Company History Highlights
Gruen was a major American manufacturer.The Gruen Watch Company was founded by a father-and-son team of horologists, Dietrich and Fred Gruen. In 1894, Dietrich and Fred formed a partnership in Cincinnati, Ohio: The partnership became known as the Gruen Watch Company. Initially, Dietrich and Fred designed the watch movements in America and manufactured them in Germany. Later, they would build their own movement factory in Switzerland. Most Gruen watches have Gruen made Swiss movements and were assembled and adjusted in the U.S. in American made cases.
The 1904 Gruen VeriThin pocket watch was a major breakthrough in watch technology; although it had the same major parts as a traditional movement, Dietrich rearranged the components to achieve a much thinner watch. From this point on, Gruen specialized in thin, elegant pocket watches.
Gruen was one of the first companies to make wristwatches. Men’s and women’s wristwatch models were introduced in 1908, but the men’s models were a huge commercial failure, as they were considered effeminate and un-stylish. During World War I wristwatches were used by the military, and after this men began to accept the idea.
In 1917, Gruen built a new headquarters outside of Cincinnati, Ohio and named it Time Hill. The building was inspired by Medieval guild halls, and became an important symbol. Fred said: “It has always been our aim to foster those ideals of the ancient guilds, of quality and craftsmanship; to make useful things in a beautiful way, under ideal surroundings. We believe in applying art to industry as exemplified in all of our activities, from building a plant whose style of architecture suggests craftsmanship, to making the watches most beautiful, with greatest accuracy obtainable.”
In the 1920s and ’30s, rectangular wristwatches became fashionable. Gruen was one of the first companies to design movements specifically for wristwatches; they made rectangular movements for rectangular watches, while most competitors still used small, round movements. Gruen’s movements were larger because they filled the available space and the watches tended to be sleeker because the case designs didn’t need to disguise a round movement. It was during this period that Gruen also introduced the Curvex. Curved watches became popular in the 1930s, and Gruen’s “Curvex” movement curved to fit the shape of the watch case; Gruen’s watches could be thinner and more curved than competitor’s watches that used flat movements.
During World War II, unlike Elgin, Hamilton and Bulova, Gruen was able to continue to make watches. Since the Gruen movements were made overseas, they were immune from the moratorium on domestic production. Gruen’s domestic facilities were, however, diverted for the war effort and the company made a number of gauges and instruments for the military.
After the success of the Curvex, Gruen launched a series of Veri-Thin wristwatches. In the 1940s, Gruen started building Veri-Thin completely in the U.S., setting up a new factory in the Cincinnati area.
- Guildcraft: An early named used on various models. This was primarily a branding exercise to associate Gruen watches with craftsmanship.
- Watch Specialities Company: In earlier years, Gruen manufactured lower grade movements under the name “Watch Specialities Company.” The name is usually never shown on the watch exterior. It does, however, sometimes appear on the bridge of movements.
- Embassy: A budget line introduced in the 1960s.
Ownership Changes & The End of an Era
Fred Gruen died in 1945. During the 1950s, the Gruen Watch Company developed serious problems, went deeply into debt, and eventually was broken up and sold. In 1953, the Gruen family sold their interest in the company. The same year, Gruen president Benjamin Katz was forced into retirement after a scandal, and in 1954 the company bought out his shares for $2 million USD. Over the years, other companies have sold watches under the Gruen name, but the original company ceased to exist in 1958. In 1968, all US manufacturing was discontinued