Vintage Watch Blog.
If you ask your grandparents or great grandparents, they will have fond memories of Wittnauer. The company was founded in 1885 by Albert Wittnauer, a Swiss immigrant, in New York USA. Unlike other US watch companies, like Hamilton for example, Wittnauer focused less on movement manufacturing and more on importing already well respected Swiss movements, and making them relevant in the American market. But is wasn't wristwatches that helped gained Wittnauer's reputation as a reliable source of timing instruments. In fact, Wittnauer was involved in producing timing instruments during the first world war for aviation units, one of the first watch firms to focus on instruments for aviation military use. Another first to be noted, it is documented that when the last Wittnauer brother died in 1916, Martha Wittnauer became the first women watchmaker CEO in history and led the company through remarkable successes in technical navigation and timing instruments in aviation. Wittnauer's technical expertise and reliability, quickly earned them among the top choices for navigators. explorers and astronomers. In 1926, NBC chose Wittnauer as the official source of timing instruments for radio broadcasting. Also around the same time, Amelia Earhart's famous flight across the Atlantic was with the help of her Wittnauer flight instruments. It should also be noted that Wittnauer, with the help of their partner Longines, was one of the only three contenders for an official NASA man on the moon certified chronograph, along with Rolex and the title holder Omega.
Fast-forward to 1950, Wittnauer decided to sell the company to one of their Swiss partners, the highly respected Longines Watch Co. From the 1950s all the way through to the conception of the quartz watch, Longines successfully ran the Wittnauer company and produced several notable wristwatches, usually for the American market. After the dawn of the quartz watch, and serious financial problems due to the lack of interest in mechanical movements, it was the Swatch Group that purchased Longines in 1995 and sold Wittnauer to Bulova shortly thereafter. Today, the company is virtually non existent and the brand is dormant under the leadership of Bulova which is now owned by Citizens.
It's interesting how an industry can completely unravel with the introduction of a new technology, in this case, quartz watches. What's more interesting is the reemergence of fine mechanical watches and the powerhouse market for mechanical watches that exists today. Unfortunately for Wittnauer, the brand, once stacked among the ranks of Rolex and Omega, is now nearly irrelevant. It's collectors, in the vintage market, that still know and respect the brand.
Will today's generation ever hear the name Wittnauer? It's too soon to tell. But one thing is true, the walls are closing in on the opportunity for the brand to reemerge and it will take a Swiss firm to get the brand back from what now is Citizens. Wittnauer is truly a watch company rich in history and innovation and would make a fine new brand if done correctly, and done by the Swiss of course.
Adam J. Dubilo, founder of Adam Vintage
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