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From Churchill's Breguet to JFK's Omega: The iconic watches of important men

What did iconic leaders of the mid-20th century wear?
Aurelio Icasiano III | Nov 29 2018

Winston Churchill’s Breguet No 765

One of the many anecdotes about Winston Churchill involved his Breguet no 765. The “Turnip,” as Churchill’s golden pocket watch was called, had a minute repeater as well as a chronograph function with flyback seconds.

Official Website of Breguet

Although wristwatches became popular after World War I, Churchill was old-fashioned. He preferred wearing a pocket watch, in much the same way he shunned television and continued to listen to the radio. To personalize his pocket watch, Churchill added fob charms, which included gold sovereigns; a “V” emblem that stood for “victory;” two gold hearts that were gifts from his wife Clementine; and the image of Napoleon wrought in silver. Still entirely functional, the watch remains in the possession of his descendants.

 

Mahatma Gandhi’s Zenith Alarm Pocket Watch 

Gandhi was given a silver Zenith alarm pocket watch by his friend, Indira Nehru, who would later become the first female prime minister of India. Known for his punctuality, Gandhi used the alarm function of the watch every day. Sadly, the watch was stolen during a train ride to Kampur in 1947. But such was Gandhi’s political and spiritual influence that the thief, who learned about Gandhi’s regret at the loss, returned the watch to him and begged for forgiveness six months later.

The Zenith alarm pocket watch. From the official website of Zenith Watches

The watch was passed on to Gandhi’s granddaughter, Abha Gandhi, and has since changed hands among private collectors. In 2009, auction house Antiquorum sold the watch as a lot, including his spectacles, a bowl, a dish, and a pair of sandals, for a record USD 1.8 million.

 

John F. Kennedy’s Omega Ultra Thin 

The Omega Ultra Thin. From the official website of Omega

On the day of his inauguration in 1961, US President John F. Kennedy wore an Omega Ultra Thin, a gift to him by his friend US Ambassador to Ireland Grant Stockdale. The watch, which Kennedy received before he was president, featured a gold case with a plain, unnumbered dial. He wore it on the cover of Time magazine, where it was seen on his left wrist. In 2005, Omega purchased the watch in an auction for USD 350,000 and thus recovered a piece of their history. The brand would later release a commemorative edition of the watch, which was limited to 261 pieces.

 

Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vulcain Cricket 

In 1947, Vulcain invented the Cricket, one of the first standard-sized wristwatches to feature an alarm loud enough to actually wake someone up. The alarm was shrill and distinctive, which accounted for its name, and was powered by a secondary barrel. The Vulcain was worn by Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower but it was Lyndon Johnson who became one of Vulcain’s most overt admirers.

The Vulcain Cricket @LBJLibrary on Twitter

Johnson was said to have given away more than 200 Crickets as gifts. Once, when he was in Geneva to attend a UN meeting, he reportedly had his office purchase all of the Vulcain watches it could find. Given this history, Vulcain has been gifting every new American president with their watch. Barack Obama received a custom Anniversary Heart Cricket after he was elected in 2008.

 

This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue #22, 2015.