If, as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously declared, a week is a long time in politics, four years is an eternity. For the United States President, however, a four-year term can seem like a very short time in which to make good on promises. As the presidency transfers to a new pair of hands, what does the watch sitting just above those hands tell us? Back in 2016 we looked at the watches worn by the then President Barack Obama, and those of challengers Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Today we use the same lens to learn more about Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, as well as the new incumbents Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, each of whom has a signature watch.
Trump and Pence
For someone whose journey to the White House began with that infamous golden escalator ride in Trump Tower, it’s no surprise that the outgoing President should favour gold watches such as the Rolex Day-Date, aka “the President”, often spotted on his wrist. Possibly a bid to align himself with the other US Presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, who have worn it. From the time that Joe Biden became the Democratic nominee in April 2020, there have been more than 3,500 mentions of Trump and his watches in the media (our social listening data tells us that 70% of this is negative). Most mentions came after Trump was seen wearing his Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse dress watch while playing a round of golf, causing considerable angst in the watch community.
Trump is the only POTUS to have his own watch line, the Donald Trump Signature Collection, which launched in 2005. Poor quality and lack of demand meant the collection, whose styles riff heavily on Rolex and Omega, quickly descended into obscurity. Vice President Mike Pence, on the other hand, does not appear to be a watch guy though he has been spotted with a Timex Indiglo, an affordable and considerably more understated choice.
Joe Biden is frequently seen sporting his Omega Seamaster Diver 300M. Not only is this the watch John F. Kennedy wore, it’s the brand that NASA astronauts wore on Moon missions. On the fictional front, it was popularised by Pierce Brosnan as 007. Whereas Trump’s yellow gold wristwatches paint a picture of luxury, decadence and anything but the everyman, Biden’s Seamaster aligns him with American heroes. As a watch built to survive the most extreme environments, it also suggests greater pragmatism.
Biden and his watches have received around 1,600 mentions since April 2020. Most of the content and discussion concern the Seamaster, often in reference to the James Bond connection. This shows what a watch with a well-documented iconography can do in communicating the right message. The President-elect has also been seen, most notably on his election victory night, wearing a gold-steel Seiko Chronograph. Smart and affordable, it is a stark departure from Trump’s yellow gold choices. Fittingly, it also has a wake-up call function: perhaps something Biden hopes to give the US.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s watch of choice is a gold and steel Cartier Ballon Bleu. As the first woman Vice President, there is perhaps a message in her decision to wear a watch that was originally offered as a men’s model, though quickly becoming popular among women, too. According to GQ, the only other White House incumbent to have worn a Cartier watch is John F. Kennedy, a gift from Jackie for the couple’s fourth wedding anniversary. Harris’s choice brings Cartier back into the White House.
Across history, Presidents have picked from a similar pool of brands such as Omega and Rolex, and each has used his watch to communicate something about himself. The type of watch a President or Vice President wears is part of their iconography and how they build their political character. Kamala Harris has become one of the most relatable candidates, with her dance moves, Vogue cover and “We did it Joe” viral moments, and so her choice of a versatile watch for daily wear makes sense. For Joe Biden, who is building his image as the President who will clean up his predecessor’s mess, a watch worn by astronauts and movie heroes is only fitting. Rendezvous in four years’ time.