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 Geneve Automatic Super Compressor Divers Watch Original CondLovely Longines-wittnauer Vintage Gent's Watch.great Fancy Case/sloping Lug.1948Vintage Longines Wittnauer Animated Watchmaker Store Display Sign WatchLovely Rare Gents Longines-wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar Watch.42mm.1970sLongines Wittnauer Mono Pusher Dual Register Chronograph Rarity Antique Superb!!Rare Men's Vintage S/s Longines Wittnauer Bezel Set Alarm Wristwatch Cal 10awVintage Men Watch Lot, Bulova, Longines, Hamilton, Wittnauer, Marvin For Repair Vintage Large Wittnauer "2000" Automatic Ss Men's Wristwatch W/ Day DateVintage Lot 1 Mens Wittnauer Longines Geneve Automatic Subdial Watch Clean WorksVintage Watch Lot Enicar Orvin Seiko Bulova Waltham Wittnauer Cordura NorbeeMen's Longines Wittnauer 2-tone Automatic Vintage Gold 10k Gf WatchWittnauer Vintage ChronographWristwatch Longines Wittnauer Automatic 17 Jewels Cal 11 An SwissWittnauer Chrono-date Professional Mens 1950's Chronograph WatchMans Rare Vintage Wittnauer Weems Second Setting Wrist Watch For Pilots Or Nav. Vintage 17-jewel Men’s Wittnauer WristwatchWatchmaker Estate Wristwatch Parts/restore Lot Bulova Wittnauer Caravelle + MoreVintage Rare Wittnauer Automatic Jump Hour Coffin Case 17 J Tenor Dorly WatchLot Of 4 Vtg Men's Wristwatches W/original Boxes - Accutron, 2-elgins, WittnauerUnusual 1950s Wittnauer Gents Ref 2194 Waffled Bezel Square Guilloche Dial RunsWittnauer Swiss Made Vintage Pre-owned Used Wind Up Mens WatchVintage Wittnauer 17 Jewel Model 9 Wn Wind Men's Wrist Watch 10k Gf + Box RunsVintage Wittnauer Polara Led Wrist Watch For Parts Or Repair Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic Men's Watch Working Rare Vintage Wittnauer Electro ChronWittnauer "cadillac" Logo - Rare Collectors Watch - Estate Sale (no Reserve)Vintage Wittnauer Mens Diving Watch 100 Meters ***works***Men's Vintage Watch Wittnauer 2000 Calendar AutomaticWittnauer Men's $550 Laureate White Dial Date Two-tone Ssteel Watch W6205400 *Wittnauer Rolex Style Men's Watch 18 K Gold PlatedMens 1950 Longines Wittnauer 14k Solid Gold Fancy Deco Swiss WatchLadies Vintage Wittnauer Rare Solid 14k Gold 1950's Manual #a2124Wittnauer Mens Cosmopolitan Dress Watch Ht 8174 Beautiful Gold Tone, Vintage Wittnauer 10k Gold Filled Men's Watch Sub Second Hand Working Nice Shape14 K Yellow Gold Wittnauer Automatic Watch!Handsome Men's Diamond Wittnauer Stainless Gold WatchHuge Lot 50+ Vintage Wrist Watch Movements ~ Elgin ~ Wittnauer ~ Hamilton GruenVintage Wittnauer Men’s Deco Wrist Watch Runs NrVintage Wristwatch Lot Of 12 Vintage Wristwatches Avalon, Wittnauer Revue Etc.Vtg Mens Wittnauer Automatic Wrist Watch Running RepairVintage Men's Watch Wittnauer 2000 Calendar Automatic PartsVintage Wittnauer Electronic Transistorized Watch Runs Great L@@k!!!Mens Lot Vintage Watch Movements ~ Elgin ~ Wittnauer ~ Gruen ~ Glycine ~ BulovaVintage Wittnauer 17j Mens WatchVintage Wittnauer Watch 1956 Frigidaire Best Seller Summer 1956Vintage Man's Wittnauer Wristwatch Swiss 0550 0705 Ttc Long Life Wittnauer A7 Chronograph Date Crystals S.steel Men's Watch- (pls Read B4 Bid)Wittnauer Venus 170 Man’s Chronograph Wristwatch Movement. 24hWittnauer Mens 10a02 Cosmopolitan / Metropolitan W/box, Rare Silver ToneVintage Mens Wrist Watch Art Deco Swiss Wittnauer Beautiful 10k Gf Unusual FaceMen's Vintage Wittnauer Electronic Watch RunningWatchmakers Special 3 High Grade Vintage Swiss Watch Cases Longines & WittnauerVintage Retro Wittnauer Polara Led Watch Screw Back For Parts Or Repair OnlyMens Vintage Wittnauer Automatic Wristwatch Running As IsLot Of 18 Vintage Watches Mens/womens Wittnauer Bulova Seiko Monet Westclox *nr*Vintage Wittnauer 10k Gold Filled Automatic Mans WatchVintage Lot Of - 4 - Womens Wristwatches - 2- Hamilton , Bulova & Wittnauer N/rWittnauer Wwii Era Vintage Wrist Watch As IsMen's Vintage Wittnauer Revue 17 Jewel Wristwatch Black Dial 10k Gf Bezel1960s "mad Men" Wittnauer Gent's Hand Wound Watch, Diamond Two-tone Dial, Runs!