Gruen Precision Powerdate

Gruen Precision Powerdate

If Rose in Titanic is right in saying that “a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets,” then the same can be said of the Swiss watch industry. Perhaps its insular nature can be traced to its origins—nestled in isolated mountain valleys, independent artisans would craft watch parts by their hearthside through long winter evenings. This spirit of independence and secrecy persisted as the industry was mechanized. Mass production meant that entire factories would be devoted to the production of a single part—whether mainsprings or movements, crystals or cases—which would then get farmed out to various brands. Each factory had its own way of doing things, secrets which they guarded as jealously as a dragon guards its hoard; and as the Quartz Crisis saw the closure of many of these facilities, these secrets disappeared with them.

Such is the case—quite literally—with the watch now referred to as a “baby Panerai,” whose original manufacturer has been lost to time…

This is what we know: in 1935, an Italian named Giuseppe Panerai, seeking to fulfill a contract with the Italian navy, placed an order with Rolex for a waterproof watch. The case he chose was enormous, shaped like a cushion and 47mm, and in the pages of Rolex’s catalog it stood out from the rather diminutive watches the brand advertised. We know that much, thanks to the fact that an invoice—dated October 24, 1935—was found in Panerai’s office. But the exact quantities of these early Panerais were never determined, thanks to Rolex’s close-lipped nature. Nevertheless, Officine Panerai continued to manufacture these mammoth watches with radium dials for the Marina Militare—around 1600 pieces from 1938 to 1970.

And in 1963, Sandoz produced a watch with a case very similar to Panerai’s, but at a more easily-digestible 37.5mm. Two years later, Nivada would follow suit with its own version of this watch. The Depthmaster (the name both Nivada and Sandoz shared) was rated to 1000m and was touted to be “probably the most waterproof watch… including the lugs which form part of the same steel block [as the rest of the case].”

Throughout the 1960s, other brands followed—Vetta, Silvana, even Jaeger-LeCoultre, all producing versions of the exact same watch, which collectors have dubbed the “Baby Panerai.”

But the question remains—who originally manufactured this ubiquitous case?

A Japanese article on asserts that it’s the work of a mysterious “Boa Company.” But Google searches yield nothing. Whatever their origin, these watches—compact and svelte, but solid on the wrist—have fascinated collectors for decades.

This particular “Baby Panerai” or “mini-Radiomir” comes to us from a former giant of the American watchmaking industry, Gruen. Founded in 1894, the Gruen Watch Company was one of the early pioneers of mass-production, with cases, crystals, and straps being made in their Cincinnati facility. After the influx of inexpensive, generic Swiss watch movements after World War II, Gruen produced its own 21-jewel movement.   

But these glory days were not to last. After the Gruen family left the company in 1953, the company (renamed Gruen Industries) was sold piece by piece. The watchmaking portion of the company relocated to New York under new management and continued to produce mechanical wristwatches until the 1970s, when it went bankrupt.

The watches produced during this period—like this one here, part of the Precision Power-Date line—are nevertheless collectible and worthy of consideration. At 39.5mm this Precision Power-Date is a hair larger than the other “Baby Panerais,” and wears even larger thanks to the rotating bezel and large crown. Powered by a redoubtable ETA movement, this diver brings some great touches to the vintage dive watch formula: a silver dial with chunky luminescent hour markers (nicely-patinated), a rotating bezel, and of course that handsome case.


SKU: TT1224

Stainless steel case is approximately 39.5mm (excluding crown). ETA Calibre 2472 Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1960s.

Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition with sharp bevels. Case does have signs of use and wear commensurate with age, including some scratches and dings on the sides. Bezel is in very good condition with some fading due to age. Dial is likewise in very good condition, with fine even patina to the luminescent elements of the hour markers and hands. Unsigned crown. Back of the case has some scratches and tool marks but is in otherwise very good condition.

Includes one 18mm nylon strap from Crown & Buckle.

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