With their combination of form and function, luxury watches have always been associated with wealth, sophistication and power. It is no surprise, then, that virtually every U.S. President has proudly worn a luxury watch while serving in office. Here are the top 5 luxury watches ever worn by U.S. presidents:
Harry S. Truman, Gallet Flying Officer Chronograph
In 1939, then-Senator Harry S. Truman commissioned the venerable Swiss watchmaker Gallet & Co. to design a timepiece specifically for U.S. Army Air Force pilots and navigators. Gallet responded with the Flying Officer Chronograph, one of the most unique watches ever created. The Flying Officer Chronograph featured a rotating 12 hour bezel and 48 cities printed around the edges of the face. This unique design enabled flight officers to calculate changes in time as they flew across longitude lines and into new time zones. It was also among the first wristwatches ever to feature water-resistant casing. Although it was originally designed for military use, the Flying Officer entered civilian markets after the end of the Second World War. It remained very popular among military, commercial and civilian aviators.
Harry Truman himself wore a Flying Officer Chronograph during his term as President. It kept time during his legendary 1948 campaign, when he upset Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey at the eleventh hour. Fittingly, he wore a watch designed for military use while issuing executive orders that ended racial discrimination in the military. Truman’s famous Flying Officer Chronograph is now an important part of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum’s collection.
John F. Kennedy, Cartier Tank
Although John F. Kennedy is rumored to have worn several great watches, including the Omega Speedmaster and the Rolex Day-Date, his timepiece of choice was a yellow gold Cartier Tank. As the nation’s first “celebrity president,” JFK did his part to make this watch very popular.
Louis Cartier, grandson of the founder of the eponymous French jewelry company, created the first Cartier Tank in 1917. His design was said to be inspired by the Renault tanks used on the Western Front in World War 1. Indeed, its lines and proportions resemble nothing more than a miniature version of those military vehicles. Most Cartier Tanks feature blue, sword-shaped hands and silvered opaline guilloché dials. Tanks with metal bracelets include indentations that strongly resemble the distinctive tracks of real tanks. Despite its unlikely origins, the Cartier Tank is one of the world’s most successful watches; Cartier has created more than thirty variants of the design, and it has inspired countless imitators.
Kennedy’s Cartier Tank was yellow gold and featured a solid black leather strap. He wore the watch on many occasions as he steered the United States through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the beginning of the Space Race and the start of the Vietnam War. According to the JFK Presidential Library, he was wearing the watch on November 22, 1963 when he was assassinated in Dallas.
Lyndon Johnson, Rolex Day-Date
No watch is more strongly associated with the Presidency than the legendary Rolex Day-Date. It was the first wristwatch ever made with an automatically changing day and date on the dial, hence its straight-forward name. Many Presidents have worn the Day-Date over the years, including Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Besides its namesake features, the Day-Date includes a wide range of material options: yellow gold, pink gold, white gold and platinum. Johnson’s model would have been water-resistant up to 165 feet; modern Day-Dates can reliably be worn up to twice that depth. With its concealed clasp, automatic movement and elegant appearance, the Day-Date quickly acquired its prominent nickname: the Rolex President.
LBJ wore his Rolex when he came into office after Kennedy’s assassination, and continued to wear it proudly throughout his six years as President. The Day-Date remained on his wrist as he pushed the Great Society legislation, pursued his “War on Poverty” and escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War. Other Presidents known to wear the Rolex Day-Date include Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
Bill Clinton, Panerai Luminor
While he was in office, President Bill Clinton usually preferred to wear affordable, working class watches. In fact, his timepiece of choice was a Timex Ironman, a watch that usually sells for less than $50. In his personal life, though, Clinton is an avid luxury watch collector. Among his favorites is a black Panerai Luminor Marina, pictured below.
The Panerai Luminor Marina is a heavy, durable luxury watch, featuring stainless steel casing, luminous hands and a black leather strap. At the 3 o’clock position, the watch displays the date, while there are Arabic numerals at the 6, 9 and 12 positions. The watch also features scratch resistant sapphire crystal and is water resistant up to 100 feet.
Since leaving office, Bill Clinton has taken to plenty of speaking engagements. He wore the Panerai Luminor Marina during his wife’s 2008 presidential campaign, when he raised more than $10 million. More recently, Clinton traveled to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American hostages.
Barack Obama, Jorg Gray 6500 Chronograph
Current President Barack Obama wore an impressive TAG Heuer timepiece during most of his 2008 presidential campaign. Since taking office, he has favored a customized Jorg Gray 6500 Chronograph which was given to him for his 46th birthday. Although this watch is not as expensive as the other timepieces on this list, as the current Commander in Chief’s favorite it deserves mention. Cut from solid steel, this durable watch features a matte black dial and an Italian leather buffalo grain strap. It includes a high-precision chronograph, 24-hour hand display, date display and scratch-resistant mineral crystal. The 6500 Chronograph is also water resistant up to 330 feet.
Obama has worn his custom-made watch at many historic events, including his presidential victory speech and inauguration. The watch adorned Obama’s hand when he signed his very first proclamation as President of the United States in January 2009. It’s no surprise that the Jorg Gray 6500 Chronograph is now known far and wide as the Barack Obama Watch.