In a speech given to a group of investors and businessmen in 1920, Dietrich Gruen stated, ‘It has always been our aim, ever since I started the Guild idea, 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.’ Those are considered words from a man who clearly inspired passion.
Uncommon in the watch industry, Diedrich Gruen was an American with ambition to bring the Swiss tradition across the pond. This fire was channeled first through Columbus Watch Co and later through Gruen after disputes with his business partners. He manufactured his own cases, crystals, and straps in the US for the early half of the 20th century, minus a few years making exclusively gauges and instruments to support the WWII effort.
This Ocean Chief is from the very end of his tenure, and was a radical departure from the very limited diver’s offerings of the period. Design here is very apart from Rolex and Blancpain, in-period peers. The concave or ‘stadium’ bezel is what most people remember this and Breitling’s 1004 for. If that concave bezel looks like a place for water to rest, that’s because it was. Seawater would collect and rest in between the crystal and bezel’s bottom when set down, a notorious fault of this design. Despite that, the visual is so charming. As are the ‘snake head’ hands, generous radium application, and twisted lugs–beautiful touches. This is a very quirky American diver that is unlikely to be repeated and difficult to source.
Moreover, the condition on display here is just spectacular. The dials on these had a tendency to degrade quite severly over time. The vast majority which come to market are worse for wear. Here, all scripts are visible and the gloss gilt dial is unmarred. Radium applications are even, matched, and not severly burned or fallen-through in the hands. Its case is sharp and the transitions may even be unpolished. It comes from smaller, well-regarded retailer.
Find this Gruen Ocean Chief here from Avocado Vintage Watches for 4950 EUR.