1. december 2018

The history of the Wittnauer watch brand

Wittnauer as a watch brand was born around 1880 – more than 130 years ago. It was a brand from the american company J. Eugéne Robert.

Wittnauer logo on a watch from the 1960s
I have the Wittnauer 2000 watch and this led me to investigate more about the brand and the people behind.

Jacques Eugéne Robert was born in 1833 in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland and emigrated with his family in 1845 to New York. Later he worked at a company that imported watches from Auguste Agassiz, one of the founders of Longines. In 1866 Jacques Eugéne Robert established his own watch importing company. He imported movements and watches from Swiss brands like Longines and Angelus.

The american watch importer J. Eugene Robert developed the Wittnauer brand

In 1871 the 38 year old Jacques Eugéne Robert married the 18 year old Lina Wittnauer. In 1872 Lina’s 16 year old brother Albert Charles Wittnauer also came to New York from Switzerland and began working for his brother in law, J. Eugéne Robert. Eventually two more Wittnauer boys, Louis Maximilian and Emile, and sister Martha Sophie, joined them in New York and began working for the company.

Albert Wittnauer became a close partner for J. Eugéne Robert in the management of the company and in 1880 Albert developed a new line of watches under the name ”Wittnauer”. The idea was to produce good, but affordable watches for the American market. The company established its own factory in Geneva. As watches from Switzerland were heavily taxed to protect the watch industry in USA, the actual assembly of Wittnauer watches was probably done in the United States.

In 1888 Albert Wittnauer took over the company and it was renamed A. Wittnauer Co.

According to Mikrolisk Wittnauer was officially registered as a brand in New York in 1893.

Albert Wittnauer developed the Wittnauer brand in 1880 while working for his brother in law, watch importer J. Eugéne Robert.

Wittnauer ad from 1893 in The Jewelers Circular and Horological Review

Ad from 1899 in The Jewelers Circular and Horological Review.
Some of these gentlemen can very well be the Wittnauer brothers.

In 1966 the company was a part of a antitrust case and from the hearings we have the most definitive source of information.

International aspects of antitrust: Hearings before the Subcommittee, 1966
A reliable source of information about the Wittnauer Company

The following are an extract from the book:

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The first company to import "Longines" brand watches into the United States was started in 1866 by a Mr. Robert. The Robert firm was established at the same time as Compagnie des Montres Longines FranciIlon, S. A. was established in Switzerland, and became the exclusive distributor of "Longines" brand watches in the United States.

In 1888 Albert Wittnauer purchased the firm and in 1904 it was incorporated under the laws of New York as A. Wittnauer Company. In 1936 new interests bought out the Wittnauer family and the name was changed to Longines-Wittnauer Co., Inc.

In 1898 Wittnauer & Co. was organized in Geneva, Switzerland, and, after some intervening changes, incorporated in Switzerland in 1927 under the name Wittnauer et Cie., S. A. Wittnauer-Geneva has always been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Longines-Wittnauer. Other wholly-owned subsidiaries of Longines-Wittnauer are Vacheron & Constantin and Le Coultre Watches, Inc.

By 1946 Longines-Wittnauer's business consisted of importing into the United States "Longines," "Wittnauer," "Vacheron & Constantin" and "Le Coultre" brand watches and watch movements and selling completed watches under those brand names in the United States and elsewhere.

In 1946, at the direction of Longines-Wittnauer, Wittnauer-Geneva commenced the assembly of watches and movements which, with minor exceptions, it sold to Longines-Wittnauer. While the assembly of watches began as a pilot operation, it expanded and by 1954 its volume of production reached 80,000 watches, and the number of its employees grew from 25 to 30 in 1946 to 60 or 70 in 1954.

Wittnauer-Geneva did no other business than that described above except that for about two years it made sales of "Wittnauer" brand watches to retail outlets in Switzerland and exported a small quantity of "Wittnauer" brand watches from Switzerland to other countries.

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As can be seen from these ads from swiss magazines in 1942 and 1948 Wittnauer watches were for some time also marketed in Switzerland.

Wittnauer & Cie S.A. ad from 1942. Source

Wittnauer & Cie S.A. ad from 1948. Source

Furthermore in the book there is this interesting paragraph: "Watches purchased from Thommens and Piaget were sold by Longines-Wittnauer in the United States under the Wittnauer trademark. Thommens and Piaget did not sell watches manufactured by them under the Wittnauer trademark to any person other than Longines-Wittnauer."

This underlines the fact that Wittnauer watches were often rebranded watches from renowned swiss manufacturers or pieced together with parts (movements, cases, dials) from various sources.

Further reading
If you want more info about the story and the people behind Wittnauer, see this article from Hans Weil which seems to be trustworthy and well researched.

Not least the story of Martha Wittnauer that were in charge of the company from 1916 to 1936 after the death of her brothers is interesting. As one of the few women in a management position in the watch business Martha Wittnauer became known as ”Miss Time of America”. She was 55 when she took over and 75 when the company was sold in 1936.

At one point around 2005-2007 Wittnauer (now owned by Bulova) themselves made a timeline with valuable information for their website. This is not active anymore but can be found here in the Internet Archive.

In 1994 was published a book about Wittnauer called ”A History of the Man & His Legacy”. It was written by american watchmaking legend Henry B. Fried. It is not available online.

Ownership of the Wittnauer watch brand, timeline
1880 The brand is born by the company J. Eugéne Robert (est. 1866)
1888 Company renamed to A. Wittnauer. Until 1936 the Wittnauer family owned the A. Wittnauer Company
1936 Hella Deltah Company takes over and the name was changed to Longines-Wittnauer Company.
1969 Westinghouse Electric Corporation purchases Longines-Wittnauer
1994 Wittnauer International Inc. is born. Now only with Wittnauer watches, not Longines.
2001 Wittnauer becomes part of the Bulova Corporation.

