Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ mythical watch

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ mythical watch

On the eve of Christie’s epic Rare Watches and American Icons sale, we explore the emotions the potential buyer must be going through. Eric Wind (Vice President, Senior Specialist) also helps us uncover the mystique behind this special Cartier Tank.

Picture yourself aboard a yacht off the coast of Capri. You shield your eyes as the sun comes into full view off the shoreline. Then you look down at your watch as you do most days, but this time is very different. The watch on your wrist is a Cartier Tank once owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and today is another stop on its journey from manufacture, to Jackie’s wrist, to exotic destinations around the world, and finally to Christie’s where you confidentially raised your paddle on a potentially seven-figure hammer price. This timepiece has an incredible story and now you are a part of its wild ride!

We watch lovers all have a grail watch, one that’s just out of reach because of expense or rarity, but a timepiece that still makes one consider selling off all of one’s material possessions to own. And most fashion-conscious people have a style spirit guide: An iconic celebrity with impeccable taste that we can only hope to emulate.

Cartier Tank Jackie Onassis

For me, personally, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is my style guru and my grail has always been her Cartier Tank. As the young wife of President Jack Kennedy, her couture dresses, pillbox hats and pearls made her look like American royalty (in fact, this era is also known as Camelot). Later, in the 70s, her confident, casual combinations of camel-colored trench coats, Hermès scarves, Gucci hobo bags and bug-eyed sunglasses became the uniform for the international jet set.

And through each era, one thing remained constant — her signature Cartier Tank watch.

In her lifetime, Kennedy Onassis was the most photographed woman alive. The original street style star. “This is arguably the most iconic women's watch in the world. I believe that it is quite possible Cartier has sold over $1 billion of watches as a result of her famously wearing this Tank throughout her life, from 1963 to her passing in 1994.” Says Wind.

And this is the watch she wore in the White House. This is the watch she wore while vacationing in the Mediterranean with her second husband Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis.

Cartier Tank Jackie Onassis

When you touch the watch, you feel such a personal connection to Kennedy Onassis

It’s easy to imagine that by owning an object that belonged to such a legend, a little bit of that magic might rub off on you. When you touch the watch, you feel such a personal connection to Kennedy Onassis, that it’s easy to think that this timepiece already belongs to you, to be worn to important meetings and month-long visits to your Hyannis Port retreat.

So how did such a fascinating watch get from Jackie O’s wrist to auction and eventually the lucky owner? A quick recap is in order; this Tank was presented to Kennedy Onassis in 1963. It was a gift from her brother-in-law Prince Stanislaw “Stas” Radziwill (who was married to her sister, Lee) and is engraved: "Stas to Jackie 23 Feb. 63 2:05 AM to 9:35 PM” on the case back).

The fact that the piece has never appeared at auction before makes it extra alluring.

Wind explains that the piece remained in the family rather than going to the famous Sotheby's auction of her estate. One fateful day, Wind received an e-mail from a colleague who was in touch with the owner via a friend and stated that the owner may be interested in selling it and would like an auction estimate. “It was one of the most exciting e-mails I have received at Christie's. I could hardly believe it.” Wind says, “I had been tracking the watches of U.S. Presidents for many years and I had unsuccessfully tried to find this Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Tank and was left wondering where it was.”

Cartier Tank Jackie Onassis

The fact that the piece has never appeared at auction before makes it extra alluring. There is only one degree of separation between Kennedy Onassis and the determined soul who will take home this prize. Notably, the lot also comes with an original painting by Onassis Kennedy which was presented to Prince Radziwell. The effect is incredibly charming.

I can’t remember a time when Kennedy Onassis effortless style did not fascinate me

And then there are the little imperfections in the watch that illustrate that Jackie O actually used it. A lot. You can see how the edges of the 18k gold case have softened with use over the years. The dial is a little discolored around the edges with age. It’s not hard to speculate that maybe Kennedy Onassis dinged that case while wearing the piece on a fox hunt. Or that the dial became discolored from smoking cigarettes at fabulously chic nightspots like 21. My favorite fantasy involves shopping in Capri with Jackie O, and it ends with her slipping the watch off her wrist and strapping it to mine.

Cartier Tank Jackie Onassis

Which brings me back to me and why this watch is my grail. I can’t remember a time when Kennedy Onassis effortless style did not fascinate me. My first vintage timepiece — a mechanical Timex that was a clear homage to the Cartier tank — also ignited my passion for watch collecting. Two of my favorite things have come together in one watch. That’s got to make it worth the $60,000 estimate, right?

The public has been lining up at the auction house to spend even a few seconds with Jackie O’s spirit.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in having such fervor for the Kennedy Onassis Cartier Tank. The public has been lining up at the auction house to spend even a few seconds with Jackie O’s spirit. And all this interest will likely propel the final hammer price into the six digits. We spoke to Wind after one of the previews to get his read on the room at Christie’s.

“It is a watch that really evokes strong emotion in many of the people that have been coming to see it,” says Wind. “What has been very special is seeing so many women come to the auction preview specifically to see and hold this watch. It is not something I have seen previously in my over two years working at Christie's.”

Cartier Tank Jackie Onassis

Who wouldn’t want to hold this timepiece up to their ear and hear it tell its stories?

These gestures also prove that objects can possess a lot of meaning. In fact, the Kennedy Onassis Cartier Tank’s greatest power is that it shows how one woman and the society around her changed dramatically over decades. It keeps time and it serves as a timeline. Who wouldn’t want to hold this timepiece up to their ear and hear it tell its stories?

The watch is coming to auction at Christie’s New York Rare Watches and American Icons sale on June 21.