In 1872, aged 16, Albert Wittnauer, a Swiss watchmaker, emigrated from Switzerland to the United States and began working for his brother in law, J. Eugene Roberts - an importer of Swiss time pieces. Wittnauer's innovation was not technological but commercial when he recognised a gap in the American market for a cut-price Swiss style pocket watch. Driven by public demand, Wittnauer and his brother began creating budget watches for the mass market, with durability and functionality in mind. These economy models sold so well that in 1890 Robert's organisation was formally renamed the A. Wittnauer Company.
Beginning as a family business, the A. Wittnauer company extended its ranges into the luxury market throughout subsequent decades. The company became particularly notable through important links to the U.S. Navy and the burgeoning aviation industry, creating highly sophisticated chronometers. Wittnauer watches were worn by several notable explorers and aviators (including Roald Arumdsen, Richard E, Byrd, Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post) and the brand soon became a byword for precision, reliability and technological advancement.
Following Albert's death in 1916, the Wittnauer company was taken over by his sister Martha, and the business began supplying wristwatches and navigational devices to the American expeditionary forces.
By the 1920s the Wittnauer were producing stylish watches containing precision mechanisms. During this period, new face shapes also emerged, including squares, rectangles and hexagons. Aviation, however, remained a key focus.
In 1927, both Wittnauer and Longines worked with the U.S. Navy officer, Philip Van Hom Weems - whose design for a Second Setting Watch included an inner rotating dial.
Longines went on to purchase Wittnaur in the 1950s.
Ideally, watches should be physically handled before they are bought, and models which no longer work usually require expert repair.
- A stainless steel Wittnauer wristwatch, formerly belonging to Joe DiMaggio, sold at Christie's in 2008 for $13,750.
- A 1950s stainless steel pilot's wristwatch sold at Christie's in 2008 for $3,750.
- A stainless steel pilot's wristwatch, retailed by Wittnauer circa 1944 sold at Sotheby's in 2012 for $15,000.
- A Wittnauer Geneve Tank wristwatch sold at JK Galleries in 2006 for $100.
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