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History of Timepieces A Look Back at Past Presidents & Their Watches

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In honor of the presidential conventions happening in Cleveland and in Philadelphia, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back in history at some of the presidents and the watches they owned. From pocket watches to the popular timepieces of recent presidents, what has made each president tick?

Historic Timepieces

George Washington

Also known as the first President of the United States (1789-March 1797), Washington owned a few pocket watches. One of his watches was unmarked, except for a small “H M/ 522” found on the back of the dial. This pocket watch was considered a minute repeater, but with a twist. The hammer hit on the edge of the case rather than a chime, giving the watch a nickname of a “dumb repeater.”

Washington Dumb Repeater

Washington also acquired a Jean-Antoine Lépine, in which Gouveneur Morris bought for him while on a trip to Paris. Lépine was a watchmaker for Louis XVI, Louis XV and Napoleon Bonaparte. This pocketwatch is currently in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and can be found at the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia.

Washington Ephraim Clark pocketwatch

At the time of Washington’s presidency, the government was located in Philadelphia. Washington’s third watch was a pocketwatch from Ephraim Clark in Philadelphia. Washington was known to regularly visit the watchmaker on Second Street to compare his watch with the regulator.

Thomas Jefferson & James Monroe

Jefferson, the 3rd President, is also a connoisseur of pocket watches. He owned a gold pocket watch made by Daniel Vaucher, a Paris-based watchmaker. Jefferson is thought to have acquired the watch while on a trip to the French city. He later gave this watch to James Monroe, the 5th President. The watch can now be found at the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Pocketwatches owned by Jefferson and Monroe

In addition to the Vaucher, Monroe owned a gold Gabriel pocketwatch. This watch features a richly-decorated case with hour and minute hands that match the ornately engraved case. The minute track around the outer dial is quite fluid, with it rising up between each minute numeral.

Abraham Lincoln

The 16th President owned quite a few pocketwatches, one of which has an incredible story that can be read about at the Smithsonian.com.

Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watches

Lincoln also owned a Waltham Ellery pocketwatch, model 1857. This model is especially important in watchmaking history as it was the first successful industrialized watch. These mass produced watches were less expensive than the typical pocketwatch, making them a favorite among Union soldiers. He also owned an unsigned pocketwatch along with a watch sold by Tiffany & Co. and is signed “J. Jacqueson, Copenhagen” and a pocketwatch from George Chatterton.

Woodrow Wilson

Fast forwarding from 1865 to 1913, Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President. Wilson is known to have owned an unusual Žižlavský pocket watch. The watch is engraved with a message reading “To President Woodrow Wilson in the memory of the 1918 defeat of Germany” and was made in Prague.

Woodrow Wilson Zizlavsky pocketwatch front and back

The watch face displays 60 cities and countries worldwide, and is thought to be a world timer before world time watches were fully adopted. The watch expands from the engraved gold center outwards including a seconds and hour ring before the cities. The numerals and cities are all hand painted, featuring different thicknesses and not completely straight lines.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Roosevelt  was (re)gifted a Tiffany & Co. signed Movado triple calendar watch from his son-in-law who originally received the watch for Christmas in 1944. On the back of the case, it was engraved “Franklin Delano Roosevelt with Loyalty, Respect and Affection January 30, 1945.”

FDR Pocketwatch

Tiffany & Co. debuted its CT60 Calendar watch, a timepiece based on the watch worn by Roosevelt throughout the last few months of his life.

FDR Tiffany and Co. Movado Triple Calendar

Also found in Roosevelt’s collection was an a. Frankfeld Skeletonized Minute Repeater Pocketwatch. The ornate pocketwatch was painted, engraved with his initials on the front of the case and the lid reads “Presented to President Roosevelt by Dr. Boldan Former Minister of Education at Dinner of Lions Club of Havana on January 30, 1942.”

Harry Truman

The 33rd President of the United States was also an avid watch connoisseur. He was gifted a Gallet Flying Officer, engraved with “Col. Truman from Vic, Paul.” The Flying Officer is distinguished as the first watch used to tell world time, setting the bezel to the home city before using for other cities. Hodinkee explained the importance of the Flying Officer on their blog.

