I have to start this article with a confession. This watch is not mine.
I know, I know. I've posted this watch countless times on my Instagram over the past 12 months but it's the truth. This gorgeous Wittnauer Revue with it's stunning patina'd dial was bought by me for my wife in early 2016. Whilst browsing Ebay for that barn find Universal Geneve Tri-Compax that I know is out there, I came across this watch and despite the blurry photos, I knew it was what I wanted. For the last few years my wife has been wearing a quartz Emporio Armani and this would be the perfect replacement. A few clicks and a tense auction countdown later and I was the proud owner of one of my favorite vintage watches.
Two weeks later, I was tearing off the bubble wrap to reveal the stunning patina that the seller's photography had failed to capture. I knew then that this would be the perfect gift for my wife (and that I'd have to steal it as often as I could!) In typical watch geek fashion, I then bought a gorgeous deep green ostrich strap that was more expensive than the watch.
For those that don't know, Wittnauer was started in 1880 by a 24 year old Swiss immigrant, Albert Wittnauer. Having moved to the United States when he was 16, Albert had spent his time working in his brother-in-law's jewelry store dreaming of making a watch for the American market. It had to be of the highest quality but still affordable for the common man. By 1890, the A. Wittnauer Company was officially formed and Albert's brothers moved over from Switzerland to help him run the firm.
As the years went by, Wittnauer began manufacturing some incredible watches. The All-Proof, a shock/waterproof antimagnetic watch from 1926, is one of my favorites. Period advertisements claims that it had been "dropped 3400 feet from an aeroplane - exposed to rain for 30 hours and still running perfectly". It seems that truth in advertising was just as flexible in 1926 as it is today. Whether these claims are true or not doesn't matter as the All-Proof did see time on the wrists of pilots, adventurers and astronauts. Yes, that's right, astronauts, specifically Neil Armstrong. You may have heard of him? He snuck an All-Proof belonging to an aviation hero of his, Jimmie Mattern, on board Gemini 8. Where that watch is now is anyone's guess. In the 1950s and 1960s, Wittnauer produced amazing chronographs using the iconic Valjoux 72 movement and some killer Super Compressor dive watches as well. Unfortunately, Wittnauer was one of the many victims of the Quartz crisis. Now you won't find them on the wrist of astronauts, but on the shelves at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
I believe that my Wittnauer was made during the golden age of the brand between 1950 to 1960. To me, it is a testament to the lasting impact and beauty of midcentury design as the swooping elegant lugs that flow off the case look just as good now as they did sixty years ago. These long lugs make the watch wear larger than its 34mm diameter would suggest, making it a perfect choice for me when my wife forgets to put it on in the morning.
I don't know whether the dial was originally this color or whether it faded from another color into this wonderful bronze gold over time. The later half of the Wittnauer name has faded away but the name Revue is still crisp in the small seconds dial at 6 o'clock.
Double stamped dials are incredibly popular with collectors and whilst I'm aware this isn't in the same league as a double stamped Rolex Daytona/Tiffany & Co., it does make this watch just that much more special to me.
Despite being nearly 60 years old and almost certainly never having been serviced in decades, my Wittnauer keeps perfect time. I made the mistake when I first got the watch of opening up the caseback to take some photographs of. The caseback that had snapped off so quickly proved to be an absolute bugger to get back on. Perhaps this extra tight caseback helped keep dust and grime out of the movement, aiding in keeping this beauty running. Or maybe they knew how to make damn good watches back in the 1950s. Probably a bit of both.
Wearing this Wittnauer on my wrist makes me long for modern manual wind movements. It's been three or more decades where mechanical watches are the exception rather than the rule, so why not forgo an automatic movement? This watch sits so slim on my wrist that I can often forget I'm wearing it and I've yet to find a modern watch that is as comfortable.
Why do I love this watch so much?
If I'm being sentimental, I'd have to admit that the strap smells like my wife's perfume. When my wife goes on a trip and forgets to bring her watch, I'm able to be reminded of her because of the faint smell of Chanel (Yes, the full bottle is on the bathroom counter but that's not the point). From a watch geek's perspective, it's the perfect daily wear. It's svelte and stylish and there is nothing quite like how the setting sun plays off the bronzed dial in the evening.
Looking at a grander scale at the history of the brand, I'm astounded at what Albert Wittnauer was able to achieve. He came through Ellis Island like thousands before and after him, with little more than a suitcase and a dream. I didn't have much more when I emigrated to the United States (I don't have much more now, but hey, that's the life of a writer) and I feel a certain amount of kinship with the Wittnauer brand. It started from nothing and wound up being worn by astronauts and adventurers. If that isn't the American dream, I don't know what is.
Ben Newport- Foster
Founder of Timepiece Chronicle