Antique and Vintage Wittnauer Wristwatches

Not every watchmaker can be as renowned for its movements as LeCoultre or as admired for its designs as Cartier. Some watchmakers get their start simply by seeing an opportunity and seizing it.

Such is the story of Albert Wittnauer, who came to America from Switzerland in 1872 at the age of 16. Even as a youth, Wittnauer knew watchmaking, which made him a useful addition to his brother-in-law J. Eugene Robert’s Swiss-watch importing business. Over the next few years, two more of Wittnauer’s younger brothers and a sister would join him in New York City, forming the nucleus of Robert’s, and then Wittnauer’s, company.

The opportunity Wittnauer identified was not technological. Rather, it was market driven. Wittnauer saw an opening for a less-expensive Swiss pocket watch in the United States. Since Robert was already importing watches from Switzerland, including Longines, it was not a large leap to add a Wittnauer-branded model to the company’s offerings. The watches sold well. By 1885, Albert was running the company, importing chronographs and repeaters, and by 1890 the firm was renamed the A. Wittnauer Company.

While Wittnauer got its start with an economy model, it quickly moved into more rarefied terrain, creating highly sophisticated chronometers. The company's breakthrough came in 1907, when Wittnauer supplied a pair of watches to the Navy, which was testing its aviation capabilities. Perhaps because of this very early alignment with the budding aviation industry, Wittnauer watches would be worn by such notable explorers as Roald Amundsen and Richard E. Byrd, as well as aviators from Amelia Earhart to Wiley Post.

After Albert’s death in 1916, his sister, Martha, took the firm’s reins. During World War I, Wittnauer supplied new military wristwatches and precision navigational devices to American Expeditionary Forces and an aircraft clock to the forerunner of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Around the same time, Wittnauer introduced its All-Proof wristwatch—the anti-magnetic watch was water and shock proof—to the U.S. market.

In the 1920s, Wittnauer produced wristwatches that were technologically advanced as well as aesthetically beautiful. The lugs of Wittnauer wristwatches were one of many details its designers did not take for granted, and the shapes of the faces varied from squares and rectangles to circles and hexagons, as in the gold Grasshopper.

Aviation watches, though, remained a prime focus. In 1927, Wittnauer and Longines both worked with a U.S. Navy officer named Philip Van Horn Weems, whose design for a Second Sett...

Another influence on Wittnauer timepieces of this era was Wittnauer watchmaker John Heinmuller, who was the official timekeeper of the U.S. National Aeronautical Association and became one of the country’s leading authorities on U.S. air mail stamps. Because of all this attention to navigation wristwatches and devices, Clarence D. Chamberlin and Charles A. Levine used Wittnauer chronometers for their 1927 trans-Atlantic flight (they flew two weeks after Lindbergh) and Charles Collyer and John Henry Mears used two Wittnauers in 1928 when they famously raced the moon around the earth—they did it in 24 days, beating the moon by 72 hours.

More aviators, Howard Hughes among them, wore Wittnauers in the 1930s, but the company struggled during the Depression, prompting its sale, in 1936, to a pearl manufacturer, who renamed the company Longines-Wittnauer. World War II provided Wittnauer with contracts for Weems wristwatches, as well as compasses and timers, and after the war it produced wristwatches that utilized technologies created for the conflict.

In the 1950s, Wittnauer turned some of its resources to fashionable dress wristwatches. As in years past, the lugs of Wittnauer wristwatches such as the Revue were almost as important to the design as the face. By now the company was offering slimmer self-winding watches than it had in the past, and in 1957 it released its first electric wristwatch.

Westinghouse bought Longines-Wittnauer in 1969, in 1994 Longines was sold to Omega owner SMH, and in 2001 Wittnauer was sold again to Bulova.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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    

