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    

1940s Men's Pink Gold Fancy Semi Hidden Lugs Gruen CurvexRare Gruen 1930's Solid 14k White Gold Prince Doctors Art Deco Wristwatch Nice1947 Gruen Two Tone Deco Dial Doctor’s Vintage WatchVintage 14k Gold Fd Antique Wwi World War I Military Gruen Trench Mens Watch NrVintage Gold Fd Large Antique Wwii World War Ii Military Gruen Pan Am Watch NrVintage Gruen Autowind Automatic Gf Mens Watch Circa 1940s WorksVintage Gruen 17 Jewel 500 10k Gf & S/s Curvex Style Art Deco Watch For RepairMixed Lot Of Vintage Mens Mechanical Wrist Watches, Hamilton,bulova,gruen,tissot(6) Clean Vintage Men's Bulova Gruen Wittnauer Favico Elgin Boxed WristwatchesMen's Watch Lot,guess Waterpro,reebok,fossil,relic Wet Moon-phase,gruen,armitronVintage Mickey Mouse Watch Lot,bradley Gruen Precision Ingersoll Lorus&movementsRare 1930s Gruen Carre Folding Purse Watch, Works!Top Grade Gruen "chronometer Balance" 19 Jewel Nickel 39mm Mov't &dialVintage Watch Lot Gruen Waltham And Others For Parts Or RepairVintage Gruen Deco 14kt White Gold Filled Mens Watch Circa 1920sMens Vintage Gruen Wristwatch Long Curved Case - 15 Jewels Swiss - Cal.500Huge Lot 70 Watches Vintage Bulova Elgin Longines, Gruen Ect. Mixed LotMen's 14k Solid Gold Vintage Gruen Very Thin Precision Watch (works) RareVintage Women's Watch Lot 52 Bulova Elgin Gruen Admark Baylor Vogel Barton Mens Vintage Gruen 1940/50's*newly Serviced*nice Lugs*ready2wear4 Hearts Chased Bezel Gruen 1930s Beautiful Vintage Ladies Watch Sapphire Crown1944 Art Deco Mens Gruen Veri-thin "dart" Gold Barrel Style 10k Gf WatchMens 1940s Gruen Curvex 14k Solid Rose Gold Curved Trooper Art Deco Swiss WatchLot 4 Vtg Watches Gold Filled Gruen Hamilton Wittnauer Nivada Grenchen For PartsLot Of 4 Vintage Gruen Verythin Hamilton X 2 Tradition Men's Watch Heads * E36 Assorted Wristwatches, Most Vintage Ladies Hamilton Bulova Gruen Bruner ElginVintage 1920's Gruen Quadron 157 14k Gold Filled 15j Men's Wrist Watch AntiqueVintage Gruen Autowind Jump Hour Men's Wristwatch 17 Jewels Cal. 156d Runs Vintage Gruen Men's Watch For Repair Or Parts Lot#bob-1Vintage Gruen Ladies Wrist Watch ,working And In Good ConditionVintage Gruen Curvex Mens Wrist Watch For Parts Or Repair 10k Gold FilledGruen 21 Vintage WristwatchO7 Beautiful Vintage Precision By Gruen St. Steel Band Gold Dress Hot Watch MensLot 14 Vintage Watch Orient Wyler Helbros Dorset Chateau Gruen Seiko Ero Baylor Gruen Moon Phase Ladies Watch Quartz MovementVintage & Military Style Ladies Longines 8ln,buren Baylor Gruen 17 Jewel GeneveLot Of 2 Vintage Elgin Automatic & Gruen Precision Autowind Men's WristwatchesVintage Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Manual Wind Men's Watch Model 510 RssGruen Quadron Caliber 123 Original Box And PapersVintage Gruen Curvex( You Cant Afford This Watch)! Its Worthy Of A Great Owner!!Vintage Gruen Precision 19 Jewel 100 Ss & 17 Jewel 462 Autowind Bumper..4 RepairMen's Vintage Gruen Guild 15 Jewel Wristwatch 416 Movement Gf BezelLot Of 40+ Vintage Watches Seiko Benrus Waltham Gruen Chronograph - Need Repair Men's 1940's Gruen "curvex". Rose G/f Case. Coral Dial. 440 Movt. No ReserveArt Deco Gruen Mans Wrist Watch, Art Deco Wadsworth 14kgf Case, Runs, Model 885Lot (8) Men's Wristwatches Curren Armitron Gruen Adolfo Ford WatchMens Super Long Vintage 1940s Gruen Curvex Gold Fill Bzl Art Deco Watch Runs A+!Vintage Gruen Precision Men's Wristwatch 10k Rolled Gold Plate Case RunsVintage 1940's ,14karat Gruen Curvex Wrist WatchMixed Lot Vintage Mens Wristwatchs~gruen Veri-thin~lorie~caravelle AutomaticGruen Green Gold Filled 1920's Vintage Wrist Watch No ReserveLot Of 430+ Watch Crystals G-s Hamilton Ventura Gruen Elgin Bulova Vintage PartsVintage Gruen Men's Watch 17 Jewel Swiss Veri Thin 10kt Gold Filled Case AuctionVintage Gruen Mens Precision Antimagnetic Automatic Gruen Precision Stainless Steel Autowind Running Watch 17 JewelsMens Vintage/antique Gruen Wrist Watch Cal 705 Ca 1930 RunningWorking Vintage Gruen Precision 17j Stainless Steel Watch Head No Band * KVintage Gruen White Verithin "pan Am" Wristwatch-professionaly Serviced!28-ladys Womens Girl Citizen-helbros-waltham-gruen Quartz Watch Bands Resale-lotWomens Antique Style Gruen Curvex Watch, White Sub Sec Dial,gold-tone Case,works