Last Presidents’ Day, we added a remarkable Czech pocket watch given to President Woodrow Wilson in gratitude for his role in defeating Germany in World War I to our legendary Guide to the Watches of United States Presidents. Later last year, myself and a friend, Kevin O’Dell, had a chance to examine the Wilson pocket watch in-person at Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, DC, after the Woodrow Wilson House was kind enough to bring the watch there for closer inspection.
As we told you last year, the Czech word for Prague (“Praha”) is on the center dial and on the top of the back is “Zizlavsky,” which is probably the maker, as Czechs frequently named their company after the town from which the company originated. The inscription on back reads in Czech: “To President Woodrow Wilson in the memory of the 1918 defeat of Germany.” It was presented to President Wilson in gratitude for his role in supporting the creation of the independent Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918.
The Wilson pocket watch is exceptionally large: approximately 76 mm in diameter, and in stunning condition. More remarkable is that the watch was a very early attempt at a world-time watch from a time before standardized time zones. The amount of hand work done in the center floral motif and done on the countries and cities track was remarkable. On close examination, the city and country names seemed to have been engraved first in the outer track and then filled with ink. Also of particular interest was the silver shard placed over Washington, no doubt put there to represent home time for Woodrow Wilson and indicating that at least by the end of the watch’s production, he was the intended recipient.
I, along with a watchmaker, was hoping to open the watch to examine the movement more closely, but the way the watch opened from the front and was very tight the massive crystal was at risk of cracking while opening it and the decision was made to leave it be. A new crystal to fit the watch would have needed to have been custom made and perhaps been an ordeal to see through to its conclusion. It was not clear the watch had been opened once since given to President Wilson.
The watch remains on display at the Woodrow Wilson House and if you happen to be visiting Washington, DC, it is worth the visit.
Many thanks to Kevin O’Dell for the photographs.
Check out our recent update (February 2015) to watches that belonged to U.S. Presidents, right here. And if you really want to dive deep, here’s our original and currently updated comprehensive list of U.S. President’s watches in all its glory.
HODINKEE contributor Eric Wind is Vice President, Senior Specialist For Watches at Christie’s, New York.