Harry Truman Gallet Flying Officer

Truman also wore an 18k yellow gold Universal Geneve Tri-Compax in 1945. The caseback was engraved stating it was “Worn at Potsdam, July 1945 by Harry Truman.” He was also gifted a Baylor President while in San Antonio in 1948, campaigning for his reelection. The watch is engraved to commemorate his visit.

Harry Truman Universal Geneve Tri-Compax

In 1949, the students of the American Academy in Denver assembled a 14k gold pocketwatch. The movement is marked “American Academy, Denver” and “No 1.” The caseback was fully engraved with “This handmade watch, presented to Hon. Harry S. Truman, President of the United States by the First Graduating Class, Horological Engineering, American Academy Inc, Denver, Colorado, Washington, DC, February 4, 1949.”

Harry Truman Pocketwatch

The White House News Photographers gifted President Truman a solid gold Vulcain Cricket upon his end of term. This watch was engraved with Truman’s initials, 1952 and “One More Please,” a common saying from photographers, “from The WHNPA.”

Vacheron Constantin has a record of Truman owning a Chronomètre Royal reference 6108 but little is known about the watch and it’s role in his collection. The National Watch and Clock Collectors wrote an article that Truman wore a gold Heuer Chronograph but there is no photographic evidence readily available. He also had quite a few other watches in his collection.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Just like other former Presidents, Eisenhower had quite a few watches in his collection, with some receiving a lot of attention. Before he was elected President, General Eisenhower was featured in a 1946 Casa Masson Heuer chronograph advertisement.

Eisenhower Heuer Chronograph advertisement

While in office, Eisenhower wore a Vulcain Cricket. According to reports, he was wearing the Cricket during a press conference announcing new tariffs on Swiss watches where the alarm went off! Eisenhower is also the first President known to have a Rolex in his collection.

The gold Datejust was offered by Rolex as a gift marking the 150,000th officially certified chronometer. He asked Rolex to engrave 5 stars, signifying his General rank along with his initials and the date “12-19-1950.” Rolex also engraved his initials “DDE” on the outer side of the jubilee bracelet on the buckle. The watch appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in July of 1952.

President Eisenhower Datejust

Eisenhower also had a custom Hamilton in his collection. The watch had a custom dial featuring his family’s faces, but no records have been found with further details.

While at the 1955 Geneva Summit, a group of Swiss civilians gave personalized Vacheron watches to the world leader attendees. There was a note included reading “These watches must have good influence on yourself, your country and the peace in the world.” There are very few details about the watch and if Eisenhower ever wore it.

John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy owned one of the most controversial watches, never worn on his wrist. The watch was a gold Rolex Day-Date given to him by Marilyn Monroe. The watch was engraved “Jack, with love as always from Marilyn. May 29th, 1962.” It is reported that the watch was given to Kenneth O’Donnell, a U.S. top aid to President Kennedy, to get rid of the watch.

Kennedy Day-Date from Marilyn Monroe

JFK wore a small Bulova with a salmon dial and engraved “JFK 1941” on the bracelet. Hodinkee did a feature in 2013 on Kennedy’s watch for more information on the model.JFK Bulova

Grant Stockdale gave Kennedy a small Omega in 1960 before the election but predicted victory by having the caseback engraved “President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, From His Friend, Grant.” The watch was worn at the inauguration ceremony in 1961 and can now be found in the collection of Omega. The company purchased the watch in 2005 at auction for $350,000. Omega released a special limited edition JFK commemorative re-issue of the model.

JFK Omega

Kennedy also owned a Nastrix which he liked to wear while swimming. Jackie Kennedy gave President Kennedy a thin, round, Cartier in 1957 to celebrate their 4th anniversary. During this time, Cartier generally re-branded non-Tank watches from other Swiss watchmakers. This is the watch believed to have been worn when Kennedy was assassinated that was removed at the hospital.  Both the LA Times and Baltimore Sun reported on the Cartier.

Kennedy didn’t just collect watches himself, in 1963, he gifted his wife a Cartier Tank. The watch was engraved “To Jackie. Love, Jack.” Read more about the Kennedy watch collection in an article from the New York Times.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Following the footsteps of Kennedy, President Johnson owned quite a few watches. In 1958, LBJ was presented with an electric Hamilton Pacer while on a trip in West Virginia. The black dial watch is a unique design, similar to the watch worn by Elvis Presley in Blue Crush. This gift was given to him before his presidency while still a senator and by the time of his inauguration he stopped wearing it.

