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    

Vtge Wittnauer (longines) Chronograph Mens Watch. Venus 188, Serviced No ReserveVintage Wittnauer Geneve Professional Chronograph - For Repair Or ServiceBeaut. Rare Gents Vintage Longines-wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar Watch.1970s Vintage Wittnauer Chronograph 13w-axa-swiss-17j-34mm Case-miles Counter-dnMens Vintage Wittnauer Asymetrical Case Automatic Wind Mechanical Wrist Watch NrVintage Wittnauer 13 Jewel Electric Men's Watch Landeron 4750 Fancy Neat HandsVintage Wittnauer Power Reserve Stainless Steel Case Automatic WatchVintage Mid Century Wittnauer 10k Rgp Florentine Finish Automatic Wrist Watch NrLovely Rare Gents Longines-wittnauer 2002 Perpetual Calendar Watch.42mm.1970's.Lot Of 3 Vintage Wittnauer Automatic Wristwatches - No Reserve !Vintage Longines Wittnauer Automatic Watch 11 Ahs1 Runs Great Kreisler Bracelet!Vintage Men's Wittnauer "2000" Automatic Blue Dial With Day/date Wrist WatchLovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Vintage Watch.s/steel Case/deco Markers.1960's1 Rare 38mm Large Swiss Wittnauer Geneve Automatic...fully Serviced And Timed NrBeautiful Vintage 1950s Wittnauer / Longines 17j Serviced Mens 10k Gold F. WatchVintage Ladies Watch Lot Of 7 Bulova Elgin Art Deco Caravelle Wittnauer 2 RunVintage Nos Wittnauer Automatic Wristwatch W / Original Box, Papers, Tag !Lovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Vint.qtz Watch.s/steel Case/day-date Dial.1970'sVintage Wittnauer Automatic Watch 10kt Gold Filled Case And Back Unique- Bilk Lot Men's Watch Movements - All Longines - Wittnauer - (l1)Bilk Lot Men's Watch Movements - All Longines - Wittnauer - (l3)Lovely Longines-wittnauer Gents Dual Time Zone Vintage Watch.orig.bracelet 1975.Wittnauer Women's $895 30 Diamonds Luxury Dress Watch, Black Strap 10r20Vintage Antique Watches Watch Bulova Gruen Wittnauer Lord Elgin Parts FixJb Champion Wittnauer Ss Fold Over Clasp 18mm Watch Band Bulk Lot Men's Watch Movements - All Longines - Wittnauer - (l5)Bulk Lot Men's Watch Movements - All Longines - Wittnauer - (l6)Outstanding Vintage 17-jewel Men’s Wittnauer Wristwatch6 Vintage Men's Wristwatch Lot: Bulova, Hamilton, Gruen, Wittnauer, Elgin, TimexBilk Lot Men's Watch Movements - All Longines - Wittnauer - (l2)Stuns! Waltham Prestige Gents Case/diamond Dial Sim 2 Wittnauer.Wittnauer Fe 11539 Moon Phase Quartz Analog Watch Rare W/ White Dial (7780)Vintage Wittnauer Automatic Men's Watch 10k Gold Filled Gf Wristwatch - As-isBulk Lot Men's Watch Movements - All Longines - Wittnauer - (l4)Wittnauer Laureate Wristwatch With Diamonds & DateRunning Vintage! Wittnauer Men's Wristwatch 10k Gold Filled. No Reserve Auction!Wittnauer Ladies Watch 12r11 C952370 Sapphire Crystal Clean 1950s Wittnauer 17j Gnts Tonneau Shaped Rectangle Nice Original Dial RunsVintage Wrist Watch Wittnauer Geneve Automatic 24 Hr DialWittnauer Automatic Mens Vintage Watch With 10k G.f. Case (#d4)Vintage Wittnauer 17j Automatic D11kas-1, 11arb 10k Gf & Longines-wittnauer 7sagVintage Mens Wittnauer Tank WatchHuge Ladies Vintage Watch Movement Lot Group 33 Total Bulova Helbros WittnauerVintage Wittnauer Automatic Diamond-dial Wristwatch - Original Box, Papers, TagsBeaut.longines-wittnauer Gents Vintage Watch.white Rgp Case/honeycombe Dial.50s.Wittnauer Swiss 12e08 Gold Colored Men's Dress Watch, Analog, Real DiamondsWittnauer 4 Diamond Model 8k 4512 17 Jewel Longines 1983 InscribedVintage Wittnauer Electronic Watch Transistorized Gold Filled Not Running Watch Lot Vintage Mix Lot Train, Working & Damage Men & Women Fossil/wittnauer Vintage Men's Wittnauer Hidden Lug Art Deco Watch 10k Rgp - Parts Repair Longines-wittnauer Quartz Men's Watch~ With Date ~stainless Steel ~ In BoxWittnauer Watch All Stainless Steel Very NiceVintage Wittnauer Silvertone Swiss Quartz Mens Black Strap Wristwatch-runsLovely Longines-wittnauer Ladys Vintage Auto Watch.fab Lugs/bottle-cap Bezel 40sWittnauer Swiss Gold Plated Diamond Bracelet Ladies Quartz WatchWatchmakers Box Of Approx. 26 Wittnauer & Lecoultre Wrist Watch Crowns In BoxWittnauer Automatic 10k Gold Filled Mens Dress Watch - Vintage - Keeps Good TimeVintage 10 Kt Gold Filled 1940's - Wittnauer Revue Men's Wristwatch 17 JewelVintage Wittnauer Cal.11arg 17 Jewel 10k Gold Filled Automatic Men's WatchBulk Lot Ladies Watch Movements- All Assorted Longines & Wittnauer (x7)