The company was established in 1866, not in 1867
In this ad from 1925 Wittnauer states that the company (not the brand) was established in 1866 which seems to be accurate in relation to other sources.

A. Wittnauer ad from 1925

Wittnauer ad from 1956 were the company celebrates it's 90th Anniversary

And then suddenly in ads from 1967 it says that the company was born in 1867. Maybe so they could celebrate a 100th anniversary when it was convenient for them.

Wittnauer ad from 1967

The relationship between Longines and Wittnauer
So what is the relationship between Longines and Wittnauer? Several sources take for granted that Longines owned the Longines-Wittnauer Company but there seems to be no proof of this. It seems merely that the watches from Longines were a big part of the success for the watch importing company and they decided to take advantage of this by renaming the company in 1936. Wikipedia states that Longines in 1950 bought Wittnauer – but again – this seems to be wrong. In the antitrust hearings in 1966 the distribution agreement between Longines S.A. in Switzerland and Longines-Wittnauer in USA is described. It is clear that they were two separate companies.

Very clear branding of Wittnauer as the affordable alternative
From the beginning Wittnauer was created as good quality, but cheaper alternative to the other watches from A. Wittnauer Co. like Longines and Vacheron Constantin. Most often the strong brand of Longines was used to also promote Wittnauer: ”Second best to Longines”.

Ad from 1947. ”Companion watch to the honoured Longines in the more moderate price field. The sturdy and dependable Wittnauer Watch”.

Ad from 1964. ”A very fine watch at a surprisingly modest price”.
Notice the Wittnauer Super Compressor called the "Scuba-Matic, All-Proof".

In this ad from 1965 all Longines-Wittnauer’s brands are presented. Wittnauer is said to have a modern watch factory in Geneva and is called ”the best and most beautiful watches – in the price range under Longines”

”Demand the best? Rather pay less?”.
Notice also the Wittnauer Chronograph 7004A in this ad

In 1967 Wittnauer introduced their version of an electric watch

A Wittnauer ad from 1970.
Notice the super delicious Wittnauer Chronograph diver in the middle.

In 1976 Wittnauer also had a range of boring LED watches. Inspired by the Pulsar watch introduced by Hamilton in 1972.

Significant watch models from Wittnauer
In 1912 John P. V. Heinmuller came from Switzerland to work for A. Wittnauer Co. as a clerk. He later became vice president of the company and from 1936 president of the new Longines-Wittnauer Watch Co. He was extremely interested in aviation and secured close ties between the company and flying pioneers like Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. The company developed a complete line of navigation timing equipment, including aviation dash-board clocks. Probably in close association with Longines. Source and source.

Wittnauer also supplied wristwatches to the U.S. Army and in 1928 introduced the Wittnauer All-Proof watch. It was claimed to be the world’s first waterproof, shockproof, and anti-magnetic watch. Se more here.

The legendary Wittnauer All-Proof from 1928.

A Wittnauer All-Proof from 1961 with original box and papers.

Wittnauer was not only marketed as the cheaper brand compared to Longines. They even made watches that looked similar to famous Longines models

In the mid 1960s every brand seemed to have their own version of a dive watch with a Super Compressor case from Ervin Piquerez S.A. (EPSA). Longines had the 7042 with a caliber 19 AS movement. Wittnauer also made an EPSA Super Compressor watch. It was called the Scuba-Matic, reference 8007 and had a Wittnauer C11.KAS movement (a variant of the Longines cal. 501).

However Longines had the larger version of the Super Compressor case and with a size of 42 mm this is an extremely attractive model even today that has inspired the introduction of the Longines Legend Diver re-edition in 2014.

The Wittnauer Super Compressor cost $79.50 in 1966 – which is equivalent to $600 in 2017. Not a cheap watch.

Wittnauer Super Compressor, 36 mm, from the 1960s

The gorgeous Wittnauer 7004A with the red bezel resembled a Longines ref. 7981-3 Skin Diver from 1960s. Both measured 40 mm. The Wittnauer had a Landeron Calibre 248 movement (stamped Wittnauer 14Y).

A Wittnauer 7004A Chronograph. 40 mm.

A super nice Wittnauer Professional Chronograph 246 T called ”Scuba Roulette”.
It has a Valjoux 72 and measures 42 mm. Form the early 1970s. Wow.

And of course the famous Wittnauer 2000 and Witnauer 2002 watches from the early 1970s.
Click here to read to everything you will ever need to know about Wittnauer 2000 and its history.

Hopefully you found some interesting information here. Thanks for reading.


2 kommentarer:

  1. Dear Mr. Mrs.
    An impressive and interesting history you wrote !
    I noticed in an other article that Georges Ketterer, former member of the board of directors of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron & Constantin in Swiss in the first and second half of 1900. According to this article he also was one of the members of the board of directors of Wittnauer & Cie. SA in Geneva, Swiss. Please can you confirm this and maybe you can tell in which period?
    Sander Peeters

    1. Hi. Thanks for your comment and input.
      Wittnauer in the US was importer of JLC movements. They cased the movements and sold them under the brand name ”Le Coultre”. There must have been a very close business relationship between Wittnauer US and JLC in Switzerland.
      ”Wittnauer et Cie S. A.” in Geneva was a subsidiary of Wittnauer US. Thus it makes perfectly sense that Georges Ketterer from JLC at some point helped Wittnauer with their company in Geneva. Unfortunately I can’t help with any sources to back this up or more information.
      All the best.


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