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Staggering price for watch from US ‘time of style and subtlety’

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The watch had been presented to former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy by her brother-in-law, Prince Stanislaw “Stas” Radziwill, in 1963.

The sale of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Cartier Tank watch for almost $380000 (about R4.7million at current exchange rates) is regarded as a personal highlight of 2017 by Christie’s International head of watches, John Reardon.

Passion for collecting part of the history of America’s now long-lost Camelot-era pushed this iconic lot to six times its relatively low estimate when it was sold by Christie’s in New York in June.

Reardon says: “In the world of auctions, you never know what adventure is about to begin when the phone rings. This one started with a client claiming to own a Cartier Tank watch that once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Despite my initial scepticism, when I saw it first-hand I was convinced.”

The watch had been presented to the former US First Lady by her brother-in-law, Prince Stanislaw “Stas” Radziwill, in 1963. The gift commemorated a hike the pair completed with friends in Palm Beach as part of an initiative set up by her husband, President John F Kennedy, to persuade American citizens to become more active.

The Cartier watch, below, which once belonging to US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and, above, the inscription on it by Stas Radziwill.

On the reverse side, it bears an inscription in Stas’s handwriting that reads: “Stas to Jackie, 23 Feb. 1963. 2.05am to 9.35pm”, detailing the time it had taken to complete the 80km walk (including steak, champagne and cigarette breaks) in a respectable 19 hours and 30 minutes. Jackie wore the watch for decades.

Along with the watch, the lot now etched in Reardon’s memory also included a painting Jackie had made of Radziwill and JFK’s friend, Chuck Spalding, also with a handwritten dedication.

“Whether in Hong Kong or Geneva, people remember the Kennedy family with fondness and respect. In fact, it was difficult to say goodbye to such an iconic piece – a poignant reminder of an era when style, grace and subtlety ruled the day,” Reardon says.

The watch was the grand finale of a 250-lot sale on June 21 last year in New York. There were almost a dozen telephone bidders anxious for the chance to own it, but one by one they relinquished as the price soared past the $60000-$120000 estimate, until the hammer fell and the watch was eventually sold for a staggering $379500. A typical Cartier Tank watch from the era today costs in the region of $6000 to $10000.

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