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    

C.1940 Vintage Long Gruen Curvex 52mm Mens Wristwatch - Excellent Cond.Vintage Gruen Precision Chronograph Watch Winds Up Running Steel Inset Dial Vg++Rare Gruen Golf Ball Full Hunter Wrist Watch, Circa 1939Lot 13 Vintage Gold Fd Antique Art Deco Hamilton Diamond Longines Gruen Watch S Vintage 1960s Gruen Precision 17j Jump Hour Day Night Changing Marker WristwatchRare Vintage Gruen Curvex Wristwatch 1940 Wadsworth 10k Gf Case 17 Jewels 40mmVintage Solid 14k White Gold Gruen Curvex In Original Box! No Reserve!!Mens 1940s Gruen Veri-thin 14k Solid Gold 430 Caliber Vintage 17j Swiss Watch A+Nos- Mens Gruen "10 Atm" Rolex Explorer Style - Quartz Great Condition 14k Solid Gold 50s Vintage Gruen Precision Slim Florentine N510r Men Swiss WatcC.1950 Vintage Gruen 21 Jewel Mens Wristwatch W/ Observatory Box - Mint, Nos4 X Vintage Ladies Watches Inc Silver Delia, Gruen Guild, Waltham & ElginVintage Gruen Pan American Veri-thin Precision 420ssGruen Unique Gold Filled Art Deco Mens Dress Watch 17 Jewel Swiss Serviced Nice!1940's Gruen Solid 14k Yellow Gold Fancy Case Engraved Dial Men's Vintage WatchVintage Gruen Black Dial 15 Jewel Men's WristwatchMens Pink Gold Filled Gruen Precision Veri-thin Pan American Model10 Watches Nib From Jewelry Store Closed In 1967 Longines Elgin Gruen Croton EtcVintage Ladies Watch Movement Lot 75 Partials Elgin Bulova Gruen HamiltonVtg Gruen 14k White Gold Case Narrow Bracelet Dress Watch1938 Gruen 40mm Long Deco Stepped Tonneau Cased Men's Vintage WatchAntique Gruen 15j 14k Gold Plate Bracelet WristwatchMens Vintage Gruen Precision Day & Night Wristwatch Cal. N510ca - 17 JewelsGruen Precision 14k Solid Gold Vintage Mens Watch K27085Gruen Curvex Hand-winding Gold Filled Mens Watch 9601996Vintage Mens Gruen Precision Wristwatch WatchVintage Gruen 21 Jewel Mens 10k Gold Filled Working Wrist WatchGruen Curvex 17 Jewels Wristwatch Mens 10kgf Runs Vintage!!Nice Lot Watch Cases, Case Backs, Benrus, Longines, Hamilton,gruen Bulova OrientGruen Curvex Antique Watch 10k Gold Filled From 1935!Beautiful Vintage Gruen 14k Gold Woman's Wristwatch 15 Jewels With 14k Gold BandVintage Gruen 17 Jewel Fancy Lug Gold Filled Wrist Watch 17 Jewel Just ServicedGruen Precision Autowind 17 Jewel Automatic Wristwatch Runs Well Lqqk!!!Gruen Precision Wristwatch In 14ct Gold Plated Case Nice Movement For RepairVintage Mens Gruen Veri-thin Art Deco 1940's Watch. Looks/runs GoodAntique Gruen 17j Gold Filled Open Case Verithin S9 1940's Mens Gruen Curvex Wrist Watch - U/fix !! Z-2Vintage Gruen 14k Gold Filled, 15 Jewel Ladies Wrist WatchVintage Gruen Autowind Men's Wristwatch 25 Jewels N 710 Ca Stainless Steel RunsGruen Precision Auto WindGruen Soviet Military Type Watch In Tin BoxArt Deco Ladies' Watch Lot, Medana, Fairfax, Caravelle, Gruen, Gf,non-working NrLarge Lot Of Watches 110+ Seiko Citizen Mickey Gruen Casio Mechanical Quartz Vintage Gruen Watch5 Piece Lot Watches - Benrus, Gruen, Timex, Movado, BorelGruen 17j Gold F Vintage Veri Thin 415 Mens Rectangle Fancy Crystal Special Vintage Gruen Veri-thin Mens Watch Circa 1940s Works Gruen Doctors WatchGruen Quadron Caliber 123 Original Box And PapersGruen Quadron Art Deco Caliber 117Gruen Veri-thin Precision Swiss Watch 10k Gold Filled 17 JewelsLarge Group Of Men’s Quality Wristwatch Movements, Longines, Elgin, Gruen Etc.Vintage Assorted Watches Bulova,gucci,seiko,gruen,benrus,timex F.parts Or RepairBox Lot Of (13) Mixed Wrist Watches Gruen, Waltham, Chico's & More -#070132Lot Of Vintage Watches Parts Or Repair Gruen Timex Rouan Some Run See Desc C 11Gruen Curvex Precision 10k Gold Filled Gruen Precision Gp420mn Women's Leather Strap WatchVintage Gruen Precision Autowind 790 Cd Day / Date 25j Mens Watch Working Order Vintage Mens 1940's Gruen Veri-thin Wristwatch - 10kg.f. -17 Jewels !!!!!!!Gruen Veri-thin Sweep Second Doctor Wristwatch Cal 425ss Runs 1930s