Why the Vulcain Cricket is the real President’s watch and offers killer value for vintage hunters

Why the Vulcain Cricket is the real President’s watch and offers killer value for vintage hunters

Luke Benedictus

Editor’s note: Whether it’s Bill Clinton’s Timex or Barack Obama’s Jorg Grey, the watch of the US President always gets scrutinised in detail. But as Shashi Baltutis reveals, there’s a forgotten brand that holds a strong claim to be the original presidential timepiece.

The Vulcain Cricket is the real President's watch
I don’t like Cricket. I love it. Image: @books_on_time

It’s November 22 1963 and US President John F. Kennedy has just been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy’s Vice-President, Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ), assumes the top job and wears a solid yellow-gold Rolex Day-Date. LBJ is the first US president to wear the Rolex Day-Date and in doing so, inadvertently launches one of Rolex’s most memorable brand associations.

Three years after its debut on the wrist of LBJ, Rolex officially begin advertising the Day-Date as “The Presidents’ Watch”. But there is a brand which made “The watch of Presidents” before Rolex’s Day-Date even existed.

The Vulcain Cricket is the real President's watch
Image: @books_on_time

A Vulcain Cricket has been gifted to most US Presidents since Harry Truman in 1953, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Truman’s 14-karat yellow-gold Cricket was given to him by The White House News Photographers Association on the night before leaving office. The first Day-Date-wearing President even loved the Cricket. LBJ had a Cricket made with his signature on the dial. He later ordered 200 Crickets to give as gifts while in office.

When Vulcain fell on hard times during the quartz crisis of the 70s, a Finnish jeweller Keijo Paajanen organised for Crickets to be given to US Presidents. US Commanders-in-Chief often stop in Finland on the way to meetings with the Russian President and so in 1988, Paajanen gifted Ronald Reagan a Cricket.

The Vulcain Cricket is the real President's watch

The Cricket holds a significant place in horological history as the world’s first mass-market alarm wristwatch when it was launched in 1947. Vulcain made the movement of the Cricket with two barrels; one to store the power for the movement and one for the alarm function. Winding the crown forwards gives power to the movement, while winding backwards powers the alarm. The sound of the alarm is extra resonant as the Cricket has a second caseback that helps with acoustics.

Vulcain has since been relaunched as a brand and produces modern iterations of its famous Cricket. The brand now makes the Cricket President with an automatic movement, as opposed to the original hand-winding, and still markets their timepieces as “The Watch for Presidents”. The cases are updated to a modern size of 42mm, which is a departure from the vintage proportions of 34mm.

The Cricket hasn’t gained the status the Day-Date enjoys, so it’s unlikely the alarm watch will be flashed by social climbers desperate for validation. But the fact that the Cricket is still relatively unknown within the wider world of horological enthusiasts, means the price remains low for vintage watch hunters. While Rolex now advertises the new 36mm yellow-gold Day-Dates for US$33,150, you can pick up a vintage stainless-steel Cricket for under $2000 AUD and one in solid yellow gold  for under $8000 AUD.