Citing debts, Wittnauer seeks buyer

Wittnauer International, the 116-year-old U.S. watch company headquartered in New Rochelle, N.Y, is in the process of being sold for reasons of debt. The probable purchaser reportedly is a major watch brand.

According to a document for creditors, Wittnauer’s operators determined this year that it “cannot continue in business with its current level of outstanding trade indebtedness.” Its estimated debt, as of June 18, was about $23.8 million.

Unable to get financing to continue operating, “it is in the best interest of the creditors . that Wittnauer sell its assets as a going concern,” says the document. That would be a “bulk transfer” of assets, reportedly for some $13 million, so that “consenting creditors” could get a share of the proceeds “promptly” after the sale “without the expense and delay of bankruptcy or other insolvency proceedings.”

The bulk sale notice went out Aug. 13.

The deal would include all of Wittnauer’s inventory, equipment, software, records, and furniture in its New Rochelle. N.Y., headquarters; its plant in Puerto Rico (now down to a skeleton staff of only a few people) and site in Brampton, Ontario, as well as consigned inventory in retail stores around the country.

Neither president and chief executive officer Charles D. Watkins, one of the partners who purchased Wittnauer in late 1996, nor vice-president Lawrence Crider, could be reached for comment. Calls to Wittnauer headquarters in New Rochelle only get a recorded announcement saying the company is taking inventory and will accept no new orders until after Labor Day.

Ironically, Wittnauer earlier this year considered moving its headquarters from New Rochelle, its long-time home, to Lauderhill, Fla. Watkins told a local newspaper that a South Florida headquarters would put the company closer to its core markets in South America and its manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico. However, the move-which required Wittnauer to sign a minimum 10-year lease and create 200 jobs in the community-apparently fell through this spring.