K0: Rare 1940's Wittnauer Steel Chronograph Cal 13w Watch 22 100%orig Crisp Case1940 Vintage Wittnauer Weems W/ Rotating Bezel Mens Military WristwatchVintage Longines Wittnauer Chronograph Watch 228t All-proofOld Wittnauer Automatic Date Steel Watch C/w Vintage Leather Band 3x Signed Vintage 1960s Wittnauer Genève Mechanical Watch - 10k Gf - Cal. 11kVintage 1970's Men's S/s Wittnauer 2000 Automatic Calendar Watch RunsExcellent Vintage 1950's Wittnauer Chronograph Venus 188 Steel No-resVintage Wittnauer Hand Wind 10k Gold Filled Square Men's Dress WatchLot 3 Mens Gold Filled Wrist Watches Hamilton, Wittnauer Auto & Croton VintageVintage Men's Wittnauer 10k G.f. Automatic Watch ~ Running ~no Reserve!!Nice Job Lot Vintage Mens Watches. Elgin Waltham Gruen Wittnauer Joel Regis EsqBulova Wittnauer Benrus Wrist Watches Lot Of 3 Automatic WatchesRare Vintage Mens Wittnauer Geneve Swiss Gold Filled Wind Up Wrist Watch RunningWittnauer Antique/vintage Men's Wrist Watch, RunsNice Job Lot Vintage Mens Watches. Russian Timex Elgin Accro Wittnauer BulovaLovely Longines-wittnauer Qwr Gents Qtz Bracelet Watch.fab Case/diamond Dial 80sVintage Wittnauer Solid 14k Gold Mens Manual Wind WatchLovely Longines-wittnauer Qwr Gents Qtz Watch.super Case/fab Day-date Dial.1980sVintage Lot Of Men's Watch Movements Parts Repair Bulova Gruen Wittnauer ElginNice Job Lot Ladies Watches. Timex Electric, Bulova, Wittnauer, Elgin, MovadoLovely Rare Longines-wittnauer Ladys Vintage Watch.super Case/fab Date Dial.'60sLadies Vintage Watch Lot,bulova Longines Elgin Waltham Helbros Wittnauer Benrus+Lot Of 3 Vintage Antique Ladies Wrist Watch Bulova Longines Wittnauer 10k GfIntriguing 1950 Wittnauer 17j Ref. 2081 All Steek Sporty Slanted Number Dial!!Wittnauer Day, Date Year Automatic Men’s Large Round Wristwatch. 138hLot Of 9 Mens Wristwatches Seiko Caravelle Fossil Peugeut Club Room Wittnauer Vintage Swiss Ladies Watch Lot Of 5. Wittnauer, Hamilton, Gruen, Croton, BulovaWittnauer Belasco Mens WatchVintage Wittnauer Automatic Wrist Watch, 10k Gold Filled Case, Swiss RunsVintage Wittnauer Fancy Case Mens Watch Circa 1940s WorksVintage Wittnauer/longines Mens Wristwatch-square W/diamonds-nice Dial/band-runsWittnauer Automatic Date Vintage Gold Color Wrist Watch Quick Set Cal 1955-2Vintage Wittnauer Geneve 10k Rolled Gold Plate Men's Watch Running Vintage 14k Wittnauer Ladies Wristwatch & Ladies Benrus Jeweled Movement Lot K116 Vintage Ladies Wrist Watch Lot Parts Repair Benrus Bulova Wittnauer Timex + NrVintage Watch Lot-longines Hamilton Illinois Lord Elgin Wittnauer Zodiac BenrusMens Wittnauer Laureate Watch Mens Wittnauer Automatic Date Watch 1970sWittnauer - Mens WatchLot Of Watch Parts Le Coultre Longines Wittnauer Vintage Watchmaker Kit Serviced~1950s Wittnauer 10k Gold Filled Cal.5jh (piaget 5p) 17j Swiss Watch Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Wrist Watch Working Without StrapsLot Of 3 Vintage Men's Watches. Longines, Wittnauer, BulovaWittnauer Laureate Men's Two Tone Wristwatch (s/s & G/p; White Dial)(no Reserve)Vintage Working Women's Watch Lot Wittnauer, Waltham, Girard Perregaux Wl0020Men's Vintage Wittnauer Mechanical Automatic Watch Swiss Made * Work Well *Vintage Estate 10k Gold Filled Back Wittnauer Lady's Wrist Watch No ReserveWatch Lot Of 8 Women's Watches : Wittnauer , Bulova, Hamilton .many Gold FilledVintage Men's Wittnauer Ht 8068 9554 12-hour Dial Silver/gold Tone WristwatchJubilee 17 Jewels Wind Up Ladies Vintage Bangle Watch By Longines-wittnauer(1088Lot Of Ladies Vintage Wristwatches (12) Seiko Bulova Reltex Wittnauer Deauville Wittnauer By Longines Diamond Dial Wrist Watch Estate Wittnauer Geneve Wrist Watch No ReserveMen's Gold Wittnauer Watch W/ Original Papers & Case * Excellent Condition*Vintage Wittnauer Women's 14k Gold 17 Jewels Diamonds Watch WorkingMens Rare & Vintage Wittnauer Swiss Quartz Watch W/date Nos *a Must See*Vintage Men's Wittnauer Watch Mens 15 Jewels 10k Gold SwissMen's Vintage 1960's Gold Plated Mechanical Wittnauer With Goldtone Dia DialVintage 10k Gf Wittnauer Men's 17j Cal. 10s Watch Wristwatch For Parts RepairVintage Wittnauer Longines All 10k Rolled Gold Plated Ladies Wristwatch