The Adventurine Posts The Cartier Watches of First Ladies

Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy and Jill Biden wearing their Cartier watches. Photo Joyce N. Boghosian, Cartier, Getty, Christie's

The West Wing

The Cartier Watches of First Ladies

Jackie Kennedy, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have all worn Cartier timepieces

by Marion Fasel

When it comes to watches, Cartier has the majority vote in the East Wing. More First Ladies have chosen Cartier than any other watch brand.

Jackie Kennedy received her Cartier Tank watch while she was the FLOTUS. Michelle Obama memorably sported her Tank Française in her first official White House photo. Dr. Jill Biden is now the third First Lady to wear a Cartier watch. Her timepiece is a gold Panthère de Cartier.

It’s not often we write about watches on The Adventurine, but these timepieces are noteworthy. They are personal accessories with special stories. The style of each also reflects the eras in which they were worn. Find out what we know for sure and a few theories we have about the Cartier watches below.

Jackie Kennedy wearing her Cartier Tank Watch on the slopes of Sun Valley with her daughter Caroline in 1966. Photo Getty and Christie’s Images

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s Gold Tank Watch on a Black Lizard Strap

Despite the fact that Jackie Kennedy had hundreds of jewels and several watches in her massive collection, her classic gold Cartier Tank watch on a black lizard strap is among her most signature accessories. It was almost as ubiquitous as her big sunglasses during the late 60s and early 70s.

The history behind the timepiece includes an urban watch myth that has been circulating for years. The story was President Kennedy gave Jackie the Tank months before his death in 1963 and had it inscribed, “To Jackie, Love Jack.” Honestly, the alleged inscription always struck me as off by its excessive simplicity—no date, no message.

When the watch went on the auction block at Christie’s in New York on June 21, 2017, everyone learned the timepiece had a far more complicated and touching story behind it.

Jackie Kennedy wearing her Cartier Tank watch (from left to right) in December 1969 and in two images taken on the streets of New York in the early 1970s. The one on the far right is from the famous series by Ron Galella. It appears to suggest the famous paparazzo removed the watch in the dark room from the image he calls his “Mona Lisa.” Photo Getty

Jackie’s brother-in-law Prince Stanislaw “Stas” Radizwell gave her the watch in 1963. It is engraved on the back “Stas to Jackie – 23 Feb. 63 – 2:05 am to 9:35 pm.”

The times refer to the start and end of an infamous 50-Mile Hike in Palm Beach in 1963. The event grew out of President Kennedy’s visionary New Frontier policy that included improving the health and fitness of the country.

Stas Radziwill was among those tasked with making the march. Jackie celebrated Radizwill’s completion of the trek by painting a picture of him walking with a friend of the Kennedy’s Chuck Spalding. A dedication similar to the engraving on the timepiece is on the bottom of the painting. It says “February 23, 1963 2:05 am to 9:35 pm / Jackie to Stas with love and admiration.” (See the painting here.)

The reverse of Jackie Kennedy’s tank watch showing the inscription. Photo Christie’s

“The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Cartier Tank is a watch full of emotion, love and history,” said John Reardon, International Head of Christie’s Watches in 2017. “Together with Jackie’s painting, these two objects capture the spirit of another era, a time where friendship and the ‘can-do’ optimism of the generation seemed to make anything possible.”

Kim Kardashian acquired the Cartier watch and painting, which were sold together, from the Christie’s auction for $379,500 after an intense bidding war. At some point after 2017, it was quietly sold by Ms. Kardashian to the Cartier Collection.

First Lady Michelle Obama wore her Cartier watch for an official portrait in 2009. Photo Joyce N. Boghosian

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Cartier Steel Tank Française

When First Lady Michelle Obama’s official photograph was release in February 2009 many people immediately took note of her toned arms that were shown off in the modest black Michael Kors sleeveless dress she wore while posing in the Blue Room of the White House.

I was more focused on the fact that she was wearing a classic double strand of pearls and studs and a medium model, steel Cartier Tank Française watch. The metal was a reflection of the low-key era of the early aughts we were transitioning out of.

The medium model steel Cartier Tank Française watch style Michelle Obama wore while she was the FLOTUS. Photo courtesy

The CEO of Cartier at the time, Frederic de Narp, said the watch was “a most positive surprise” and added “maybe it was a gift from her husband.”

To my knowledge, the source of the watch has never been revealed. Mrs. Obama continued to wear it on and off while she was First Lady. A jewelry lover she often wore stacks of bracelets instead of the watch.

It was a moment when women, including yours truly, were abandoning watches for jewelry since they could easily find the time on their cellphones.

During the Democratic National Convention on August 20, 2020, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden greets his wife Dr. Jill Biden who is wearing her Cartier watch. Photo Getty

First Lady Jill Biden’s Gold Panthère de Cartier

First Lady Jill Biden has brought Cartier watches for women back into style with a bang and a medium model, gold Panthère de Cartier. Well, actually she hasn’t done it alone. Vice President Kamala Harris also wears a Cartier timepiece. She sports a Ballon Bleu de Cartier 36mm yellow gold and steel model.

These women of style and substance instantly make me want to put a watch on my wrist again after over a decade hiatus. Why? Their timepieces say professionalism. They are not on their phones looking at whatever it is people do procrastinating on their devices nowadays. They are getting things done in real life. When they need to know what time it is, they look down at their watches.

The medium model, gold Panthère de Cartier watch style worn by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Photo courtesy

The last time Dr. Biden was in the national spotlight as the Second Lady of the United States, she wore a different watch. As far as I can tell looking at photos going back a few years, she did not seem to have the Cartier in September 2017. Since 2018, she has rarely appeared without it.

The watch could have been a 2017 Christmas present from Joe Biden. In fact, it could have been the year of watches for the couple.

Jill gave Joe Biden a steel Rolex Datejust with a blue dial on a jubilee bracelet as a Christmas present that he wore during the Inauguration. It is not known what year she gave him the timepiece, but that design was introduced in 2017.

Cartier also reintroduced the Panthère in 2017.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wearing her Cartier watch as she greets Champ Biden the day he arrived at the White House from Delaware on January 25, 2021. Photo WH/Adam Schultz via Wikipedia Commons

The Panthère watch, which was wildly popular during the 1990s and worn by stars including Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, was discontinued in 2004. Cartier decided to bring it back after noticing how popular vintage Panthères had become and spotting the timepiece on stylish stars including Kim Kardashian.

For those of you keeping score, that makes two times the reality star has had a brush with First-Lady-Cartier-watch-style. It’s not exactly how I expected this story to evolve, but as Shakespeare famously said “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

Dr. Jill Biden wearing her Cartier watch on the campaign trail. Photo via Instagram @drbiden

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