Watches Worn by U.S. Presidents
The President of the United States is one of the most highly scrutinized individuals in our nation, and rightfully so. He’s our commander in chief, and he holds a great deal of power. Even the smallest detail, like the watch he wears, is contemplated and analyzed. We may be partial to a fine timepiece. However, the watch anyone chooses to wear says a lot about them. A watch is a cue to a person’s taste, interests, and even budget.
Many of the country’s early presidents, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, or Abraham Lincoln, carried pocket watches. At that time, a watch was a practical timekeeping device and less of a style statement. The watch has evolved exponentially since then. We no longer need watches to tell time with smartphones and computers. Today, a watch can be an ultimate status symbol. Learn about the watches that former United States Presidents have worn on their wrists, ranging from a Rolex President to a Cartier Tank watch.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FDR was one of the first presidents to make the transition from the pocket watch to the wristwatch. The wristwatch shifted from a ladies’ jewelry item to a more utilitarian tool during WWI. However, it was WWII that solidified the wristwatch’s place as an enduring design. With Roosevelt as our fearless leader during this time, it’s only fitting he mark the modern era of watches worn by U.S. Presidents. His style of choice was a Movado triple calendar Reference 44776 from 1944, signed by Tiffany & Co.
Harry S. Truman
President Truman had a number of watches, including a Gallet Flight Officer and gold Heuer chronograph. Despite his down-to-earth, Midwestern roots, he also owned one of the most popular chronograph models of the era: the Universal Genève Tri-Compax. In addition, he owned a Vacheron Constantin Reference 6108 Chronometer Royal, according to that company’s records. Still, his favorite watch was a Vulcain Cricket. Truman received this model as a gift from the White House Press Photographer’s Association in 1953. Little did Truman know the Cricket would go on to grace the wrists of several U.S. Presidents.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Eisenhower is most closely associated with his Rolex. When he served as the NATO Commander in Chief of Europe, Rolex gifted General Eisenhower the 150,000th officially certified Rolex chronometer: 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 magazine wearing this watch, it gained a lot of notoriety. Although the model was a yellow gold Datejust, it would later inspire the yellow gold Day-Date’s “President” title.
In addition to his Rolex, Eisenhower purchased a steel Heuer chronograph while stationed in Germany after WWII. He too wore a Vulcain Cricket, and during his presidency, Vulcain ran an advertising campaign: “Do As Ike Does.” Eisenhower also owned a unique custom Hamilton model with his family’s faces on the dial. Lastly, Eisenhower had a personalized Vacheron Constantin given to him along with other world leaders of the 1955 Geneva Summit.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy will always be remembered for his youth, style, and charisma. He also had quite a collection of watches. He wore an OMEGA Ultra Thin, Reference OT3980 when he took his oath of office in 1961. His friend Grant Stockdale had given him the watch the year prior. He predicted Kennedy’s win with an engraving on the caseback. It read: “President / Of The / United States / John F. Kennedy / From His Friend / Grant”. Prior to his presidency, Kennedy received a Cartier Tank from wife Jacqueline Kennedy for their fourth anniversary in 1957. President Kennedy was wearing this watch when he was assassinated in 1963. In addition, Kennedy also had a custom Hamilton model with his children’s faces on the dial as well as a Bulova. Still, probably the most fascinating of JFK’s watches is one he never wore. It’s an 18kt yellow gold Rolex Day-Date, a gift from Marilyn Monroe. (get the full story this way).
Lyndon B. Johnson
President Johnson’s watches were quite possibly the most quintessential of the U.S. Presidents. Like many before him, Vulcain presented him with a Cricket during his tenure. However, Johnson was truly a Rolex man through and through. He developed a reputation of giving Rolex watches to his friends and family. In addition, he solidified the yellow gold Rolex Day-Date as the President. Still, Johnson had a number of other watches in his collection. These included a Patek Philippe Reference 2526, Hamilton Pacer, and LeCoultre Memovox Worldtime with the presidential seal on the caseback.
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. This remained his watch of choice for many years. Later, OMEGA offered President Nixon a limited edition 18-karat gold OMEGA Speedmaster created in honor of the Apollo 11 moon landing. However, Nixon turned down the watch because its value exceeded the allowable gift amount.
Gerald Ford served as President during the onset of the watch industry’s Quartz Crisis. In fitting with the times, he wore a Pulsar 3376 Date-Command. In addition, a Finnish jeweler named Keijo Paajanen gifted Ford none other than a Vulcain Cricket in 1995 at the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Helsinki Accords.
It’s unclear exactly what make or model Jimmy Carter wore during his presidency or continues to wear today. However, we definitively know he’s a watch man. In photos of President Carter, you can almost always find him wearing a watch. Most notably, he wears his watches with the case on the interior of his wrist and buckle on the exterior. Like Ford, Finnish jeweler Keijo Paajanen gifted Carter a Vulcain Cricket in 1997.
Like Johnson, 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. In addition, Keijo Paajanen gifted Reagan a Vulcain Cricket in 1988. We also know Reagan owned a Colibri wristwatch that went up for auction in 1999.
George H.W. Bush’s Watches
Similar to President Carter, it’s unclear what type of watch President George H.W. Bush wore or continues to wear. However, Bush was notorious for looking at his watch at inopportune moments. He first caught negative press for consistently checking the time during the 1992 presidential debates. Years later, President Bush was spotted frequently checking his watch at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Of course, Bush’s collection wouldn’t be complete without a Vulcain Cricket from Keijo Paajanen at the 1990 Helsinki Summit.
Bill Clinton’s candidacy and presidency saw a shift in the types of watches Presidents wore publicly. His Timex Ironman was a far cry from the Rolexes and other high-end Swiss brands of his predecessors. In the years since his tenure, it’s become clear Clinton is a true watch enthusiast. His choice of watch during his time in office was merely an attempt to portray his everyman relatability. In his post-Presidency years, he’s appeared in public sporting an array of models. These include an A. Lange & Söhne Grosse Langematik Gangreserve, Rolex PVD-coated Pro-Hunter Submariner, Panerai PAM89 GMT, and Cartier Ballon Bleu. In addition, he owns models from Jaeger-LeCoultre, Roger Dubuis, Audemars Piguet, and Franck Muller.
George W. Bush
President George W. Bush followed in Clinton’s footsteps, sporting a more modest watch in-office. He wore two different Timex models. During the 2000 campaign, he chose a Timex i-Control. Later, he switched to a Timex Indiglo with an American flag at the twelve-o’clock position.
Up until his campaign for President in 2007, Obama sported a TAG Heuer 1500 Two-Tone Diver. He switched it for a Jorg Gray chronograph, which was a birthday present from his Secret Service detail. The watch notably features the Secret Service logo printed on the dial. To mark his inauguration, President Obama also received a special gift from Vulcain, an Anniversary Heart Automatic model with a personalized engraving. In his second term, Obama swapped his mechanical watch for casual, digital sport watches like the Highgear Enduro Compass and New Balance N7. More recently in 2018, Obama made his first watch purchase as a civilian for his official Presidential portrait. He chose the classic Rolex Cellini.
Lastly, you may be wondering, what watch does Trump wear? President Trump began his tenure wearing a Vacheron Constantin Historiques Ultra Fine 1968 in pink gold on election night. Trump has also sported a Rolex President, Universal Geneve “Senna” Chronograph, and Patek Philippe Ellipse. Still, quite possibly the most interesting watch in Trump’s collection is one previously owned by President Reagan. Back in 1999 at Antiquorum and Tourneau’s Famous Faces auction, former president Reagan donated his Colibri wristwatch. Donald Trump was the lucky bidder to purchase it.
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.