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John F Kennedy and Marilyn Munroe and the Swiss Rolex Date Date watch she gave him

Watches in the Whitehouse

One particular standout piece for American presidents—since its release in 1956—is the Rolex Day-Date. Though Rolex’s Day-Date is still certainly hailed as the “president” watch, there have been a variety of timepieces that were tied to the arm of many-a famed red-button-clearanced Commander-In-Chief. Today we’re going to look at some standout pieces that got lugged along the campaign trail, all the way to the inner sanctums of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Abe’s Pocket Watch

The most talked about presidential watches in the U.S. hail from the mid-20th century and onward. However, there’s one 19th century president we wanted to highlight first—Abraham Lincoln. Being one of the more famous former presidents in history, honest Abe’s timepieces have probably received just as much press as any 20th and 21st century president. Two particular pocket watches of note are his Waltham model “1857” and his Chicago-made gold pocket watch from 1850. Both timepieces are currently in the Smithsonian and have some unique history.

Watches in the Whitehouse

Lincoln’s “1857” Waltham was a piece fitting for its time. It was gifted to him immediately after his famed Gettysburg Address and was the product of a growing mass-production industry in watchmaking. Four years beyond the Waltham, Lincoln’s gold pocket watch—purchased in Chicago, Illinois in 1850—got inscribed with a watchmaker’s now-historical commentary on the Civil War. On April 13th, 1861 (one day after the attack on Fort Sumter) Lincoln sent his watch in to be fixed by one Jonathan Dillon. Dillon was inspired by the recently elected president’s piece to inscribe a message. This message was left unread by the 16th president, and no one knew of it until forty years later—when Dillon confessed to his inscription. In 2009 the Smithsonian opened the watch to verify the inscription. It essentially reads “thank God we have a government”. For someone whose presidency addressed slavery, it seems fitting that this message was received with the first African American president in the big seat.

20th Century Presidentials

Before Rolex was spoken of as America’s presidential watch, there was the brand Vulcain. The tradition of wearing this brand was handed down for some years, bestowing the title of “presidential” to both Rolex and Vulcain to this day. With most presidents owning more than one watch aside from their Rolex or Vulcain (if they owned either brand at all), it’s difficult to summarize the details of each piece. So ahead we’ve got some quick bullet points down for the most well-known pieces—from Truman to DJT.   

Truman: Though Harry S. Truman was known to wear other timepieces, his main piece was a Vulcain “Cricket”. His employment of the piece would start a tradition of wearing Vulcain among future U.S. presidents.

-Dwight Eisenhower: Eisenhower’s Rolex Datejust appeared on the cover of Life Magazine, birthing the title “presidential” for Rolex. However, he mostly wore his Vulcain while at work.

Watches in the Whitehouse

-JFK: President John Kennedy enjoyed many luxurious timepieces while in office. Stepping away from Vulcain he wore a square-cased Omega on the campaign trail. Stirring some controversy, he later owned a Rolex Day-Date in his collection—supposedly gifted by Marilyn Monroe. This piece was made with 18kt gold and fits well into Rolex’s ties to the White House (regardless of where it came from).

-LBJ: Lyndon Johnson’s Day-Date is the one that truly earned Rolex the “president” watch title. He also owned a Vulcain Cricket like Truman, Eisenhower, and others before him.

-Ronald Reagan: The Gipper was no stranger to being in front of a camera, and he enjoyed Rolex watches. Reagan was mostly photographed with Datejust watches, much like Eisenhower’s presidential wristwatch. Though he likely sported a variety of pieces over his tenure as Prez, Rolex was a common theme in his wardrobe.

An aside: We’ve obviously skipped ahead in many ways in terms of history. That being said, the most famed presidents often get the most attention paid to their wardrobes—in a big way. Most presidents followed suit regarding fashion in relation to other popular presidents (electability is important). Even Nixon stayed in the Vulcain lane through his presidency. Following in JFK’s footsteps (at least in fashion) he was also rumored to have an Omega Speedmaster, with ties to the Apollo 11 mission. 

The 90s On

Watches in the Whitehouse

Bill Clinton famously wore a Timex Ironman on his campaign trail and through the beginning of his presidency. While the everyman style held up for him for a while, he eventually switched to a swath of luxury watches including Cartier and Panerai. His move toward a more “common man” wristwatch during his campaigning set a new precedent in how potential presidents promote themselves to the public (in terms of watches). His influence was felt in the following administration, where George W. Bush wore a Timex quartz analog watch. The “everyman” style was quite different from the middle of the 20th century, thanks to modern electronic timekeeping. Barack Obama went on to wear fitness tracker watches, as well as a TAG Heuer “Jory Grey 6500”. Which, compared to a Rolex, the TAG is still a middle-of-the-road timepiece regarding relative cost. His smartwatch collection is indicative of current middle-class timekeeping trends here in the U.S. of A..

Donald Trump, the current President as of this post, has rarely been seen wearing a timepiece since he won his bid. It could very well be he’s trying to downplay his fortune as he continues to take up residence in the Oval Office. However, on the campaign trail, the Donald sported a Vacheron Constantin “Historiques Ultra-Fine 1968”. That particular piece is a pretty far cry from a Timex—honestly even most Rolexes. However, in true Presidential fashion, he has been photographed wearing a Rolex Day-Date in the past. 

Future Presidential Watches

Whoever takes the 2020 top spot in their party will be under heavy scrutiny. This almost always inevitably leads to conversations on the monetary cost of their fashion. No matter who’s voting for who, a wristwatch is going to undoubtedly say a lot about the next Commander-In-Chief. Let’s just hope it’s more than the next President’s timepiece that’s putting in quality work.

Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.