ACartier wristwatch that belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis broke a new world record for a Cartier Tank when it sold for $379,500 (approximately £300,00) at the Christie’s Rare Watches and American Icons auction in New York. The 18-carat gold Cartier Tank was made in 1962, a year after Kennedy became First Lady of the United States, and a year before the assassination of her husband JFK.
It was estimated to sell for between $60,000 and $120,000 (£47,000 – £95,000); the fact that it tripled the higher prediction reflects its illustrious provenance. It would have originally cost a few hundred dollars and similar examples in the vintage market sell for around $3,000, according to John Reardon, Christie’s international head of watches.
The watch was a gift from Kennedy’s brother-in-law Prince Stanislaw “Stas” Radziwill in 1963. Its caseback is engraved with: “Stas to Jackie 23 Feb. 63 2:05 AM to 9:35 PM,” a reference to the start and stop times of the 50-Mile Hike in Palm Beach in 1963, which Radziwill completed alongside his friend Chuck Spalding and secret service agent Clint Hill.
The hike was part of a nationwide public health initiative spearheaded by President Kennedy, who was concerned that Americans were becoming “soft”. The First Lady had challenged Radziwill – who was married to her sister at the time – to complete it, which he did in under 20 hours.
The watch is accompanied by an original painting of Radziwill and Spalding walking, created by Kennedy to celebrate their successful hike and as a thank you for the gift. The painting bears the matching dedication “February 23, 1963 2:05 am to 9:35 pm / Jackie to Stas with love and admiration”. The painting has never before been seen in public.
The watch is a square-shaped Cartier Tank Ordinaire, one of only three of its kind produced in 1963. It was a favourite of the First Lady; she can be seen wearing it in several photographs.
According to Christie’s, the watch and painting are two of the most important personal artifacts from the Kennedy presidential era.
“The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Cartier Tank is a watch full of emotion, love and history,” said Reardon. “Together with Jackie’s painting, these two objects capture the spirit of another era, a time where friendship and the ‘can-do’ optimism of the generation seemed to make anything possible.”
The private seller will donate a portion of the proceeds to the US National Endowment for the Arts.
The Christie’s sale also included a 1946 Jaeger Le-Coultre that belonged to Bob Hope which sold for $32,500; a gold Cartier “$20 coin” watch engraved with “To Bumpy from Babe, Dec 25th, 1937”, a gift from baseball star Babe Ruth to New York gangster Bumpy Johnson which sold for $18,750; an asymmetrical Hamilton watch owned by President Lyndon B Johnson which realised $18,750; and three watches that were in the collection of Joe DiMaggio.