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Auctions - The Cartier Tank of Jackie Kennedy Onassis

Auctions The Cartier Tank of Jackie Kennedy Onassis

On June 21, one lucky collector will have the rare chance of owning horological history when this very watch goes under the hammer at Christie’s New York.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis no doubt tops the Hall of Fame for stylish women watch wearers. The former First Lady and enduring fashion icon sported a chic, yellow gold Cartier Tank for most of her life – a timepiece that has been featured in many now-famous photographs.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis Tank

Gifted to Jackie from her brother-in-law Prince Stanislaw “Stas” Radziwill in 1963, the watch is engraved on the back with “Stas to Jackie 23 Feb. 63 2:05 am to 9:35 pm.” – the times referencing a special 50-mile hike undertaken in Palm Beach that year, and which was sparked by John F Kennedy.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis Tank

News that the watch even existed at all was “the most exciting email of the year,” recalls Christie’s Eric Wind, senior watch specialist and vice president. The inscription only adds to the provenance. “No one knew the story of the engraving. It was only known that [Mrs Kennedy] had this watch and of course wore it throughout her life,” says Mr Wind.

Manufactured in 1962 and sized at just 20 x 28mm, the square-shaped design with a silver dial and Roman numerals is a notably rare model. “One thing people notice is how small and elegant it actually is,” says Wind. “You would think it’s a little larger from the photographs.” 

Indeed such images are what launched the Cartier Tank into an iconic timepiece. “This was Jackie’s watch and it inspired legions of women for decades to go out and buy Cartier Tank watches for themselves,” says Mr Wind. The watch, incidentally, celebrates its 100th birthday this year. 

The winning bidder will also become the proud owner of a painting by Mrs Kennedy herself, who after receiving the watch, created an original work celebrating the 50 mile hike. Many in John F Kennedy’s inner circle embarked on the long-distance walk in 1963 – among them Stas and American heir and political advisor Chuck Spalding, both whom Mrs Kennedy depicted in her painting that she further signed with: “February 23, 1963 2:05 am to 9:35 pm / Jackie to Stas with love and admiration”.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis Tank

Painting by Mrs Kennedy

The lot has an estimate of $60,000-$120,000, and the anonymous consigner will donate a portion of proceeds to the National Endowment for the Arts. Expect bidding to be fierce but those unlucky need not despair: a host of other historical lots are up for grabs – the sale after all is titled American Icons and features exceptional watches by prominent American athletes, celebrities and society figures. 

Baseball fans will flock to a 1926 Cartier twenty-dollar coin watch ($50,000-$100,000) that sporting legend Babe Ruth gave to his friend and notorious New York gangster “Bumpy Johnson”, while Joe DiMaggio’s 1962 square shaped, white gold Audemars Piguet ($25,000-$30,000) with an engraved back is sure to pique interest too. Finally, with the current political climate driving an uptick in presidential timepieces, an unusual 1955 Patek Philippe Ref 2552 that’s attributed to 36th President Lyndon Baines Johnson is sure to appeal. The words “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You" form a semi-circle on the 35.5mm watch’s silver dial, and it’s believed these “Golden Rule” watches – two of which are now in the LBJ Museum – were ordered by the then-senator as expensive gifts. 

Dig deep. 


Rare Watches and American Icons
21 June 2017
Christie’s New York, Rockefeller Center

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Characterised by audacity and inventiveness, Cartier’s watchmaking history reflects a unique state of mind: “jeweller of kings and king of jewellers”. Its renown is bound up in the tradition of excellence to which it is heir. Cartier was a forerunner in the use of platinum in jewellery and one of the pioneers of watchmaking.

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