LBJ Hamilton Watches

One of his most famous watches is a Patek Philippe reference 2526. The beautiful cream enamel dial, in addition to having indices and a sub seconds, reads “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This special Patek was ordered through Tiffany & Co. and features a yellow gold Tiffany bracelet. The reference 2526 is extremely collectible and is the first automatic Patek produced, powered by the calibre 12-600.

Lyndon B Johnson Patek Philippe 2526

Similar to his Patek Philippe, LBJ had a similar dial put on Hamilton Electric watches which he commissioned in 1964 to give as gifts. These dials featured his initials just under 12 o’clock.

Just like Truman and Eisenhower, Johnson wore a Vulcain Cricket. His was a calendar reference 3105004, which he gifted to his presidential museum and has his initials on the dial. He also owned a no-date Cricket Alarm.

More so than his Patek, Johnson was photographed many times wearing his Rolex Day-Date. He wore it on the now  famous bracelet called the “President.” Thanks to Johnson and many other famous world leaders, the Day-Date has come to be referred to as the “Rolex President.”

Lyndon B Johnson LeCoultre Memovox watch

Rounding out Johnson’s robust collection is a LeCoultre Memovox World time with presidential seal on the caseback. The watch is signed LeCoultre rather than Jaeger-LeCoultre as it was made for the American Market. It is believed that Johnson commissioned two alarm watches in the 1960s, keeping one and gifting the other to a Mexican immigrant he was sponsoring for citizenship.

George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush

Both President G.H.W Bush and his son G.W.Bush were presented with a Clare Watch but it is unknown if they were ever worn.

George H. W. Bush Looking at watch

President G.H.W. Bush famously checked his watch multiple times during the 1992 presidential debates and again in 2008 at the Republican national Convention. His consistent glances struck viewers as out of touch, prompting future presidential candidates to be trained in avoiding looking at their watches.

Bush Junior Timex

George W. Bush is known to have worn a Timex I-Control during his 2000 campaign before switching to a Timex Indiglo.

Bill Clinton

In between the Bush father and son presidency, Clinton wore a Timex Ironman digital watch. He not only wore it during his presidency, he wore it to his inaugural ball in 1993. Details of this were outlined in the Washington Post style section as an “unslightly blemish.” Clinton was also given a Vulcain Cricket by Keijo Paajanen in 1997 but it is unknown if he wore it.

Clinton Timex Ironman

After leaving office, President Clinton expanded upon his watch collection buying Panerai, Kobold, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet and Cartier pieces among others.

Barack Obama

Rounding out the list of presidents is the current (for a few more months at least) 44th President, Barack Obama. He owns a Jorg Gray chronograph and a TAG Heuer Series 1500 Diver, in addition to the sporty New Balance N7 which he wears as his casual watch.

Obama Watches

His two-tone Tag Heuer Diver was worn almost exclusively from 1997-2007 and has been spotted a few times since becoming President. For his birthday, the Secret Service gifted him a Jorg Gray with the Secret Service logo on the dial.

Staying true to a tradition of having a Vulcain watch owned by the President, Vulcain gifted an Anniversary Heart Automatic, marking his inauguration and engraved with his date of election.

Future Presidents

The next President of the United States will be elected in November of 2016. Check out what watches they currently wear, and what we suggest they wear. What watch would you like to see in the collection or on the wrist of the future President of the United States?

The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors put together a “Time in Office” exhibit in 2008 and have videos with the watches available on their website in the archives.

About Emily Smith
Emily loves the history of watches and loves learning how they work. Her watches of choice right now are her vintage Omega Ladymatic that is a mere 19mm and her 1973 Rolex Oyster with a navy dial. While she enjoys the look of vintage watches, she is excited to learn about new models and to build her collection.

Watches you may be interested in:

  • Christopher Riddle

    I was much entertained by this little symposium.I only wish you had left off with G.H.W. Bush.You needn’t have proceeded any further.