With Presidents’ Day approaching on February 17, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to explore the watches that have made it to the White House. While Presidents’ Day officially celebrates George Washington’s birthday, we’ll be checking out more than just the timekeepers of the first president.
From the Pocket to the Wrist
Like any good story, let’s start at the beginning. Founding Father George Washington used various pocket watches throughout his tenure as president from 1789-1797. This should come as no surprise since wristwatches didn’t emerge until the early 20th century.
The 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, became the first American president to don a wristwatch in the Oval Office in 1945. While the rest of this article will focus on wristwatches, I recommended researching presidential pocket watches as well. You’ll find some fascinating timepieces with incredible complications.
Famous Presidents and Their Watches
American presidents aren’t obliged to wear a certain brand or model. However, some watches have found fans among multiple presidents. One example is the Vulcain Cricket, which became famous after appearing on several presidents’ wrists. Of course, Rolex is also a popular choice at the White House. In fact, the Day-Date on a President bracelet is oven referred to as “the President’s watch.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
As mentioned above, FDR was the first president to wear a wristwatch. In addition to owning a stunning skeletonized A. Frankfeld minute repeater, Roosevelt also wore a Movado Triple Calendar with a Tiffany & Co. inscription in the last months of his life. Nowadays, Movado is best known for their Museum Watch. That being said, the Movado Triple Calendar is a beautiful, more conventional timepiece. It indicates the hours, minutes, seconds, day, month and date.
President Truman wore a variety of wristwatches during his term at the White House. He was also the first president to wear the Vulcan Cricket, thus starting the unofficial tradition of Crickets in the Oval Office.
Furthermore, Truman owned a beautiful Universal Genève Tri-Compax in 18-karat yellow gold. He sported this timepiece at several important occasions, including the 1945 Potsdam Conference. Finally, Truman also had a Gallet Flying Officer from the Gallet Clamshell line in his collection. These watches are also famous for being the first water-resistant chronographs.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower was the first president to wear a Rolex. In fact, the Swiss company gifted him a solid gold Datejust while he was in office. Rolex offered Ike the watch since it was Rolex’s 150,000th certified chronometer. Eisenhower can be seen wearing this exact watch on the iconic LIFE Magazine cover from July 21, 1952.
Eisenhower also loved his Vulcain Cricket. Other watches in his collection included a custom Hamilton with his family’s faces on the dial and a Vacheron Constantin given to him as a gift on behalf of the Swiss people at the 1955 Geneva Convention.
John F. Kennedy
Kennedy famously owned several timepieces. Perhaps the most well-known is the Omega he received as gift from his friend, Grant Stockdale, in the buildup to the 1960 presidential election. JFK later wore the watch to his inauguration in 1961. In 2011, Omega marked 50 years since Kennedy’s inauguration with a JFK Commemorative Edition based on that exact model.
Another (somewhat notorious) timepiece in Kennedy’s collection came from none other than Marilyn Monroe. The actress gave the watch to Kennedy’s aid Kenneth O’Donnell to pass on to the president. It bears the inscription “JACK – With love as always – from – MARILYN – May 29th 1962.” When Kennedy saw the watch, he told O’Donnell to get rid of it. While JFK never worn this infamous timepiece, it has gone down in history as one of the most famous presidential watches of all time.
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Kennedy was allegedly wearing a classic Cartier watch when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Jackie Kennedy had given him the watch as a gift in 1957. The watch was given back to Mrs. Kennedy in the hospital.
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Johnson was the first president to own the solid gold Rolex Day-Date with a “President” bracelet. Its connection to LBJ is why this timepiece is still called “The Rolex President” or “The President’s Watch.”
Johnson was actually a watch connoisseur. He had a Hamilton Pacer in 10-karat gold, a Vulcain Cricket Calendar with his initials on the dial, another Vulcain Cricket without a calendar, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox with the presidential seal on its case back, and an 18-karat yellow gold Patek Philippe 2526 with the words “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” printed on the dial. That’s one impressive collection!
While Nixon’s presidency was marred by controversy, his watch collection was rather tame. Like many of his predecessors, president Nixon relied on a Vulcain Cricket. He once sent it back to Vulcain for regular servicing and included letter explaining how happy he was with his Cricket.
Both Nixon and vice president Spiro Agnew were offered a limited edition Omega Speedmaster in 18-karat gold after the Moon landing. Since neither accepted the gift, Omega still has the watches in their position. You can see these Speedmastera on display at the Omega Museum in Biel, Switzerland.
When it comes to Clinton, there are two different eras of watches. During his time in office, he never wore anything too flashy. However, in retirement, Clinton has become a real watch aficionado. He owns pieces from Jaeger-LeCoultre, Roger Dubuis, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Panerai. His most famous watch is a limited-edition platinum A. Lange & Söhne Grosse Langematik Gangreserve. The German company crafted 100 such timepiece in honor of Wempe’s 100th anniversary. It is a special watch and demonstrates how serious about watches Clinton has become since leaving 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Obama has received some heat for his watches over the years. His most well-known timepiece is a two-tone TAG Heuer Series 1500 diving watch. This was his watch of choice from 1997-2007. In 2007, Obama received a Jorg Gray chronograph with the Secret Service logo on the dial. The watch was a gift from the Secret Service, and the president wore it for much of his campaign.
Like many presidents before him, Obama also owns a Vulcain watch. The company gifted Obama a Vulcain Anniversary Heart Automatic; however, the timepiece has yet to make a public appearance on his wrist.
This brings us to president Trump. The 45th president is not shy about his love for classic watches from big-name brands. His most well-known timepieces are his solid gold Patek Philippe Ellipse with a blue dial, yellow gold Rolex Day-Date President, and Vacheron Constantin Historiques Ultra-Fine 1968 in rose gold. He famously wore the Vacheron Constantin on election night in 2016. It was easy to spot thanks to its unique square case.
There you have it: a selection of presidents and their watches. As this article has demonstrated, not all presidents rely on high-end timepieces to keep track of the time.