As women can be judged by their handbags, so men can be judged by their watches. In this anything-but-ordinary election cycle, we look back at the timepiece styles of U.S. presidents to see what’s changed and how our country’s leaders’ personal styles stack up. Since 1789, every American leader has carried or worn a watch of some kind.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (favored fine French timepieces), and Abraham Lincoln (a big customer of Tiffany and a lover of engraving) all carried pocket watches, of course, as that was the fashion.
Some presidents have indulged in luxury, while others have preferred inexpensive functional wristwatches from the likes of Timex: George W. Bush wore a Timex Easy Reader with both gold and silver crowns, and Bill Clinton wore an early model of the Timex Ironman to his inaugural ball. Barack Obama wore a relatively inexpensive (under $2,000) TAG Heuer 1500 Two-Tone Diver watch while campaigning in 2008, and afterward his Secret Service detail gave him a $200 stainless steel Jorg Gray 6500 Chronograph, which he wore during the inaugural proceedings. The president also enjoys wearing his $200 FitBit Surge fitness super watch (Ted Cruz is a fan, too).
Since leaving office in 2001, Clinton has stepped up his watch game considerably, becoming a major collector and amassing such bold timepieces as a Luminor 1950 Panerai PAM89 (he was an early fan of the $7,500 timepiece), a Franck Muller ($16,000 and up), a Roger Dubuis MuchMore (minimum $15,000), a gold Ballon Bleu de Cartier (a steal at $6,000), and a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Diving Alarm Navy SEALs (a line that has since been discontinued but once retailed for $11,000). It’s rumored the former president owns 50 watches, including one of only 100 platinum A. Lange & Soehne Wempe Anniversary watches (which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Wempe Chronometer factory in Glashuette, Germany). Two of Clinton’s favorites are by the ultra-high-end Audemars Piguet: a classic Jules Audemars Chronograph as well as his own limited edition collaboration: the Jules Audemars Clinton Foundation Equation of Time watch. “The Equation of Time displays the difference between solar and conventional time—a particularly special complication,” says Rob Ronen, co-founder of Material Good, a high-end watch and jewelry boutique in New York City. “These watches are for the real watch aficionado and shows the forty-second president’s appreciation for great craftsmanship.”
Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Kennedy were all fans of the Swiss Hamilton Watch Company (Eisenhower reportedly also owned a steel Heuer chronograph, a gold Rolex Datejust, and a Vulcain Cricket). Ford favored Hamilton’s Pulsar model with a leather band (the world's first all-electronic digital watch would now cost $12,300 with inflation), while FDR and Truman were given Marine Chronometers timepieces and Kennedy a Hamilton 505.
Starting with FDR, at least seven presidents have collected Tiffany wristwatches. The 18-karat gold model that FDR wore (a 1945 birthday gift which he wore to the Yalta Conference) is actually the inspiration for the brand’s newest collection, the Tiffany CT60.
JFK wasn’t loyal to any one watch. He is known to have worn a Bulova, Omega, Nastrix, Rolex Day-Date (reportedly given to him by Marilyn Monroe), and a yellow gold Tank Louis Cartier (now $10,000).
The summer before his election in 1960, Kennedy was given an Omega watch by his friend Florida Senator Grant Stockdale, who had the watch inscribed on the back: “President of the United States John F. Kennedy from his friend Grant.” JFK wore the watch to his inauguration.
Omega has since purchased the watch at auction, and displays the piece in its museum in Switzerland, alongside a handwritten note from Jackie Kennedy to Stockdale thanking him for the “elegant timepiece” and commenting that she prefers the Omega to the Mickey Mouse watch JFK had been wearing. Lyndon Johnson had similar taste: He favored a yellow gold Rolex Day-Date, which later became known as the “Presidents’ watch” because of its famous fans (Ronald Reagan also wore a stainless steel Rolex Datejust, now a modest $6,000).
As for the current election, Democratic candidate and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been known to favor Chanel’s chunky J12 white ceramic timepiece ($6,000 and up), which features a masculine design but feminine details. And Donald Trump has been spotted out and about in a yellow gold dress watch that watch experts have attributed as either a vintage Rolex Cellini (note that’s a $10,000 women’s silhouette) or a Patek Phillippe Ellipse ($16,000 and up).
The timepiece tastes of our current day presidents may seem extravagant to many of their constituents. But bear this in mind: compared to their European counterparts—Presidents Putin (it’s reported that the Russian president boasts a $700,000 watch collection that includes a $60,000 Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar), Sarkozy ($12,000 stainless steel Rolex Daytona, a $66,000 white gold Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar, and a $40,000 white gold Breguet Reveil du Tsar), and Netanyahu (who wears a stainless steel Panerai Luminor Marina, $6,000 and up), to name but a few—Oval Office preferences are downright subdued.