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Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Story of JFK’s Omega

President John F. Kennedy continues to be one of the most enduring icons of the 20th century. Perhaps it was his youth or his good looks or his disarming charm. Perhaps it was his beautiful wife and adorable young children. Whatever the reason, he still captures our imagination fifty years after that tragic day in Dallas in November 1963. Anything he did, anything he said, anything he touched, it seems to fascinate us. We know his wife Jacqueline—or Jackie—gave him an expensive alligator briefcase as a wedding gift in 1953. We don’t know what sort of wedding rings the couple exchanged (that was long before wooden wedding rings became the big hit they are now). But, the topic of this short piece replaced another gift from Jackie—a watch whose maker is unknown at this time. There’s no doubt about the kind of the watch that replaced Jackie’s gift though. It was an Omega.

 JFK and the Grant Stockdale Connection

 President Kennedy’s Omega was a gift from long time friend, Grant Stockdale. Stockdale was a Florida businessman and friend of Florida Senator George Smathers. All three were veterans of the Pacific campaign in WWII where Smathers and Stockdale had served in the Marines. Kennedy had been a young Navy PT-Boat commander who lost his boat, PT-109, in a night action when it was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. His courageous actions in saving his crew after the sinking made him a war hero and helped get him elected to Congress in 1946. Stockdale campaigned after the war for his friend Gorge Smathers in his bid for the US Senate. It was mutual friend Smathers who first introduced Stockdale to Kennedy, who by that time was a US Senator himself. JFK and Stockdale became fast friends.

 The “Stockdale Watch”

 In 1960, before he was elected President, Stockdale gave his friend JFK an elegant Omega Ultra Thin wristwatch in 18 carat gold. He rather optimistically had the following inscription engraved on the back:

 “President of the United States John F. Kennedy from his friend Grant”

 President Kennedy evidently loved the watch and wore it often, including during his famous inauguration ceremony. It was captured there for all-time by a LIFE magazine photographer. It’s easily seen on his left wrist. First Lady Jackie Kennedy wrote Stockdale a gracious thank you note, complimenting his selection of the “thinnest most elegant wristwatch.” She added that upon opening the gift, JFK had immediately stripped off the “chunky” one then on his wrist—a gift from her—and replaced it with the new, thinner watch. Kennedy always made a point of showing his friend the watch was still on his wrist whenever they met, and began calling it the “Stockdale watch.” This historically important Omega is now on display at the Omega Museum in Switzerland.

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