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 Super Compressor Diver *all Original - Working Inner Bezel*Scarce Large Wittnauer Divers Wrist Watch W/ Bracelet & Rotating Bezel LonginesVintage Longines-wittnauer Mens Watch - Wittnauer Automatic-1960's-original Box Vintage Longines Wittnauer 14kt Gold Filled (ultra-thin) Wrench 1200 Mens WatchStuns! Longines-wittnauer Trieste Gents Watch.fab Case/dial.unworn! Box/papers.Beaut.longines-wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar Gents Rare Longines Wittnauer Alarm 6pm Calendar Hirsch Band Mens WatchBeaut.longines-wittnauer Ladys Quartz Watch.coin-mill Bezel/fab Fancy Dial SuperVintage 17 Jewel Mans Wittnauer Wrist Watch W/ Index Bezel & Rare Hands Running Vintage Us Army Wwii Military Compass By Wittnauer Watch Company Nice & WorkingStuns! Longines-wittnauer Ladys Watch.fab Case/diamond Dial.unworn! Box/papers.Vintage Lot Of 35 Watch Movements Longines Hamilton Illinois Wittnauer And MoreVintage Wittnauer Usa 14k Gold Cased Mens Or Unisex Swiss Watch C1960s?Vintage Man's Wittnauer Wristwatch Working ConditionSolomon Oyster Bay Vintage Date Automatic Wittnauer Mens Wrist Watch To RestoreWittnauer $995 Womens 72 Diamond Gold Ss Swiss Watch, Mthr Of Pearl Dial 12r040Vintage 17 J Longines Wittnauer Swiss 11 Esg Wind-up Mens Watch Stainless Orig1956 Vintage Wittnauer 17 Jewel Men's Automatic Wristwatch W/unusual Dial DesignVintage Wittnauer Longines Stainless Steel Automatic Watch As Is Fix RepairLot Of 3 Vintage Antique Railroad Wittnauer, Girard-perregaux Watches For RepairVery Nice Longines-wittnauer Gentlemans Quartz Watch.unusual Case /fab Dial 90'sLot Of 3 Vintage Men's Automatic Wristwatches Wittnauer, Endura, Ovivo RepairVintage Mens Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Gp Watch With Swiss 17j Movement W CaseElegant Old Wittnauer 14k Gold Men's 17j Dress Watch With Unusual Angular CaseVintage Collection Lot Bulova 30 J Wittnauer Auto Watch Mens Wrist Watches1970s Longines Wittnauer Men10k Rgp Fancy Lugs 17j Cal 11ns Running Mint CondVintage Womens Watches Lot Bulova Longines Girard Perregaux Wittnauer Lot#mx11Lot Of Vintage Nos Longines Wittnauer Watch Parts Stems Staffs Springs Hands Vintage Wittnauer 17 Jewel 11ssg S/s & 17 Jewel 10s 10k Gf & S/s Men's Watch LotWittnauer Stainless Back Diamond Dial Running Men's Wristwatch Vintage Wittnauer Stainless Men's Watch In Box W/ Paper 11esb As Is N15 Vtge Wittnauer Cal 14a Chronograph Men Watch, 70s. Personalized Dial, Unique! Wittnauer Geneve Mens Date Watch 10k Gold Filled Windup Running Longines Thin XWittnauer Gold Filled Fancy Lugs Sweep Sencond Hand Running Men's Wristwatch 20 Vintage Mens Wristwatches Or Heads Cases Repair Croton Alarm Wittnauer Elgin.Extra Rare Mens Gold Vintage Longines Wittnauer Automatic Screw In Slide In CaseVintage Wittnauer Men's Wristwatch 10k Gf Stainless Back Kreisler Band Running20 Old Wrist Watch Movement Works Elgin Longine Hamilton Swiss Waltham WittnauerVtg Wittnauer Longines 10k Gold Filled 9wn Swiss 17jewel Mens Nr Free Ship1950's Longines Wittnauer Fancy Lugs Watch 14k Yellow Gold 17 Jewel Manual Wind Men's Watch - Wittnauer 12a07 Swiss Dress Watch Swarovski Crystals Gold PlatedWittnauer Geneve 10k Gold Rgp Watch Working ConditionWristwatch Longines Wittnauer Cal 73 Revue 17 J Swiss 10 K Gf Statesman BoxVintage Longines Wittnauer (revue 79) Model Geneva Montreal Mens WatchNib Men's Wittnauer Swiss Gold Plated Watch, Warranty/date Window Retail $495.00Nib Ladies Wittnauer Swiss Gold Plated Crystal Watch With Warranty, Retail $450Womens Wittnauer 34 Diamond Wristwatch Watch C976692 A4 No ReserveLot 5 Vintage Watches-wittnauer-(revue)- Nivada, Brunvil-men's-women's,gold-decoVintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Men's Watch, Stainless Steel, Day/dateVintage Wittnauer Automatic Mens Watch - As Is - Parts Or RepairWittnauer 17 Jewel Gold Filled Wristwatch - Beautiful Condition - Must See!!Wittnauer Polara Very Rare Red Glass Battery Led, Vintage, Working Mens Watch.Womens Wittnauer Diamond WatchGold Tone Mens Dress Qwr Watch Preowned Longines Wittnauer Watch Co.Vintage Wittnauer Men's Wind-up Wristwatch Art Deco Gold Filled Gf WristwatchVintage Wittnauer Men's Wristwatch Swiss Movement Non Working1960's 70's Vintage Wittnauer Automoatic 17 Jewel Gold Tone Stretch Men's WatchVtg Wittnauer Yellow Gold Plated U.s.a Made Flex Band WatchNos Vintage Wittnauer Pegasus Gold Tone Men's Watch Leather Band LotVintage Watches Lot Of 17 Timex, Bulova, Wittnauer, Gruen & More