Few watches are as iconic as the Rolex Day-Date—the 18k yellow gold wristwatch that’s commonly known as the “President” or “Presidential.” With its bold appearance, the Day-Date has adorned the wrists of some of the most well-known tycoons and world leaders of the 20th century.
The Day-Date was the first watch to feature day and date complications—at the top of the dial, a date aperture; and at three o’clock, a date display, complete with the classic Rolex cyclops. It’s clear from the first impression that the Rolex Day-Date is special —it’s a watch that represents the peak of watchmaking excellence. So how did it come by the “President” nickname?
Well, it’s no surprise that a watch that clearly says “look Ma, I made it” has graced the wrists of several U.S. presidents since it was officially launched in 1956. It’s also no surprise that Rolex has never been afraid to promote its association with influential figures.
Although he wasn’t the first president to own a Day-Date, Lyndon B. Johnson was undoubtedly the first world leader to contribute to the its reputation as the watch of presidents and world leaders.
LBJ was quite a watch enthusiast. He famously wore a Vulcain Cricket, writing to the company’s president that he felt “less dressed without it.” But President Johnson is most closely associated with his Rolex Day-Date, a watch he wore often during his presidency. He was also known for giving away Rolex watches as gifts. Late in his life, after dealing with near constant health problems for several decades, LBJ gifted an 18k gold Rolex to his cardiologist.
Interestingly enough, the president most closely associated with the Rolex Day-Date–President Dwight D. Eisenhower–never actually owned one.
In 1951, Rolex produced its 150,000th certified chronometer. After giving its 50,000th watch to General Henri Guisan and its 100,000th watch to Winston Churchill, Rolex contacted General Eisenhower offering him the company’s 150,000th creation—an 18k gold Rolex Datejust. Although Eisenhower’s Rolex wasn’t a Day-Date, it did share several features with the modern Rolex “President.” Its case was yellow gold–better associated with the Day-Date than the Datejust–and it came on an 18k yellow gold Jubilee bracelet.
Not all presidents were eager to wear the Rolex Day-Date publicly. In May of 1962, John F. Kennedy received a Day-Date as a birthday gift from Marilyn Monroe. On the watch back was a message: “With love as always.” Wanting to avoid a scandal, Kennedy’s response to aide Kenneth O’Donnell after receiving the watch was short and sweet: “get rid of it.”