The world of horology is one filled with endless stories and milestones — from the watches that have topped the highest mountains to those that were first in flight or first in space, these histories are often what draw so many into the hobby of collecting and learning about watches. Furthermore, they continue to inflame the passions of so many enthusiasts, from all ages and all walks of life, to continue investing time and money in our peculiar horological community.
Watches have accompanied humanity over the past 100 years to the highest skies, to the depths of the ocean, and through the wars and other events that have come to shape our modern world. The common threads in these timepieces’ stories, besides the fantastic narratives of trial and triumph, are the historical figures whose wrists they adorned. Edmund Hillary wore the Rolex Explorer I while becoming the first to the top of Mt. Everest, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team wore Rolex Submariners and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms as they descended to the bottom of the sea, and Alberto Santos-Dumont wore a Cartier during some of mankind’s very first flights. From divers to climbers to race car drivers, astronauts, and cosmonauts—watches have accompanied mankind into some of the greatest adventures we have yet to see.
Of all these ground-breakers, few leaders in the modern era have been as well-chronicled as past presidents of the United States. To many across the nation and to the world, presidents have represented deeply cherished values, and have often been looked to for leadership and guidance. We know so much about our most notable presidents that it is rare that will you find a watch aficionado who didn’t know, for example, that John F. Kennedy often wore an Omega, that President Obama has worn an inexpensive Jorg Gray watch, and that Bill Clinton has, frankly, one of the best watch collections in the world — notwithstanding the beater ‘90s Timex he wore during his time in office.
But even in a world of so many watch options, a single timepiece has stood above the rest, to be worn by nearly every president for almost 70 years. No, not the Rolex Day-Date, but instead the famed alarm watch, the Vulcain Cricket.
The first Cricket, developed in 1947, became a hit among consumers of the time looking for a reminder mechanism before the era of pagers, cell phones, and online calendars. Among these men, and the first president to wear the piece, was Harry S. Truman. After Truman’s term, the watch was also spotted on the wrists of Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, with every successive president since LBJ being gifted the watch by Vulcain as a show of good faith between Swiss Manufacturing and American leadership. Today’s Cricket series hosts a widely diversified portfolio, from chronographs to moon-phases, but still at the forefront, representing the history of the brand, is the 50s Presidents’ Watch, inspired by the presidential pieces of the 1950s which originally brought this watch to fame.
The 50s Presidents Watch is available in a few different dial variations, but we’ll be focusing on the References 400150A76.BAL127 (beige dial) and 400150A05.BAL100 (black dial). The watch has a 42-mm steel case with a sapphire caseback showcasing the in-house, manually-wound Caliber V-40. The movement has an approximately 52-hour power reserve, with its most distinctive function being the 20-second alarm activated via the pusher at 2 o’clock. On both the textured beige and matte black dial is a slightly askew alarm subdial indicator towards the bottom right sector, with a corresponding running seconds subdial parallel to it in the bottom left. While the black dial uses white-gold indices and the beige uses rose-gold, each hosts applied stick hour markers (with the exceptions of the 12 and 6 o’clock hours, marked by elongated Arabic numerals). Sweeping over the watch’s face are two dauphine-style hour and minute hands with luminescent accents, with the corporate Vulcain logo towards the 12 o’clock mark, and “Cricket” towards the bottom of the dial. Both watches are available on Vulcain’s online shop, as well as at various dealers around the world, for $6,950.
While the ‘50s Presidents’ Watch series isn’t based on any specific reference, its design codes are drawn from various pieces over the course of the 1950s. Most notable is the use of the manually-wound, alarm-equipped Caliber V-40, with the activation switch at the 2 o’clock position. Many other Crickets in Vulcain’s modern collection now use automatic movements, with some going so far to add a variety of other complications outside of the trademark alarm, so it is nice to see the tradition continued here, with both the function and the manually-wound nature of the movement. More vintage inspiration is evident in the watch’s dauphine hands and elongated numerals, both of which are features found commonly on vintage Crickets. While past variations may have not used the middle luminescence on the hands, and have tended to use these stylized numerals all around the dial, rather than at just the 12 and 6 o’clock positions, it is still a nice modern touchstone to some of the series’ most distinctive features.
In contrast, the differences between the modern Cricket flagship and vintage 1950s variations in the series are quite stark. Most vintage variations used a gold or silver case as compared to the modern’s steel, most vintage variations tended to have much smaller cases compared to the contemporary 42-mm, and many of the dial features—most notably the placement of the running seconds and alarm subdial — have only appeared within the series upon the arrival of this reference.
While the physical differences between the modern Cricket and its vintage forbearers might seem somewhat significant, the overall ethos behind the piece has remained the same over time. With its focus on horological luxury, the alarm function, and its distinctiveness in the market, the modern Vulcain Cricket has made a contemporary design push with a historical precedent. For Vulcain, the combination of historical influences and a desire to continue pushing the boundary has been the ideology from the first beginnings of the Cricket series. At least partially, this is what helped initially attract the piece to U.S. presidents, leading to the fame that has accompanied it since the times of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, and more. While maybe not the direct historical re-creation some enthusiasts long for, it is a piece that carries on the traditions of the brand, and one that may continue to keep the famed Cricket ringing for many years to come.
For our most recent article, in which I look at the Zenith’s most recent historical re-creation, the Heritage Cronometro Tipo CP-2, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.