While most people in the watch world have been lusting lately after Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona, I have been dreaming of a different watch. Don’t get me wrong, Paul Newman’s Paul Newman is probably the coolest collectible watch, almost by definition. Paul Newmans after all are a big reason we even have a vintage Rolex market to begin with, but for me there is another watch on the market that speaks to my soul far more than the Daytona. I’m talking about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ Cartier Tank watch.
Much like Paul Newman’s Paul Newman, Jackie’s (yes, in my mind we are now on a first name basis) Cartier Tank is not so much about the watch itself, but more about the person and time that it represents. Newman, a ruggedly handsome and salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, wore his Daytona daily and casually, before gifting it to his daughter’s boyfriend. He used it for the purpose of telling time, and timing his car races (because that is what watches are actually for). Similarly, Jackie O. likely wore her watch as a means to tell time, for sentimental reasons, and well, because it looked great with her oversized glasses and pillbox hats.
It is no secret that the Cartier Tank is one of the most elegant watch designs of all time, and is possibly one of the most recognized timepieces all this making it one of the most iconic timepieces ever produced. In turn, it is also no secret that Jackie O. is one of the most iconic women to ever exist. In fact, some (cough, me) could argue that she is the most iconic woman to ever exist, which makes this watch, her watch, the most iconic ladies’ watch ever.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (ne Bouvier) was born in 1929 in Southampton, New York. She, along with her sister Caroline “Lee” Bouvier, grew up in a privileged household, with their parents divorcing in 1940. Jackie, as she was known to friends, graduated from George Washington University (after transferring from Vassar College) and lived and worked in Washington D.C. as a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald.
It was during this time she met Congressman John F. Kennedy at a dinner party in May 1952. Kennedy later became Senator of Massachusetts that year and proposed to Jackie. They were married in 1953. The Kennedys went on to become an American power couple JFK became President of the United States in 1961, with Jackie as his First Lady. Jackie was elegant, poised, and well-spoken, despite suffering from personal hardship. And while their marriage may be sometimes portrayed as less than perfect, it was a love story for the books. Sadly, her life took a tragic and unexpected turn with JFK’s assassination, on November 22, 1963.
After the assassination, Jackie went on to raise Caroline and John Jr. and re-married to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis in 1968. Throughout the remainder of her life, Jackie was known as a style icon and as one of the chicest women to ever live. Always classic and never trendy, she embodied American glamour and her style remains relevant today. I, for one, have always admired her style, strength, and grace, so you can imagine what a thrill it was for me to hold something that was once hers.
The Story Behind The Watch
This Tank was a gift to Jackie from her brother-in-law Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, who was married to her sister Caroline Lee Bouvier at the time. It was given to commemorate a 50-mile walk that the family had completed (Jackie and JFK only participated partially) in Palm Beach. The inscription on the caseback reads”Stas to Jackie / 23 Feb. 63 / 2:05 AM to 9:35 PM,” in script. Much like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, the 50-Mile Walk was a program initiated by President John F. Kennedy to encourage the American people to get out and exercise. The call to action soon became all the rage and it still continues to this day in parts of the world.
After receiving this watch as a gift, Jackie wore it constantly, and it has been documented in many photographs. In honor of the walk, Jackie painted a small drawing of Stanislaw Radziwill and Chuck Spalding (a close friend of JFK, who had campaigned for him and who did the whole 50 miles along with Radziwill) which to me might be the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae.
The watch itself is exactly what I dreamed it would be. Petite and patinated, this Cartier Tank has the familiar glow and nostalgic feel of your grandmother’s gold jewelry. It is clear that she wore it often. The case is compact, measuring 20mm wide by 28mm long. The corners have been smoothed down and the cabochon sapphire crown is in the more traditional shape for the Tank, which was unusual for that time period, as Cartier was experimenting with more geometric crown shapes.
I cannot confirm this, but it is rumored that there were only three of this exact case made. But seeing as there are so many Cartier Tanks from this time period, it is hard to say. What I do know is I could not find this exact example in any reference book, and neither could Christie’s so it is definitely rare.
The dial is a familiar silver with fat, black Roman numerals and blued steel hands. It is signed Cartier France on the dial and on the caseback, along with the case number 44374. While this would usually imply the watch was sold in Paris, it was in fact sold in the New York boutique in 1962, which is further confirmed by the OYP import stamp on the manual-winding movement. As I’ve already mentioned, the caseback has the inscription, “Stas to Jackie / 23 Feb. 63 / 2:05 AM to 9:35 PM,” in what I would assume is Stas’ handwriting (Cartier used to do engravings in the purchaser’s own handwriting). They used to make shutter watches in the shape of an envelope with the name and home address of the owner in their script on the front (like this one).
However, one of the coolest things about this watch is the fact that it still has Jackie’s original lizard strap! As in, the last person this strap touched prior to sale could have been Jackie herself!
Thus it goes without saying that this watch was an incredible thing to hold and to see. It is incredibly rare to come across a timepiece that belonged to someone like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, let alone put it on my wrist (!). The watch and the painting will be up for sale at Christie’s on June 21 in New York. The estimate is $60,000 to 120,000. While this watch may be simpler than Paul Newman’s Paul Newman (it is just a vintage Tank after all), it still has that magical connection to an amazing individual that everyone can relate to.