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 Longines Wittnauer Chronograph Mens Watch 17j Landeron 249 14y Stainless Longines Wittnauer 18k Gold Gf Triple Date Calendar Mens Watch €Mens 1964 Longines Wittnauer 17j Swiss Made Automatic Retro Modern Vintage WatchVintage Wittnauer Professional Chronograph - Cities Of The World Rotating BezelVintage Longines Wittnauer 10k Gold Gf Automatic Mens Watch 11arb 17j C. 1960Mens 1950 Longines Wittnauer Korean War Era 17j Automatic Stainless Steel WatchVintage Near Mint Mens Wittnauer 3256 Two Register Chronograph Wristwatch Watch1950's Wittnauer Chronograph Fancy Dial All Original Screwback No Reserve!Rare Vintage Wittnauer Geneve Professional Chronograph Wrist WatchExcellent Vintage Men’s 17-jewel Wittnauer Geneve Wristwatch14k Solid White Gold Wittnauer Ladies Watch, 12 Genuine Natural Diamonds, QuartzExcellent Vintage Men’s 17-jewel Wittnauer Automatic WristwatchVintage Men's Wittnauer Automatic Watch, Great Condition, Runs WellVintage Man Wittnauer Watch With Alarm1943 Vintage Longines Wittnauer * Topaz * Bell Lug Men's Gold Deco Curvex WatchElegtant 1950s Wittnauer Men's 17 Jewel 10k Yellow Gf Thin Dress WatchWittnauer By Longines Automatic Fancy Dial Gents 1950's Vintage WristwatchVintage Wrist Watch Mechanical Movement Longines Bulova Lecoultre Wittnauer LotVintage Wittnauer Men's Automatic Wristwatch Nr Vintage Mens Wittnauer Automatic Swiss Watch ServicedVintage Mens Wittnauer Automatic Wristwatch WatchVintage Longines Wittnauer Geneve Mens Diamond Watch In Original BoxLovely Rare Gents Longines-wittnauer 2000 Perpetual Calendar Watch.from 1970's.Men's Wittnauer 17 Jewel Automatic Watch Ladies Vintage Watch Lot,ernest Borell Assymetrical,gucci,elgin,wittnauer & More14k White Gold .15ctw Diamond 17 Jewel Ladies Wittnauer Watch No Reserve!Wittnauer $950 Mens Gold Stainless Steel, Diamonds! Swiss Dress Watch 12e15Rare Wittnauer 17 Jewel 72c Triple Register Chronograph Calendar Mens WristwatchVintage Man's Wittnauer Wrist Watch, Stainless Steel, Swiss Movement, 17 JewelsWittnauer Electric Watch Movement For Parts And RepairVintage Wittnauer 17 Jewel Wind Men's Wrist Watch # C 11k-2 Runs Date At 12 RunsEstate Junk Drawer Lot 54 Watches Elgin Seiko Citizen Wittnauer Relic Ak Timex AVery Rare Vintage Wittnauer "longines" 10k Gf 17 Jewels1950s Mens Two Tone Longines Wittnauer Fancy Gold 10k Gf Unique WatchVintage Wittnauer 10k Solid Yellow Gold Ladies Wristwatch P.c. Monday Tea Co OldWatchmaker Part 100+ Watch Crown Assortment Omega Bulova Wittnauer Etc 1940's "wittnauer-weems" Military Wrist WatchVintage Men's Wittnauer Automatic Watch W/ 10k Gold Filled Case: Runs WellMens Super Clean Fancy Case Wittnauer 17 Jewel 9wn Deco Watch Running!!Lot Of High Grade Bulova M9 Accro Waltham La Forge Wittnauer Gf Watches Vintage Mint Wittnauer Longines Wrist Watch Deco Gold Filled Case Swiss Movt. Wittnauer $675 Womens Gold Ss Loaded With Crystals! Swiss Watch Krystal 12l27Lot Of 4 Vintage Ladies Mechanical Wristwatches - Elgin, Bulova & WittnauerMen's 1990s Vintage Wittnauer Quartz Wrist Watch With Date Swiss V8 Eta 955 4114pc Dealer Lot Wittnauer Men's Wristwatches - For Parts/restoration *no Res*Mens 1960s Longines Wittnauer Vintage Diamond Dial 10k Wgf Retro Modern Watch A+Vintage Wittnauer Automatic Men's Open Frame Wristwatch With Diamond Dial RunsWittnauer Electric Electro-chron 1950s Space Age Lightning Bolt Steel Mens WatchWittnauer Men's $795 Crystal Champagne Dial Date Gold-tone Ssteel Watch 11a06 *Wittnauer (longines) 17j - Swiss Made Gold Ladies Automatic WatchGorgeous 1950s Wittnauer Revue Black Dial Mens Deco Wrist Watch!Wittnauer Men's Quartz Watch With Box & Original Manual. Needs Battery. No ResWittnauer Women's $695 Diamond Champagne Dial Date Gold-tone Ss Watch 12r11 *Mens Vintage Wittnauer Automatic 1200 Wrist Watch Head Gold Filled Wittnauer Men’s Automatic 34 Mm Wristwatch. 86gVintage Wittnauer 17 Jewel Wind Men's Wrist Watch Model 11esg Caliber 10804 Man's Wristwatches Watches Tissot Wittnauer Bulova Gruen Veri-thin Gd Staffs!Men's Wittnauer Longlie Watch With Box Swiss Made (l@@k)Vintage Wittnauer 17 J Automatic Men's Wrist Watch 10 K Gf Model 11 Arb Cal 1384Wittnauer Men's $595 Laureate Champagne Dial Date Gold-tone Ssteel Watch 11b06 *