When it comes to the President of the United States, you can’t say no one is paying attention to his watch. In the mid to late 20th century, the ruling class didn’t care as much about perceptions of the media or the masses. And even then, the watch was still primarily a tool for telling time. Nowadays, it says so much more. A watch is a clue into a man’s tastes, style, and dare we say, budget.
Many of the country’s early presidents–George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln–carried pocket watches. Watches back then were more practical and less a function of style. Then came photography; film followed shortly after. From there grew an emphasis on presentation and appearance. And as the President’s relationship with the media became more entangled, so too did his fashion choices bear that much more scrutiny. We take a look at the modern era of Presidents’ watches.
Harry S. Truman
President Truman owned a couple of watches, including a Universal Genève Tri-Compax and a Gallet Flight Officer. He also owned a Vacheron Constantin watch, according to that company’s records. However, his favorite watch was a Vulcain Cricket.
Truman received his Vulcain Cricket as a gift from the White House Press Photographer’s Association in 1953. The Cricket was worn by several US Presidents after Truman began the tradition.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Eisenhower is most closely associated with his Rolex. At the time that he was serving as the NATO Commander in Chief of Europe, Rolex gifted General Eisenhower with the 150,000th officially certified Rolex watch, a gold Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet. The caseback featured a special engraving: 5 stars (for his position) and the words “DDE – 12-19-1950.” When Eisenhower appeared on the cover of LIFE wearing his watch, it gained a lot of notoriety, and indirectly lent the Rolex Day-Date its “President” title—even though Eisenhower only owned the Datejust.
Even before he became President, Eisenhower wore a Vulcain Cricket. During his presidency, Vulcain ran an advertising campaign: “Do As Ike Does.” Also, Vacheron Constantin claims he owned one of their watches, in addition to the steel Heuer chronograph he certainly did own.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy is best remembered for his youth, style, and charisma. He also had quite a collection of watches. His watches of choice were a Cartier Tank gifted by wife Jacqueline Kennedy for their fourth anniversary and a square OMEGA watch that he received from a friend during his Presidential campaign.
But probably the most fascinating of JFK’s watches is one he never wore. It’s an 18kt yellow gold Rolex Day-Date, a rumored gift from Marilyn Monroe (get the full story this way).
Lyndon B. Johnson
President Johnson’s gold Rolex Day-Date gave the watch its popular nickname: the President.
Despite the close association with his Rolex, President Johnson was very fond of his Vulcain Cricket, by then a common sight on presidential wrists. He also owned an interesting Patek Philippe with the Golden Rule printed on the dial, as well as a futuristic Hamilton Pacer.
In 1955, then-Vice President Richard Nixon gave the opening speech at the National Association of Watch and Clock Makers. It was there that Vulcain gifted him his own Cricket alarm watch, which was his watch of choice for many years.
Rumor has it that OMEGA offered President Nixon one of the 1,014 gold Speedmasters created in honor of the Apollo 11 moon landing. However, Nixon turned down the watch—its value exceeded the allowable gift amount.
President Reagan was a Rolex man. Photos of Reagan from 1965 show him wearing what appears to be a steel Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet.
Bill Clinton’s candidacy and presidency saw a shift in the types of watches Presidents wore publicly. His $50 Timex Ironman, a far cry from the Rolexes and other high-end Swiss brands of his predecessors, was an attempt to portray his everyman relatability.
However, President Clinton is a known watch lover, and his post-Presidency years have given him freedom to wear his more expensive timepieces. He’s appeared in public sporting Panerai, Franck Muller, Roger Dubuis, Kobold, Cartier, A. Lange & Sohne, and even Shinola.
George W. Bush
During his time in office, President George W. Bush wore an inexpensive Timex quartz watch, presumably meant to counteract his upper-class Yale background. The watch dial featured the American Flag under the 12 o’clock position, giving another indication of his hopes for a more populist appearance.
Up until his campaign for President in 2007, Obama sported a TAG Heuer Series 15000. He switched it for a Jorg Gray model JG 6500, which was a birthday present from his Secret Service detail. The watch is oversized chronograph with the Secret Service logo printed on the dial. You can only find Obama’s particular Jorg Gray watch in the Secret Service employee’s store, but the brand released several special editions in response to rising demand.
President Obama’s Jorg Gray isn’t the only watch he wore during his time in office. In fact, Obama is unique among his presidential peers for being the first President to wear fitness trackers in addition to his analog watches. Over the years, he sported a Highgear Enduro, a New Balance sports watch, and a Fitbit Surge. As an admitted tech geek, it’s not so surprising to see.
Interestingly enough, President Trump’s heavily-cuffed shirts don’t reveal what he’s wearing on his wrist most of the time. In the past, he’s been photographed wearing a Patek Philippe Ellipse and a gold Rolex Day-Date, but it remains to be seen what he chooses to flash as President of the United States. It’s looking like he’ll stick to his Vacheron Constantin Historiques Ultra-Fine 1968 in pink gold that he wore during the 2016 election.
Nothing about a President’s watch goes unnoticed. While Rolex was a common sight in the mid-20th century, and Vulcain may bear the reputation as “the President’s watch,” it’s clear that we may be seeing a trend toward more accessible timepieces on the Commander-in-Chief’s wrist. Only time will tell.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 11, 2015. We have updated it to include new information.