Thursday, April 21, 2011


The Gruen Watch Company was formerly one of the largest watch manufacturers in the United States. It was in business from about 1894 to 1958 and was based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dietrich Gruen was born in Germany in 1847. At 15 years of age, he was sent away from home to become a watchmaker's apprentice. Later he worked for three years in Switzerland before going to the U.S.A. In 1874 he took out a patent for a safety pinion (U.S. patent no 157’913) for pocket watches, which prevented damage to the watch movement if the watch's mainspring broke.
In partnership with W.J. Savage, the son of a prominent Columbus, Ohio watchmaker and businessman, Dietrich Gruen started the Columbus Watch Manufacturing Company in 1876. Initially, the company imported and finished watch movements imported from Madretsch, a suburb of Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. The movements featured Gruen's 1874 safety pinion design.
In 1882 the company was refinanced and reorganized under the new name “Columbus Watch Company” and started manufacturing their own movements directly in the U.S.A. During the Panic of 1893 the shareholders forced Gruen out of the company. Reincorporated as the New Columbus Watch Company, the firm continued in existence until 1903.
In 1894, Dietrich Gruen founded a new company D. Gruen & Son, a partnership with his son Frederick G. Gruen. Father and son designed a series of pocket watch movements which were manufactured by the German watchmaking firm of Paul Assmann, and incorporated with an escapement designed by Moritz Grossman.
In 1900 the corporate name became D. Gruen, Sons & Co. The new company became partially a Swiss company. The movements were no longer made in Glashutte, Germany, but in Switzerland again. 1903, a subsidiary was formed, “The Gruen Watch Manufacturing Company”, located in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland.
Gruen was one of the first US watch companies to offer basic movements produced in Switzerland, in a wide variety of cases and prices, but adjusted, dialled and cased in U.S.A. Some of their finest movements were made by (who became a business partner of Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex)
In 1904, the company introduced the VeriThin pocket watch movement, a new arrangement of components that allowed the movement to be made much thinner.
The first Gruen wristwatches were introduced in 1908. These found favor with women buyers, but were not popular with men at the time (who considered wristwatches feminine). The company did not return to making wristwatches for men until World War I, when military use made wristwatches acceptable for men to wear.
Dietrich Gruen died in 1911, and control of the company passed to his son Frederick.
In 1917 the company moved to a newly-constructed building named Time Hill, at 401 East McMillan Street in Cincinnati. The building, which still exists, was designed to look like a medieval guild hall. In about 1922, the company built the Precision Factory in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. From this point on, all of the company's higher-quality movements were manufactured in the new factory.
In 1922 a consolidation took place where the D. Gruen, Sons & Co, Cincinnati, The Gruen Watch Manufacturing Co, Biel/Bienne and the Gruen National Watch Case Co, were merged into “The Gruen Watch Company”. 1923 the company moved into a new facility, in Biel/Bienne.
In marketing and advertising, the Gruen Watch Company used 1876, and later, 1874, as its official founding date. The 1876 date is actually the founding date of the Columbus Watch Company, and the 1874 date is actually the year that Dietrich Gruen's first patent was issued.
By the mid-twenties, Gruen’s sales had reached over five million dollars. In total sales, it had become the largest watch company in the U.S., as well as first in the average watch price!
In 1930 Gruen introduced the Bagutte watches.
After the start of the Depression, 1930 an arrangement was made with Alpina, with the production of a dual branded Alpina/Gruen watch.
In 1935, Gruen introduced the first "Curvex" wristwatches for men. The Curvex is the company's most famous design. Expanding on the then-current fashion for long, rectangular wristwatch shapes, the Curvex watches were curved to wrap around the wearer's wrist. The biggest innovation of the design was to place a curved movement inside the curved case, allowing the watch to be thinner and more curved, and allowing the movement to be larger, more durable and more accurate than would have been possible if a smaller, flat movement was used. A year later, Curvex models for women were introduced.
During World War II, the Time Hill factory stopped making watches and instead worked exclusively for the U.S. military, manufacturing gauges and instruments for aircraft, ships and submarines. The company also made precision gauges used for delicate surgical instruments and for radios and other electronic equipment. During WWII, some watches were still manufactured at the Precision Factory in Switzerland and imported.
It was during and shortly after WWII that many American watch companies began to lose market share to Swiss imports. Many American watch companies began to move manufacturing to Switzerland in the 1940s and 1950s, while Gruen, who had always manufactured watch movements in Germany or Switzerland, launched the '21' series of wristwatches (named for their 21-jewel movements) which were entirely made in the United States.
The Gruen family sold their interest in the company in 1953, and the firm was broken up and sold in 1958. The watch manufacturing business was moved to New York under new ownership, and manufacturing was done exclusively in Switzerland.
The operation in Biel/Bienne closed its doors in 1977; their wonderful building topping the city was bought by their old supplier, J. Aegler, now Rolex Manufacturer.
Nowadays, the TM Gruen is owned worldwide by MZ Berger, Long Island City, New-York, U.S.A. The company is specialized in the manufacture in China of their branded watches and distribution into U.S.A. through different channels, outside the traditional ones.
Although the rights to the name "Gruen" were sold to MZ Berger, Gruen-branded watches produced after the 1970s have no other connection whatsoever to Gruen or the Gruen Watch Company.

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