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Of all the Swiss-manufactured vintage wrist watches, Gruen is probably
one of the most collectible and widely traded. The reason: so many variations. At the inexpensive end, you can collect Veri-Thins or Precisions. At the high end, you can collect just Gruen duo-dial doctor's watches, or Curvex models. And there are many in between.
The Story of Gruen watches begins in the small German village of
Ostofen, on the banks of the Rhine River. It was from there, in the mid 1800s, that Dietrich Gruen emigrated to America. Having apprenticed for some time in some of the Swiss watch factories, Gruen worked for a jeweler and watchmaker in Delaware, Ohio. On December 22, 1874, Gruen obtained a patent for an improved safety pinion, and it is the date recognized by the Gruen Watch Company as the start of its business.
However, it was almost two years later when Gruen actually started
making watches. In 1876, in partnership with W.J. Savage, Gruen founded the Columbus Watch Co., in Columbus, Ohio. The venture fell with the onset of economic depression in 1893. The machinery was purchased and moved to South Bend, Indiana and used to start the South Bend Watch Co.
In 1894, Dietrich, along with his eldest son, Frederick G. Gruen,
started again as D. Gruen & Son. A few years later, the second son, George J., joined the firm and the name was changed to D. Gruen & Sons. The company's first pocket watches were signed on the movement and dial as "DGS", and many people do not realize that these are early Gruen pocket watches. At this time, Gruen moved its headquarters to Cincinnati, Ohio. In the early 1900s, the D.
Gruen & Sons name was dropped, and just the name Gruen was seen on
It should be emphasized at this point that, while Gruen cased and timed its watches in the United States, Gruens are generally considered Swiss watches because the movements were imported from Switzerland. There was a brief period in the 1950s when some movements were made in the United States, and that will be mentioned shortly. That small anomaly notwithstanding, Gruen watches are generally considered Swiss.
As with most watch manufacturers, it is not known exactly when Gruen
made its wrist watch. However, the first movement to be made
specifically for a “true” wrist watch (not just a small pocket watch movement mated to case with wire lugs) was produced in 1915, the caliber 99. Examples of wrist watches fitted with this movement begin to surface shortly after then.
In 1925, Gruen introduced its first "quadron" movement. Quadron
encompassed a number of caliber movements, and the name is used simply
to denote the shape -- rectangular vs. the round shape which had been
produced up to that time -- which made for easier use in slimmer, rectangular cases. And so we begin to see a notable departure (and a thankful one in terms of aesthetics!) in watch designs from the venerable round, cushion, and tank-style designs. And it was during this period, from 1925 to about 1935, that Gruen came out with some truly fine and ornately designed watch cases that rival
designs by other manufacturers of the time. These Gruen Quadrons are
highly prized by collectors.
Of course, the watch that defines Gruen is the Curvex. And this
watershed in the company's history occurred in 1935 when Gruen rolled out its first patented Curvex movement, the caliber 311. It was an instant sales success, and was copied by virtually every other watchmaker of the time. The key word here is copied, for while every watchmaker tried to emulate the Curvex, it was never ever duplicated.
Curvex with a capital "C" always refers to a Gruen. Curved watches and
curvex-type watches (note the small c) is used by many dealers and
collectors to denote a curved watch bearing any number of brand names.. But in the strictest sense, when you are talking about a "Curvex" you're talking singularly about a Gruen watch and only those Gruens that are fitted with a caliber movement designated as a Curvex movement. The caliber movements that are designated
Curvexes are as follows, along with their year of introduction in
and 370 (1948).
The longest Curvex, and certainly one of Gruen's most coveted models,
is the Gruen Curvex Majesty, measuring 52mm lug tip to lug tip. Other
models are seen in 50, 48, 46, right on down to the "stubby" Curvex models with can be 40mm in length and shorter.
The other immensely popular type of Gruen is the duo-dial doctor's
watch, named for its oversized auxiliary seconds chapter which doctors used for various timing functions, notably taking patients' pulses. The first doctors' watches used the 877 caliber movement, produced in 1928. These are especially prized by collectors because these Gruen movements were also sold to Rolex and used in their prized “Prince” models. We also see duo-dial doctors' watches
fitted with the 500 caliber movement, which came out in 1936. (A lesser expensive version of a doctor's watch is also seen with a large center sweep seconds chapter. For doctors, this served the same function as the large auxiliary seconds chapter. For collectors, however, these center-seconds doctors' watches are not to be confused with the duo-dials, which are much more highly sought after.)
Other prized models include Gruen's drivers' watches. These are
designed to be worn on the side of the wrist so the wearer, driving an
automobile, can glance down at the side of this wrist and see the them. Gruen made these in two varieties: a solid lug which look like a “C” when placed on its side; and a hinged-lug variety. The latter has oversized lugs that are ornately engraved. It's fitted with a caliber 440 movement, so it's technically a Curvex also.
In 1950, Gruen introduced its first "Autowind" series of movements for
use in self-winding watches. That year, Gruen also opened of a plant in Norwood, Ohio that produced 17- and 21-jewel movements for men's and ladies' watches. These are the only true-American Gruens, and their presence in the marketplace was short-lived. In 1958, the firm moved to New York City, and all the facilities in Cincinnati were sold. That year is generally considered the end of Gruen watches -- Curvexes and all -- at least as vintage collectors are concerned.
for a more in depth history.