Seiko Girard Perregaux Gruen JurgensenVintage Gruen Veri Thin "pan Am" Watch 24 Hr Dial Running Case Needs Repair Gruen Men's Hand Wound The 14kygp Case Is Exlt. The Original Dial Is Exlt. 60's 35 Vintage Wrist Watch Crowns Bulova Hamilton Benrus Gruen Elgin Gerrard- Pereg(d47) - Good Looking 32mm Gruen Veri-thin Cal 411 15j Men's Wrist Watch - RunsArt Deco Vintage Men's Watch Lot Bulova Gruen Elgin Wyler Lot Vintage Lot Of 5 Mechanical Ladies Wristwatches-bulova,gruen,longinesVintage Gruen Veri-thin 426 Curved Case Mechanical Wind Wrist Watch MensLot 1 Of Ladies Watches Longines, Girard Perregaux, Bulova, Waltham, Gruen1950 Gruen 17j Gents Veri-thin Ref. 804 Art Deco Resurgent Stepped Case Runs!!9 Lot Vintage Gruen Waltham Benrus Helzberg ++++ WatchTwo 1920s Ladies' 14k Wgf Long Case Fancy Deco Watches - Elgin & Enameled Gruen Vintage Men's Gruen Curvex 10k Gold Filled Watch For Parts Repair NrHuge Lot Mens Vintage Quartz Watches Gruen, Benrus, Pulsar, ElginGruen Quadron Caliber 157 RestoredVtg Gruen Precision 25 Jewel Mens Automatic Watch Needs RepairVintage Gruen Curvex 10kt Gold Filled Curved Case Mens Watch Circa 1940s WorksVintage Gruen 17 Jewel Wristwatch W/ Navajo Sh Turquoise Gold Filled Tips * RunsVintage Watch Parts Lot Elgin Herald Hamilton Rouan Timex Goerin Gruen + MoreC.1939 Gruen Precision Curvex Ladies Vintage / Antique Wrist Watch,17j., RunsLot Of 28 Ladies Watch Movements, Bulova,waltham,gruen And Many Others. Huge Lot Ladies Womens Quartz Watches Helbros,gruenVintage Automatic Watch Lot,clinton 59j As 1580,gruen 550 Ss,westclox Baylor6 Vintage Ladies Wrist Watches Deco Elgin Gruen Diamonds Omega Bulova Repair Gruen Precision Vintage Waterproof Sweep Seconds Nice Dial Watch No ReserveVintage Double Dial 10k Gold Filled Gruen Womens Watch Early Estate Gruen Curvex Gold Filled WristwatchVintage Benrus 14 K & Gruen 25 Jewels Men's- Estate Wristwatches WorkingVintage Ladies Wrist Watch Lot Helbros Hamilton Gruen Bulova Elgin Parts RepairVintage Gruen Precision Autowind Men's Wristwatch N 710 Rss RunsGruen Autowind Cross-hair Dial Self-winding Man's Vintage Watch Keeps Good TimeVintage Men's Gruen Jeweled WatchVintage Gold Fd Large Antique Art Deco Gruen Curvex Mens Watch ... Nr3 Vintage Gruen Mens WatchesGruen Guildcraft Vintage Mens Watch Box No ReserveVintage Mens 1960's Gruen Precision W/date 17 Jewel All Original Running GreatLot Of 40 Wrist Watches - Seiko Timex Fossil Jules Gruen Bulova Geneva BenrusRetro Mens Gruen Diamond 225 2035 Quartz Rose Gold Tone Nugget Analog Watch Lot Of 5 Vintage Gold Filled/tone Ladies Wrist Watches -inc. Benrus,gruen -b3666(jm33) Deal Lot - Watch Parts - Gruen Material Asst - Stems, & Balance Staffs