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 Automatic Stainless Back Sector With Date Running Men's Wristwatch1950s Gents 10k Gold Filled Longines Wittnauer 11sr Gold Rotor Automatic Lot Of Estate Watches: Omega Elgin Helbros Seiko Wittnauer Orient Bulova WylerBeautiful Longines-wittnauer Qtz Gents Watch.fab Case/textured Date Dial 1990'sWittnauer Professional Chronograph Swiss Analog World Time Wrist Watch #3392Vintage 40's Wittnauer Cal 77 Triple Date Calendar Ss Fancy Lugs Serviced Nice Vintage Wittnauer Wrist Alarm Stainless Steel Large Men's WatchWittnauer Black Dial Fancy Case 14k Gold Marked Nonrunning Men's Wristwatch1960’s Wittnauer Stainless Electro-chron With Box, Serviced & Running!Vintage Wittnauer Automatic 10k Gold Filled Mens Watch C.11arb Original Dial Vintage Wittnauer Automatic Wristwatch In Running Condition - No Reserve !Vintage Gold Filled/plate Baylor-wittnauer-benrus Wristwatches Junk Drawer LotBig Ugly Wittnauer Mens Diving Or Sports Watch. Auto,day Date. Orange Dial/bezlLot Of 5 Vintage Watches Waltham ,wittnauer,gruen,clinton All Mechanical 3 Work4 Vtg Wristwatch Wittnauer Geneve Elgin Timex 400 Seiko Titanium 10k Rgp LotPair!! Of Vintage Longines Wittnauer 17j Stainless Steel Wristwatche's Watch Nr!Vintage Wittnauer Military Mens 24 Hour Stainless Steel Watch For Parts To FixVintage Wittnauer Date Mens WatchQuartz Watch Lot Of 14 Need Battery? Or Parts/repair Bulova Wittnauer Seiko Etc8Very Rare Wittnauer (sector)Wittnauer Vintage Men's Hand Wound Original Dial Is Vg 10kygf Case Is Exlt. C.47Vintage Wittnauer Man’s Automatic Gold Filled Wrist Watch Excellent NrBulova,elgin Gold Filled,wittnauer,vintage1940's Watches,men And LadiesVintage Wittnauer Art Deco Watch Lot, 2) 17 Jewel 84/1 Revue 10k Gf & S/s And A Wittnauer Mens Vintage WatchLqqk! Vintage Wittnauer Gold Filled 17j Selfwinding Wristwatch Swiss Watch Nr!Nice Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Automatic By Longines Man Watch Wittnauer Ladies Fancy Case 10k Gold Filled Marked Automatic Running WristwatchVintage Nos Wittnauer Railroad Electronic Rr-12 Wt Wristwatch Men's Wittnauer Diamond 'geneve' Black Dial Watch/ MechanicalKqql! Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Gold Plated Wristwatch Swiss Hand Wind Watch Nr!Vintage Wittnauer Automatic Men's Wristwatch RunsGreat Longines-wittnauer Qtz Gents Watch.fab Masonic Double Eagle Dial.must See!Stuns! Longines-wittnauer Gents Qtz Watch.fab Tu-tone Case/bracelet/date Dial.1970's Wittnauer Polara Led Watch (gold, 14k Ep, 10k Gf Band), Works, Box, BonusWittnauer S52477 Moon Phase Fe 1539 Mens Watch Chronograph Gold ToneWittnauer Buick Professional Sales Master Reward 10k Gold (r.g.p) Watch Mens Super Clean Vintage Longines Wittnauer Geneve' Day Date Automatic WatchWittnauer Geneve Men's Vintage Wristwatch1940's Vintage Mens Longines Wittnauer Sweep Lug Gold 10k Gf Textured Dial WatchWatch Movements (12) Longines , Hamilton , Wittnauer , Ulysse Nardin And OtherWittnauer Automatic Vintage Watch200+ Federal Brand Glass Watch Crystals Parts All Wittnauer Mens And Ladies Lot Lovely Longines-wittnauer Quartz Gentlemans Watch.fab Case/great Dial 1990's.Mens Quartz Wittnauer Vintage 1960's 10k Gold Filled Watch With 3 Diamonds Wittnauer A7 Men's Stainless Steel WatchWatchmakers Estate Watch Material Parts: Vintage Wittnauer 10k Gold FilledVintage Men Watch Wittnauer 9wn Wind Up 10k Gold Filled Works.Women's Non-working "wittnauer" "6w7" 14k White/gold/dia. 4 Grams 17 JewelFuturistic~70s Wittnauer Polara Early Led Men's Wristwatch~running/nice Shape!!Mens Rare Vintage Longines Wittnauer Fancy Dial Wind Up WatchVintage 1970s Ladies Wittnauer Mechanical Analog Watch.vgc- Super Chic DesignCa. Late 50s - 14kw Wittnauer With Diamond Bracelet - BeautifulWittnauer 14k Solid Gold, Diamonds Watch, Cocktail, Art Deco Ladies'Vintage Wittnauer Mens Rectangle Manual Wind Wrist Watch C11k Runs Needs HelpVintage Wittnauer Quartz Women’s WristwatchLadies Wittnauer WatchWittnauer Automatic Stainless Vintage Wrist Watch To Fix No ReserveLovely Longines-wittnauer Quartz Gentlemans Watch.super Case/great Dial 1990's.Wittnauer Men's Watch Quartz Diamond All S/s Gold Works - Works