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    

Vintage Longines Wittnauer Watch Co. Swiss Wrist Watch 17j Working RareVintage Rare Wittnauer Geneve Professional Chronograph Root Beer Diver BezelStunning Vintage Wittnauer Stainless Steel Chronograph Watch, All Original!Lovely Longines-wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar Gents Vint Watch.serviced.'70sMen’s Vintage 17-jewel Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Wrist WatchMens Skeleton 1920's Wittnauer Switzerland Vintage Engraved Watch Gold Leaves!Lovely Rare Longines-wittnauer Aggisy Gents Vintage Watch.super Case/fab Dial60sStuns! Longines-wittnauer Geneve Gents Vint Watch.fab Case/mint Daydate Dial.60sLovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Vintage Watch.super S/steel Case.good Dial.1960sFab Rare Longines-wittnauer Gents Vint Watch. Amazing Case/dial/tandem Daydate70Lovely Rare Longines-wittnauer 2002 Perpetual Calendar Gents Vintage Watch.'70s.Vintage Wittnauer Black Dial Automatic 17j 9ar 10k Gold Filled Men's WristwatchAntique Vintage Wittnauer Automatic 10k Gold Filled Running Watch Swiss MovementLovely Longines-wittnauer 'review' Gents Vintage Watch.super Case/fab Dial.50's.Beaut. Longines-wittnauer Military Style Gents Vint Watch.super Case/fab Dial40sLovely Longines-wittnauer Review Gents Vint Watch. Super Case/talon Lugs.1950's.Super Longines-wittnauer Gents Vint Watch.super S/stl Case/fab Sunburst Dial 60sLovely Rare Longines-wittnauer Gents Vint Watch. Super S/steel Case.crown@4.'60sMens Art Deco Classic 1940's Wittnauer Switzerland Vintage Rectangular Watch 17j1950's Wittnauer 9wn 17j 10k Gold Filled Men's Watch RunningBeautiful Men's 10k G.f.bezel 1957 Vintage * Wittnauer * Mech Stunning & RunningHamilton Jules Jurgensen Girard Perreguax Wittnauer Steel Gold Filled Lot NrVintage Wittnauer "2000" Perpetual Calendar Blue Dial Date Automatic WristwatchLovely Longines-wittnauer Review Gents Vintage Watch.super Case/diamond Dial.'56Vintage Lot Mens Mechanical Wrist Watches For Parts Repair Hamilton WittnauerVintage 1950s Longines Wittnauer Watch 10kgold Filled 17j Hand Wind StunningLovely Longines-wittnauer 'review' Gents Vintage Watch.super Case/dial.1950's.Vtg Wittnauer Estate 1960s Mens Watch - Automatic Keeps Good TimeVtg. Wittnauer Vietnam Era 24 Hrs Military Stainless Steel Men Watch (cal 11esk)C.1960 Longines Wittnauer 10k Gf Gold Filled All-proof Vintage Mens WatchVintage Wittnauer Mens Automatic With Rare Power Reserve Indicator !Authentic Mens Diamond Vintage * Wittnauer * Quartz Stunning & Running Awesome Beautiful Longines-wittnauer Lady's Vintage Watch.fab Case/mint Silver Dial.1963Fab Longines-wittnauer Gents Qtz.watch.guitar Case.unworn/mint.original Box.wow!25 Jewel Wittnauer Quick Set Automatic Men's Wrist Watch With See Through BackWittnauer Longines Rectangle Women's Original Wrist Watch Quartz Running Rare8 Pc. Vintage Ladies Watch Lot. 3 Are Ticking. Bulova, Wittnauer, 10kgf, Etc.Estate Lot! Rolex, Citizen, Piaget,bulova,wittnauer,waltham,elgin,seiko,gucciVintage Men's Stainless Steel Wristwatch Watch Wittnauer 17 Jewel Working RetroVintage Mens Wittnauer Wristwatch Winding Stainless Steel Speidel BandNice Mens Vintage Wittnauer Automatic Wrist Watch Calendar 17 JBeautiful Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Wrist Watch With 10k Rgp BezelLot Of 2 Vintage Mens Wittnauer Automatic Wristwatches Watch Parts Repair14k Gold Case 12 Diamonds 17 Jewels Ladies Longines - Wittnauer WatchLovely Longines-wittnauer Qwr Gents Vint Qtz Watch.mint Black Diamond Dial.'90'sHuge Lot Of 12 Wittnauer Watches - Various Models Stunning! Wittnauer~50 Diamond Bezel~swiss Quartz~mens "wisp" Gold Watch Vintage Wittnauer "2000" Perpetual Calendar Blue Dial Date Automatic WristwatchWorking 1970's Vintage Mens Wittnauer "2000" 17j French Calendar Nice! [e088]Vintage Men's Wittnauer S/s Automatic 17j 11arg Mvnt Running Nice!!Mens Wittnauer Odyssey 10 100 Meters Quartz Wristwatch With DateLongines - Wittnauer Vintage Mid Century Mod Ladies Watch 14k Solid Yellow GoldVintage Watch Lot Of (250) Hundreds Of Watches Wittnauer,mickey Mouse,benrus,etcVintage Wittnauer Yellow Gold Tone Mens Quartz Watch Vintage Wittnauer 17 Jewel Automatic Men's Wrist Watch 9 Rwk Art Deco 10 K GfWatch Lot Longines, Waltham, Mepa, Elgin, Waltham, Wittnauer, & IngramVtg 14k Gold Womens Wittnauer WatchVinage Men's 1970's Wittnauer Polara Dress Watch 14kgold Electro Platedcase&bandVtg Wittnauer Ladies Watch Mechanical Stainless Steel Rgp Kestenmade SilverViintage Men's Longines - Wittnauer Geneve Mechanical Watch