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 Wittnauer Automatic Divers Day-date Watch From 1975 DiverLovely Rare Gents Longines-wittnauer 2002 Perpetual Calendar Watch.42mm.1970s.Beaut.rare Gents Longines-wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar Watch.42mm.1970s.Vintage Wittnauer Chrono Valjoux 7733 1957 Vintage Longines Wittnauer 23z 17j Swiss Watch Men Waffle Dial 10k Gf 1940s Wwii Vintage Military Wittnauer Men's Wristwatch W/ 24 Hour DialVintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic C11kas-2 17 Jewel Watch, Band & Display Box All Orig.! 60s Vintage Wittnauer Automatic 11ka 17j Swiss Stainless Steel Men W1940s Wittnauer Men's Vintage Stainless Military Style Watch, Wwii EraVintage Wittnauer Mens Wristwatch W/12 Diamond Dial - Mint W/ Box & BookletWittnauer 17j Chronograph -1958 Complete Movement Parts WristwatchLot Of 2 Vintage Mens Wittnauer Wristwatches Watch Parts RepairVintage 1980's Longines Wittnauer Gold-tone Men's Quartz Dress WristwatchWittnauer Mens Quartz Watch Ttc Longlife Swiss Longines Gold & Ss Free Ship Wittnauer Vintage Professional Chronograph Valjoux 7733 Movement.Vintage Wittnauer 73 Revue Wrist Watch 10k Gold Gf Case 17 Jewel Movement RunsLot Of 6 Vintage Watches - Wittnauer, Waltham, Valjea,Lot Of 7 Wristwatch Movements Elgin Wittnauer Etc. For Parts Or RepairVintage Wittnauer By Longines Mens Watch Automatic 11sr 9001 Parts RepairMen's Wittnauer Automatic Wristwatch W/date - 10k G.f. Bezel - RunnngVintage Longines Wittnauer Ladies Watch Box And BookletMens Military Style 24 Hour Wittnauer Wrist Watch Center Seconds Runs A+ ClassicVintage Jubilee Wittnauer 25j Auto Men's Wristwatch Cal. Int 7525/2 Runs Great Lovely Rare Longines-wittnauer Vintage Lady's Watch.unusual Case/deco Lugs 60sVintage 17j Wittnauer Gold P 23j Bulova Automatic Benrus Lucerne Timex 5 In All Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Movement C11 KasWittnauer Men's Wristwatch 17j With Period Band. Exc RunnerVery Nice 1960's Wittnauer Geneve With J.b. Champion BandRare Mens Vtg 10k Gold Longines-wittnauer Round Date Calendar Zenith Co. Watch !Old Longines Wittnauer Geneve 10k Gold Rgp Date Wrist Watch Twisto Gf Band Runs!Nice Wittnauer Automatic Mens Stainless Steel Wristwatch WatchAssorted Fancy Crystals For Hamilton Ventura, Longines, Wittnauer, Elgin Watches5 Running Ladies Wittnauer Wrist Watches Scrap Parts Repair Steampunk K-215Vintage Womens Wittnauer Gold Tn Swarovski Crystal Watch Encrusted Krystal BandVintage Wittnauer Statesman Aggisy By Wittnauer Certified Vintage Men's Watch4 Men's Watches, Gruen, Wittnauer, Elgin, Bulova, For Parts, RepairVtg Rare 1965 Longines Wittnauer Automatic Gold Plated Mens Watch Cal 11sn Vintage Wittnauer Men's Watch With Fancy Guilloche DialMen's Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Wristwatch Beautiful Vintage Wittnauer 10k Wrgp Wrist Watch. Diamond Dial. 17j Move.works!!1940's Wittnauer Art Deco Men's Watch 7tn Movement 15 Jewels 10k Rolled Gold Vintage Wittnauer Swiss Military By Longines,men's Watch,woking Good ConditionVintage Platinum Wittnauer WristwatchMens Vintage Estate Wittnauer 10kt Gold Filled Winding Wristwatch Nr Vintage Wittnauer Case Or Box.10 Watches 1-14k Gold Filled!! Parts Mickey W.d.p., Bulova 23, Wittnauer # 3863Gorgeous Vintage Mens Wittnauer Swiss Quartz Watch W/diamond Dial Working Wittnauer Quartz Stainless Steel Men's Wristwatch #10a08 W/ Swarovski Crystals Vintage Wittnauer Pegasus Watch - Water ResistantWittnauer Swiss Men's Quartz Watch Wittnauer Caliber 9w - 17jewel - Complete Movement - Running G18Vintage Wittnauer Mens Quartz Watch Swiss Working Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Ladies Watch With White Gold Filled BandWittnauer Swiss Qwr Womens Watch Leather BandWittnauer 14k Yellow Gold Vintage Man's Watch - Swiss Made - No Reserve $1 StartVintage Wittnauer Mechanical Wristwatch Sub-dial Stretchable Wrist Band 10k GfWittnauer Vintage Diamond Dial 4x Signed 17j Dress Watch No ReserveWittnauer Winter Garden Diamond Ladies Mop Black Strap Swiss Quartz Watch 10r20rVintage Wittnauer Gold Watch Mens Stretch Band Works!