Tag Archives: Wittnauer

The Illinois Watch Company

The Illinois Watch Company has long had an honored place in the annals of horological history. From their founding in 1869, through their commitment to timekeeping excellence in the early 20th century, to their development of many wonderful Art Deco/Moderne-inspired wristwatches in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Illinois was a leader in its field. Today their watches are highly sought after by collectors, both for their engineering and beauty. Here is the history of the company covered in great detail and with solid research. Included are historical documents, vintage photographs of the people and manufacturing processes at the Illinois Factory, old advetisements, and a compendium of their wristwatch production from their beginning until their sale to Hamilton Watch Company. But the best part for the collector and historian alike is a visual record of nearly every wristwatch design ever created by Illinois Watch Company, and their variations, in beautiful full color photographs. Each is accompanied by complete information about the watch and its production. In addition, scattered through the book are historical references that place the Companys evolution in the context of the general history of the period, and notes about the collectors of these fine timepieces and the adventures they have had in pursuit of them. Taken together this is an exciting and informative new volume for those who appreciate and cherish old timepieces.

The History of Wittnauer

Founded by young Swiss immigrant, Albert Wittnauer who at 16 years old already was already a highly skilled watchmaker. What were you doing at 16? Yeah, us too…

Long known for highly regarded, Wittnauer watches are among the the most sought after vintage brands. Quality material and engineering that will last a lifetime.

1872 Sixteen-year old Albert Wittnauer arrives in New York from Switzerland. Already a skilled watchmaker, young Wittnauer is to work for his brother-in-law, J. Eugene Robert, an importer of fine Swiss watches.

1874 Louis Wittnauer joins his older brother, Albert, in New York. The teenager also begins working for J. Eugene Robert.

1880 Convinced of the need for a watch designed expressly for the growing U.S. market, Albert Wittnauer creates the Wittnauer brand. Manufactured in Geneva, Switzerland, with all the functions and durability demanded by the American consumer, the Wittnauer brand, priced lower but as finely crafted as more expensive Swiss imports, is an instant success.

1885 Albert Wittnauer takes over the management of his brother-in-law’s importing company. The company continues to distribute several brands of Swiss watches as well as the growing Wittnauer brand.

1888 Emile Wittnauer, at 23 the youngest of the Wittnauer siblings, arrives in New York to work with his brothers.

1889 The company runs its very first advertisement. Appearing in the twentieth anniversary issue of the Jewelers’ Weekly, the ad notes that the company sells both “plain and complicated” watches, suggesting that it is a source for chronographs and repeating watches.

1890 The A. Wittnauer Company is formally established when J. Eugene Robert transfers title to the company to his young brother-in-law, Albert Wittnauer. Also involved in the company are Albert’s brothers, Louis and Emile, and their sister, Martha.

1899 With continuing success, the A. Wittnauer Company outgrows its small building at 19 Maiden Lane. Embracing the modern age, it moves to the tenth floor of a new fourteen-story skyscraper at 9-13 Maiden Lane.

Louis Wittnauer, dies at age 41.   Emile Assumes management of the New York office.

1904 Albert Wittnauer incorporates the A. Wittnauer Company, with himself as president and brother Emile as vice president.

1908 Albert Wittnauer dies at age 52.  Emile Wittnauer becomes the head of the A. Wittnauer Company.

1915 As the center of New York manufacturing moves farther uptown, A. Wittnauer Company moves operations to 30 West 36th Street. Also located in the new building is a subsidiary, the Brighton Watch Case Company, which manufactures gold, platinum and diamond-studded cases to house the company’s Swiss movements. 1916

Emile Wittnauer dies, leaving the company in the hands of his sister, Martha Wittnauer.

1917-1918 As the American Expeditionary Force joins the fighting in World War I, Wittnauer watches and other navigational instruments become essential equipment for many early aviation units.

During the War, servicemen in the field recognize wristwatches as a far more practical alternative to bulkier pocket watches. The Swiss watch industry moves quickly to take advantage of this new trend, giving the Swiss made Wittnauer an immediate edge in the U.S. market.

