REVIEW: Shawkey: Gruen Wristwatches - A Collectors Guide

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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A “New” Guide to Gruen Wristwatches

Gruen Wristwatches – A Collectors Guide, by Bruce Shawkey. Published 2010 by the author, Evensville WI. No ISBN number. Spiralbound, 198 pages, 28 x 21 cm. Approximately 1700 black and white illustrations. Available from the author POBox 74, Evensville WI 53536; bruce@thewatchstore.com for US$ 40 (plus $5 for domestic postage).


Gruen watches are a rewarding area of horological collecting: While Gruen is an American watch brand, most of their wristwatches were made in Switzerland. They had innovative designs and were of high quality. The brand had a certain exclusivity, but their prices were – and are – mostly not in the prohibitive range. Compared to the big American made brands, or to the various famous Swiss brands, however, there are comparatively few published books on Gruen. I am aware of only five publications: one recently reviewed on this Message Board [Gruen – Watch Model Identification Guide,Vol.1, by Mike Barnett https://mb.nawcc.org/showthread.php?t=61198]. three small, long out-of-print monographs, really more brochures than books dealing with Gruen history: 1st: Dietrich (1991): A brief history of the Gruen Watch Company; 2nd: AWI (1986): Gruen Watches – A Special Collection; and 3rd: Fuller (1974): The Priceless Possession of the Few (NAWCC Supplement No.10). The fourth is Roy Ehrhardt’s “Master Book – Gruen Guild”, published 1993 as part of his spiral bound, price guides series.

The book under review is in many ways an improved reedition of Ehrhardt’s book which was the first effort to systematically document the Gruen history for the collecting public. Ehrhardt’s book was the result of his purchase in 1991 (from an unknown vendor) of a ‘Scrapbook’ maintained between ca. 1930 and 1958. That scrapbook, containing about 4000 images (photographs or artists renderings), was NOT the result of systematic, ongoing and complete record keeping at Gruen, but a periodic effort by somebody at Gruen to record its history. The ‘Master Book’ label given that source by Erhardt is misleading. That list is missing dozens of models, if not more, but it remains the most authoritative source in existence. The scrapbook was cut up and the images were remounted to create Ehrhardt’s book (but we know that Ehrhardt simply omitted all the models where the image had been removed or fallen out of the scrap book, and very likely in at least some cases also ‘fiddled’ with the data.)

Bruce Shawkey was able to acquire the original cut-and-paste pagemounts of the 1993 book from Erhardt’s estate and, using improved modern digital technology, produce a ‘catalog’ that has much larger and vastly clearer images than the Erhardt book, and is better organized, but which omits the outdated and sometimes unreliable price information found in the Erhardt edition.

The new book consists of nearly 200 pages of larger than life-size wristwatch images. 90% of the pages show nine wristwatches each making the individual black and white images about 45x60mm (2x2 ½ inches). The book covers men’s wristwatches only, pocket watches and ladies’ wristwatches were omitted. A short description of the history of the ‘Master Book”, a few pages on Gruen corporate history, and a handful of reproductions of Gruen vintage advertisements round out the publication.

Shawkey’s book is a well produced, very useful and most welcome working tool for correctly identifying Gruen wristwatches. As such it is very valuable to collectors. But it does not fill the gap felt by students of horological history who continue to face a complete void when seeking a publication that describes the technical, design and business history of the Gruen brand and the Gruen company. The Gruen story deserves to be told, it is a key chapter – especially on the design front – of the history of the wristwatch in America in the first half of the 20th century. Let us hope that some potential author will tackle that challenge in the near future.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki , Sussex NJ - October 2010
 
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Tom McIntyre

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vintagewatch23

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I have seen an increasing number of watches on ebay recently using this book as a reference. majority are owners of Gruen 500 calibre watches listing them as Curvex modeils. They show the watch next to a picture in the book, and even though the book dial says Curvex, and the actual watch for sale does not> The book DOES seem to reference 15jewel Curvex watches. Aside from a low end Ristside, I was unaware of any 15j 500 calibre wrists with the Curvex lineage.

In addition, While no decisive records were kept, there are still many print ads, and I have yet to see 1 with a 15j Curvex

can anyone elaborate?

thx
 

Cary Hurt

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vintagewatch23;638498 said:
I have seen an increasing number of watches on ebay recently using this book as a reference. majority are owners of Gruen 500 calibre watches listing them as Curvex modeils. They show the watch next to a picture in the book, and even though the book dial says Curvex, and the actual watch for sale does not> The book DOES seem to reference 15jewel Curvex watches. Aside from a low end Ristside, I was unaware of any 15j 500 calibre wrists with the Curvex lineage.

In addition, While no decisive records were kept, there are still many print ads, and I have yet to see 1 with a 15j Curvex

can anyone elaborate?

thx
You are quite correct that there is no such thing as a 15 jewel Curvex. Even the Rist-Side Varsity to which you refer was not called a Curvex (in spite of being radically curved.) This mis-identification is not a recent problem, and has existed since the time that these watches were new. Modern sellers do indeed take advantage of limited knowledge and scant information to try to boost their own bottom line.

But, it is incorrect and unfair to suggest that Mr. Shawkey's book is used to support or promulgate this practice. In both of my copies, Bruce presents Curvex models in their own section, and presents the same argument that you do, even discussing the incorrect attribution of long, curved models using the 500, 400 and other calibers as Curvexes.

I believe that the book you are referring to is a better known Complete Price Guide to Watches which has blatantly stated that some 15 jewel watches were Curvex models for many years. This book dates to a time when Gruen did not command the attention or respect that is now developing, and much of the information in it came from general dealers, based on hearsay. It is a shame that the information in the wristwatch section of this book has not been updated in many years.
 

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