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.
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.