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    

A Genuine Vintage Gruen Precision 200 Feet Divers Wristwatch - 512 Cal Vintage Lot Of 50+ Mens Wrist Watches - Parts Or Repair - Gruen Bulova Sheffield1920s Antique 14k White Gold Gruen Wristwatch W/ DiamondsGruen Precision 17 Jewel Chronograph With 7730 / 770r Valjoux MovementLot 10 Vintage Ladies Art Deco Wristwatches Goldfilled Elgin Gruen Bulova PartsVintage Ladies Gruen Guild A 15 Jewel 14k Gold Filled 74/153 1920s Wrist WatchVintage Gruen Precision 14k Solid White Gold Art Deco Cal. 117 Running Nice!2525, 14k Green Gold, Vintage Gruen Quadron G 119/8 All Original BeautyLot 10 Vintage Ladies Art Deco Wristwatches Goldfilled Elgin Gruen Bulova RepairLot 10 Vintage Ladies Art Deco Wristwatches Goldfilled Rgp Bulova Gruen RepairsWatch Lot, Sidney Triple Date, 2 Gruen Curvex , Bulova All For Parts Or RepairLot Of Vintage Mens Watches Hamilton Bulova Longines Gruen Elgin Etc. As Is 4Gruen Luxurious Swiss Made Rare Vintage Men's Manual Dress Watch 1970 C5Vintage Gruen Automatic - 25 Jewel Swiss Autowind - Date - Stainless Steel Stunning 1930 Gruen 15j Fancy Deco Engraved 14k White Gf Filagree Bracelet Runs!Vintage 10k Gold Filled Case 17 Jewels Gruen Curvex Men's Watch ~ Runs Good ~ Gruen Lady Wrist Watch Runs 14k Solid White Gold Diamond #64-2Lot Of Vintage Gruen Hamilton Bulova Longines Elgin Mens Watches As Is 5Gruen 1960s Precision Mens Watch With Legendary Caliber 422 MovementVtg. Oris, Bulova, Wyler, Gruen & Elgin Watch Lot (for Parts Or Repair)Original Vintage Gruen Precision 25 Jewels Autowind Watch With Original BoxVintage 1920s Gruen Fancy Deco Cushion Case 14k White Gf Mens Watch For Restore1950's Gruen Precision Autowind 580ss 17j Men's 10k Rgp Watch Runs And StopsClean 1940s Gruen Veri-thin Gents 17j Ref. 652 Wide Spaced Lugs Rectangle RunsVintage Gruen Curvex 10k Rose Gold Wrist Watch + Gemex 12k Gold BandVintage Watch Lot Of 5 Part/repair Helbros Auto W Germany Gruen Waltham Benrus 6Scarce Ca. 1930 Gruen Guild 15j Ladies Nurse Watch 14k Wgf Deco Engraved Runs!Huge Lot Of Lot Vintage Nos Gruen Wristwatch Watch Movement PartsLot Of Vintage Antique Mechanical Watches Gruen Waltham Elgin Bulova As Is 6Men's Gruen Sport Wrist WatchGruen 1941 Veri-thin "madison" Model Mens Watch Tonneau Case 17 Jewel Grade 435Gruen Curvex Watch Swiss Movement200+ Lot Vintage Watches Parts Repair Bulova Elgin Waltham Helbros Gruen LongineVintage 17j Gruen Swiss Curvex 9637 Wind-up Men Watch 10k Rose Gold Filled As/isVintage Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Wristwatch W Changing Hour Colors See PhotosVintage 1970's Gruen Oval Dial Automatic 17 Jewel Swiss Watch Date @ 3 RunsVintage Swiss Gruen Precision 25 Jewels AutomaticScarce 1952 Gruen 17j Autowind Ref. 823 Fancy Scored Quadrant Dial In The Box!!Antique Ladies Gruen 14k Gold Watch Works Scrap /fix Cincinnati 1014308 10 1/2Vintage Large Antique Art Deco Gruen Automatic Mens Watch ... NrVtg Gruen Precision 17 Jewel Autowind Date Watch Blue Face Runs No BandGruen Precision Man's Watch ~ Nice One ~ Running ~ No ReserveLot Of (6) Gruen Wristwatches Mens Automatic Nr15 Vintage Women's Windup Watch Parts Lot, Hamilton Gruen Elgin Bulova + All GfVintage Gruen 17j 14k Wg Diamond Manual Wind Women's Watch W/ Eastern Star CharmVintage Gruen 17 Jewel Men's Autowind Automatic Wrist Watch 480 Ss Parts RepairGruen Precision Wristwatch Automatic W/ Band Marked, 10k. G.f. Topcaps 65 RunsLot Of Men's And Women's Watches For Parts,or Repair Elgin,gruen Guess And More!Mens Gruen Precision Quartz Watch Date Window1970's Vintage Gruen Precision 17j Automatic Day Date Watch Runs PerfectVintage Gruen 17 Jewel Precision Men's Wrist Watch 14k Gold Case Lot Of 27 Watches Non-working For Parts Or Repair Seiko Timex Gruen EtcVintage Gruen Percision Swiss Movement Womens Watch! Working!1941 Gruen 'veri-thin' 15j 10k Gf 'curved Dial' Wrist WatchLarge Lot Of 44 Vintage Gruen Watch Movements!! No Reserve!!6 1930's-1960's Wristwatch Gruen Belforte Bucherer Hamilton All Run Must SeeVintage Gruen Precision Autowind 10k Gold Filled W/ Case Parts Repair DamagedVintage Mens Art Deco Gruen Verithin Wristwatch WatchBeautiful 17 Jewel Gruen Pricision Running Vintage Men's Manual Wind WristwatchVintage Men's All Ss Veri-thin 17 Jewel Bumper Gruen Autowind Wristwatch