American Presidents and Swiss watches might seem like an odd pairing, but for the last 70 years or so, every American leader has owned one specific Swiss watch – the Vulcain Cricket.
Why? That’s hard to say, exactly. During the late 1940s, President Harry Truman apparently purchased a Vulcain Cricket, which was then a fairly new watch. Vulcain has been making watches since 1858, but the Cricket, introduced in 1947, had a feature that was somewhat new – an alarm.
The alarm will not strike modern watch collectors as being anything special. You must set it every day. You cannot set it more than 12 hours in advance. You must manually wind it every time you want to use it. This is done by winding the crown in the reverse direction that you would use to wind the watch to run.
But, it did have an alarm, and the name “Cricket” was suggested to evoke the sound that the alarm makes when it rings, which is said to resemble the sound made by the insect. The alarm will ring for 20 seconds, and is reportedly loud enough to awaken most people from a moderate sleep.
The alarm is also somewhat difficult to set. You cannot set it to go off at a precise moment, but just for a general time of roughly 10,30, or 50 minutes after the hour.
Still, a mechanical watch with an alarm, and particularly a fairly loud alarm, which was hard to make then and just as hard to create now, was a remarkable complication in a 1940s watch, and word got out that the President of the United States had purchased one for his own use.
This was not unnoticed by the people at Vulcain, and they responded to this in a sensible manner – they started the tradition of giving a Vulcain Cricket to every American President when they took office. Since Harry Truman started by buying one, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump have all owned a Vulcain Cricket.
Not all of them actually wore it; President Kennedy reportedly favored an Omega and President Clinton famously wore a Timex, but Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson both wore their Crickets prouldy.
Some 70 years after its introduction, the Vulcain Cricket is still in production. There have been numerous changes to the model over the years, and eventually, an automatic version was introduced. Recently, a special edition of the Cricket was introduced to celebrate 70 years of the model’s history.
This edition, limited to 99 pieces, features a mother of pearl dial and a vintage logo, so as to depict the watch as it appeared back in the 1940s. It’s a terrific looking timepiece, though not a particularly inexpensive one. The limited edition model is priced at U.S. $11,000.
Regular editions of the Vulcain Cricket are somewhat less expensive, starting at just under U.S. $700. You may wish to hurry if you want to buy Vulcain watches, however, as the downturn in the market for Swiss watches has hurt the company quite a bit. We recently read that the company had been forced to make dramatic cuts in their staff, and some people worry that the current U.S. President may be the last to own the Vulcain Cricket.
I hope not, as it’s an attractive watch that is now a part of United States history. With luck, someone will either buy the company or the watch market will have enough of a rebound to keep this 160 year old company in business.