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    

1950s Stunner Mens Longines Wittnauer 2-tone Automatic Vintage Gold 10k Gf Watch1940s Stunning Solid 14k White Gold & Diamonds Longines-wittnauer Vintage Watch Wittnauer Watch 14 K White Gold Diamonds Vintage Women's Wristwatch SwissLovely Rare Gents Longines-wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar Watch.42mm.1970sWittnauer Vintage Divers Wrist Watch Black Dial Vintage Longines Wittnauer Animated Watchmaker Store Display Sign WatchLovely Longines-wittnauer Vintage Gent's Watch.great Fancy Case/sloping Lug.1948Longines Wittnauer Mono Pusher Dual Register Chronograph Rarity Antique Superb!!Rare Men's Vintage S/s Longines Wittnauer Bezel Set Alarm Wristwatch Cal 10awVintage Lot 1 Mens Wittnauer Longines Geneve Automatic Subdial Watch Clean Works50s Vintage Wittnauer Professional Chronograph.valjoux 72.Men's Vintage Wittnauer Watch With Crystal Accents ! Wow ! No Reserve !Circa 1962 Wittnauer Electro-chron With Box, Serviced & Running, Must See!S 490.  watch Maker 8 Vintage Round Wittnauer Gents Wrist Watches.Vintage Large Wittnauer "2000" Automatic Ss Men's Wristwatch W/ Day DateVtg Rare 1965 Longines Wittnauer Automatic Gold Plated Mens Watch Cal 11sn Vintage Wittnauer Chronograph Large 36mm Case Venus 188 Just ServicedVintage Men Watch Lot, Bulova, Longines, Hamilton, Wittnauer, Marvin For Repair Mans Rare Vintage Wittnauer Weems Second Setting Wrist Watch For Pilots Or Nav. Vintage Wittnauer 14k White Gold & Diamonds Honeybee Ladies Watch, Runs, 14.8gS 476.  wittnauer 8 Vintage Rectangular Wrist Watch 4 Are 10 K G.f. & 4 SteelMen's Longines Wittnauer 2-tone Automatic Vintage Gold 10k Gf WatchVintage Wittnauer Professional ChronographWittnauer Chrono-date Professional Mens 1950's Chronograph WatchVintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Day Date W/big Square Case Out Of Estate! Watchmaker Estate Wristwatch Parts/restore Lot Bulova Wittnauer Caravelle + MoreNos Vintage Longines Wittnauer Watch Band 19mm R Lizard Calf Strap Gold LeatherVintage Wittnauer Men's Automatic 10k Gf Working WristwatchLot Vintage Watches Wristwatches Bulova Benrus Wittnauer Elgin Kirks Folly EarlyWittnauer Vintage ChronographVintage Wittnauer Mens Stainless Military Wristwatch Remember Pearl HarborVintage Wittnauer 17 Jewel Model 9 Wn Wind Men's Wrist Watch 10k Gf + Box RunsVintage Watch Lot Enicar Orvin Seiko Bulova Waltham Wittnauer Cordura NorbeeWristwatch Longines Wittnauer Automatic 17 Jewels Cal 11 An SwissLot Of 4 Vtg Men's Wristwatches W/original Boxes - Accutron, 2-elgins, WittnauerWittnauer Swiss Made Vintage Pre-owned Used Wind Up Mens WatchWittnauer Mens Cosmopolitan Dress Watch Ht 8174 Beautiful Gold Tone, Mens Dress Two Tone Gold Plate Wittnauer Analog Quartz Watch Swiss Ss 8041Vintage Wittnauer Automatic In 10k Yellow Gold Filled Case Out Of Estate!Vintage Rare Wittnauer Automatic Jump Hour Coffin Case 17 J Tenor Dorly WatchVintage Wittnauer Geneve Day Date Automatic 10k Gold Cap Gents Wrist Watch Vintage Lot 1 Mens Wittnauer Silver Toned Manual Wind Watch Running!!!!!!Vintage Wittnauer Polara Led Wrist Watch For Parts Or Repair Men's Vintage Wittnauer Electronic Watch RunningVintage Mens Wittnauer 17 Jewel Automatic Swiss Watch With 10k Gold Filled CaseVintage Ladies Genuine Wittnauer Automatic 17 Jewels Swiss Watch C7ka/iWittnauer Men's $550 Laureate White Dial Date Two-tone Ssteel Watch W6205400 *Vintage Men's Longines-wittnauer WatchVintage Wittnauer Mens Diving Watch 100 Meters ***works***Wittnauer A7 Chronograph Date Crystals S.steel Men's Watch- (pls Read B4 Bid)Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Men's Watch Working Vintage 14k Gold Ladies Wittnauer Watch - Manual Wind Vintage Wittnauer Fancy 17 Jewel WatchHuge Lot 50+ Vintage Wrist Watch Movements ~ Elgin ~ Wittnauer ~ Hamilton GruenRare Wittnauer Geneve 10kt Rgp Automatic Men's Watch Day DateHandsome Men's Diamond Wittnauer Stainless Gold WatchVintage 1950‘s Wittnauer Revue 10k Gf Mens Watch - Runs - Great TimekeeperVintage Lot Of - 4 - Womens Wristwatches - 2- Hamilton , Bulova & Wittnauer N/rMens Lot Vintage Watch Movements ~ Elgin ~ Wittnauer ~ Gruen ~ Glycine ~ BulovaVintage Wittnauer 17j 9wn Fancy 10k Gold Filled Mens Wristwatch