1918 The Wittnauer All-Proof, the world’s first waterproof, shock-proof, anti-magnetic watch, makes its retail debut. In the years to come, it would prove its mettle by being dropped from airplanes, thrown from the Empire State Building, taken to steaming Amazon jungles, and brought to the highest elevations of the Himalayas, Alps and Andes. Later, it would be used by countless service personnel during World War II.

1926 The National Broadcasting Company, America’s first radio network, chooses A. Wittnauer Company to provide the official timing for radio broadcasting.

1927 Wittnauer begins producing a navigational watch for use by aviators. The watch grows out of conversations between Commander P.V.H. Weems, the leading authority on aerial navigation, and Wittnauer watchmaker, J.P.V. Heinmuller. An aviation enthusiast, Heinmuller was then the official timekeeper of the U.S. National Aeronautical Association, as well as the developer of Wittnauer’s line of navigational timepieces, dashboard clocks and other aviation instruments.

1928 “Racing the moon,” Captain Charles B.D. Collyer and John Henry Mears circle the globe by air and sea in 24 days, beating the orbiting moon by a full three days. The two use A. Wittnauer Company timepieces throughout the journey.

1932 Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman – and the first person since Lindbergh – to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her Lockheed Vega-5B monoplane is equipped with A. Wittnauer Company timepieces. The 15-hour trip from Newfoundland to Ireland comes on May 21st, the fifth anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight.

1936 With the Depression continuing, A. Wittnauer Company, like most businesses offering luxury items, struggles. An era ends – and an exciting new one begins – when Martha Wittnauer sells the company founded by her brother to the Hella Deltah Company, a successful pearl manufacturer. A farsighted team consisting of Fred Cartoun, Hella Deltah’s sales manager, and investors Bernard Esh, a manufacturer of gold and platinum watch cases, and Ira Guilden, former vice president of the Bulova Watch Company, set to work revitalizing the company.

1937 Aviation and movie mogul, Howard Hughes, sets a coast-to-coast speed record by flying from Burbank to Newark in seven hours, twenty-eight minutes. His own Hughes Aircraft H-1 racer, “Winged Bullet,” is equipped with timepieces supplied by Wittnauer.

1941 As America enters World War II, Wittnauer, with its long relationship with the U.S. military, receives contracts to produce compasses, laboratory timers, aircraft clocks and military watches. The company’s topnotch workshops also offer employment to many skilled watchmakers forced to flee Europe. With domestic watch production diverted, Swiss watches flourish on the consumer market. While all assembly and repair facilities are devoted to the war effort, Wittnauer craftsmen work overtime to produce watches for the domestic market with movements imported from neutral Switzerland.

1948 CBS begins airing a series of half-hour radio programs featuring the Wittnauer Choraliers.

1949 Wittnauer introduces an accurate self-winding watch that is slimmer, yet more durable, than previous self-winding models.

1957 Wittnauer introduces its first electric watch.

1969 Westinghouse Electric Corporation purchases Wittnauer, bringing together an electrical industry giant and the company at the forefront of the newest electronic timekeeping technology. Newly installed president Robert Pliskin, a watch industry veteran, dedicates himself to improving the quality of the company’s offerings, concentrating on the Wittnauer watch brands, as well as Atmos clocks, while continuing to refine its electronic watch innovations.

1970 Wittnauer moves its offices and factory to New Rochelle, New York, a Westchester County suburb just north of New York City.

1979 John L. Davis, an active and innovative sales executive for the preceding 34 years, becomes president of Wittnauer. Davis continues to update and refine the company’s products, bringing it firmly into the electronic age with improved quartz analog watches.

1991 With the revived slogan, “the watchmaker’s watch,” the Wittnauer watch brand becomes the primary focus of the company. New company president, Reynald M. Swift, hires a new advertising agency specifically for Wittnauer watches, also instituting a new Wittnauer “Quality Pledge” and continuing the company’s “buckle-to-buckle” warranty.

1994 Wittnauer International Inc. is born, as the company gives up its dual role as manufacturer and agent to concentrate on its own Wittnauer brand.

2001 Two of world’s most prominent timekeeping names unite when Wittnauer becomes part of the Bulova Corporation.