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    

14k Solid White Gold Wittnauer Diamonds Lady WatchWatch Wholesale Lot Wittnauer Men's Stainless Crystal Bands (10 Watches Total)Watch Wholesale Lot Wittnauer Men's Stainless Crystal Bands (10 Watches Total)Vintage Wittnauer Watch 1950's Fancy CaseLovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Qtz Watch.super Case/mint Date Dial.orig.box 80sVintage Ladies 14k Gold Wittnauer Diamond Wrist Watch Running Watch Wholesale Lot Wittnauer Women's Stainless Ceramic Bands (10 Watches Total)10k G.f. Wittnauer - Revue- 84/1 Cal. 17 Jewel Manuel Wind Swiss Made WristwatchWatch Wholesale Lot Wittnauer Women's Stainless Crystal Bands (10 Watches Total)Beaut. Longines-wittnauer Gents Vint.watch.super Case/fab Planned Life Dial.box.Beaut.longines-wittnauer Gents Vint.watch.fab 10 Pin Bowling 299 Award Dial.197911 Lot Vintage And 80's Women's Watches 1.d Bulova Gold Fairfax Timex WittnauerRare 1958 Longines Wittnauer (sickle-rotor Automatic) 11arb Vintage Mens WatchLovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Vint.watch.super Case/fab Sun Burst Dial.1950's.Antique Wittnauer Automatic 10k Rgp Rolled Gold Self Winding Mens Swiss Watch14 Vintage Mens Watch Lot For Repair Bulova Elgin Benrus Wyler Wittnauer Parts#7-longines-wittnauer Asymmetrical 10k Gold Filled Case-gold Refinished Dial#9-longines-wittnauer Asymmetric 10k Gold Filled Case-brushed Gold Dial Wholesale Men's Wittnauer Miscellaneous Watch Parts Bands Cases (10 Parts) Wholesale Men's Wittnauer Miscellaneous Watch Parts Bands Cases (10 Parts)Vintage Geneve Wittnauer Men's Wristwatch Runs Wholesale Women's Wittnauer Miscellaneous Watch Parts Bands Cases (10 Parts)6 Vintage Mens Watch Lot For Repair Wittnauer Elgin Longines Times Milber PartsVintage Ladies Longines Wittnauer White Gold Filled Watch Original CaseBeaut.longines-wittnauer Qwr 200 Meters Gents Vint.watch.great Case/fab Dial.80sW Vtg At&t 25 Year Service Award Wittnauer Qwr Watch Men's Dress QuartzWittnauer Two-tone Gold White Face Stainless St Wr Men's Swiss Watch 12e04Vintage Logines-wittnauer Men's Watch With Case And BoxWittnauer Gold Nuget Watch Qwr Black Face With Diamonds @ 12 3 6 And 9Vintage Wittnauer Mens Watch 10 K Rgp Bezel Stainless Back Wittnauer Art Deco 17j Wrist Watch- Best PriceVintage Jubilee By Wittnauer Mens 38mm Steel Skin Diver Watch Manual W DateRare Longines Wittnauer Bee-hive Dial Coincase Skeleton 11esg Vintage Mens WatchVintage Wittnauer Automatic Military Time Mens WatchVtg Lot Womens Windup Wristwatches Bulova, Elgin, Timex, Wittnauer, Sears (work)Beautiful Wittnauer Tank Style Mens Vintage Watch In Exc Running Condition L@@k!Vintage Wittnauer Men's Wrist Watch No Band Runs 17 Jewels / Stones On FaceLot Of 2 Mens Art Deco Wittnauer Wristwatch Watch Parts RepairSpecial-rare 1960s Longines Wittnauer (11wsg2-cal!!) Dot60sec Vintage Mens WatchVintage Mens Wittnauer Wristwatch Watch Parts RepairVintage Watch Lot,bulova Clinton Wittnauer Grant Hydepark Croton Ruxton + Gf/rgpVintage Wittnauer 15 J. Ladies Watch W/10k R.g.p. Rose Gold-tone Case (e184)Wittnauer Watch, Mens, Vintage,for Parts Or Repair ,Wittnauer Vintage Mechanical 10k Rgp Hand Winding Watch Diamond Dial Beaut.longines-wittnauer Gents Qtz Dress Watch.fab Case/mint Dial.orig.boxes 90sWittnauer Gold-tone Diamond Ladies Quartz WristwatchWittnauer Vintage Wrist Watch For Men2.5lbs Huge Mens And Womens Watch Lot 17 Diamond Wittnauer Gruen Elgin FossilBeaut.longines-wittnauer Geneve Gents Vint.watch.fab Sunburst Bezel/mint Dial70sMens Vintage Swiss Made Wittnauer Manual Wind Wristwatch 17 JewelsWittnauer Mens Vintage Watch 10t 15j Movement For Parts Or RepairWittnauer Men's Gunmetal Chronograph, Nib.