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    

Wittnauer - 3 Register Chronograph - 17j - Day/date/month- For Parts/restorationElegant Minimalist 1960 Wittnauer As 1701 Automatic Vintage Retro Mens WatchLot Of Watches Gruen Jump Hour Curv Wittnauer Tradition Diver Poljot ChronographMens Original 1950s Wittnauer Gold Case 17j Automatic Wind Vintage Swiss WatchStuns! Longines-wittnauer Trieste Gents Watch.fab Case/dial.unworn! Box/papers.Lovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Vintage Watch.super Case/minimalist Dial.1960;s.Beaut.longines-wittnauer Gents Vint Watch.super Case/ Lugs.orig.boxes/paper'50's1940s Mens 2 Tone Longines Wittnauer Automatic Vintage Gold 10k Gf Superb WatchMinty~vintage 60s Longines-wittnauer Date @6 Men's Manual Window$$$wowza$$$Lovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Art Deco Vintage Watch.super Stepped Case.1930's1950's Longines Wittnauer 17j Automatic Men Watch Black Dial Runs Great ServicedLovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Vintage Watch.super Case/sunburst Dial.1960;s.Beaut.longines-wittnauer Gents Vintage Watch.super Case/ Lugs.original Box.'50's Lot Of 4 Antique & Vintage Men's Automatic Watches-wittnauer/gruen/longinesVintage Wittnauer Automatic Watch With Pearl Sunburst Dial Cal 11arg 17 JewelsLovely Rare Longines-wittnauer Review Gents Vintage Watch.fab Case/ Dial.1950's.Ladies Longines Wittnauer Solid Platinum 32 Diamonds Original 1950s Swiss WatchMens Rare Genuine Wittnauer Revue Watch - Solid 14ct Gold Longines Wittnauer Diamond Black Slate Rock Dial Cal. C11-k2 Date VintageLongines Wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar 17j Automatic Men's Blue Dial Runs Lovely Longines-wittnauer Review Gents Vintage Watch.super Angled Case/ Lugs.50sLovely Rare Longines-wittnauer 2002 Perpetual Calendar Gents Vintage Watch.'70s.Vintage Watch 1950s Wittnauer Genine Automatic 10k Rolled Gold Plate1950s Vintage Longines Wittnauer 'douglas' Long Angled Gold 10k Gf Elegant WatchCool Vintage Retro Gents Wittnauer Gold Filled Manual Wind WristwatchRare Wittnauer Roulette Wheel/rally Bezel 3-register Chronograph Mans WatchWittnauer $650 Mens Dazzling Bling Crystals Shiny Ss Swiss Watch Krystal 10a04Vintage Wittnauer Hour Glass 17j 76/38 Revue 10k Gf & S/s Watch...runs+warranty 2 Gentlemens Manual Wind Wristwatches Vintage Wittnauer Germinal Voltaire SwissOrig 1960s Wittnauer Futurama 1000 Retrograde Jump Type Wristwatch** Wittnauer 32mm 10k Gold Filled Stainless Steel 17 Jewels Has Day, RunsVintage 10 Watch Lot Wittnauer Lord Elgin Hamilton Bulova Wyler Shelley- Parts!Mens Wittnauer Longines Automatic Watch 39 Mm Gold Filled Running Steady Ready Vintage 14k Gold 17j Longines Wittnauer Mens Wrist Watch Original Papers BoxVintage Wwii Era Wittnauer Military Style Watch Cal 11es 17 Jewel StainlessVintage Wittnauer Professional Automatic Diver Watch Ln-5107-ciiaf 17 JewelWittnauer Electro-chron Man's WatchVintage 10k Yellow Gold Filled Wittnauer Geneve Watch With Black Dial AutomaticVintage Wittnauer Longines Wwii Era Military Bumper Automatic 17 Jewels 24 HrLuxurious 1950 Wittnauer 15j Gents Two Tone Tonneau Shape Beauty- Runs! N/r!!14k Solid Gold Women's Wittnauer Watch With Small DiamondsWittnauer Mens Odyssey 10 Watch Orange Vintage Wittnauer Polara 14k Gold Plated Digital Watch W/ Box As IsWittnauer Longines 14k White Gold With 51 Diamonds Absolutely Stunning TimepieceVintage Wittnauer Seventeen 17 Jewels Swiss Made Mens WatchStunning~vintage 60's Longines-wittnauer Sunburst Automatic Gent's WatchWittnauer - Crosby - Pallas & Roamer WatchesWittnauer $300 Men's Black Dial Gold-tone Stainless Steel Watch W6244500 *Wittnauer Automatic Watch In A Clean Stainless Case, Running Well Vintage Wittnauer Wrist Watch 10k Gold Filled Bezel Scarce Wwii Vintage Wittnauer (by Longines) Military Watch. Black 24-hour Dial.Wittnauer With A 24 Hr. DialVintage Mint Wittnauer Quartz Roman White Dial Swiss Men's Leather Ss Watch NrWittnauer Men’s 17 Jewel Ygf Fancy Wristwatch. 115yVintage Lot Of 6 Ss Watch Bands Jb Champion Bulova Seiko Tressa Coffin WittnauerMix Lot Of Watches Seiko Timex Bulova Croton Wittnauer Lloyds Total Of 12Vintage Wittnauer Wristwatch 10k Gold Filled Wind Up Brown StrapWittnauer Automatic Date Function 18k Rolled Gold Rgp WristwatchLecoultre Longines Wittnauer Omega Watch Parts Nos Closeout Lot 25 PackagesWittnauer 12l06 Ladies Crystal Stainless Steel Gold Tone Swiss Quartz Watch