Trump to Get Inaugural Timepiece From Ailing Swiss Watchmaker

  • Producer of watches for U.S. presidents cuts half its staff
  • President-elect’s traditional wristwatch is still in the works

Following a tradition that began with Harry Truman, President-elect Donald Trump will receive a mechanical Swiss-made timepiece for his inauguration, even as the producer of the watch cuts more than half of its staff to deal with an industry downturn.

Almost every U.S. president has received a Vulcain Cricket as a gift ever since Truman purchased a gold version of the mechanical alarm watch while living in the White House, according to the watchmaker. Whether the tradition ends after Trump remains to be seen. Vulcain is cutting seven of its 12 positions as the luxury watch industry suffers a slump in demand.

Vulcain Cricket watch

Photographer: Clemens Bilan/Getty Images

“We’re small and we’re struggling as we also compete with the big players who have more brand recognition,” Daniel Wechsler, Vulcain’s vice president of sales and marketing, said by phone, confirming the job losses. “Without much fat on the ribs to weather such times, smaller brands take a bigger hit.”

Vulcain, best known for the president’s watch, illustrates the turmoil in the Swiss watch industry, which is in its longest slump in more than two decades. Swiss watchmakers are backtracking after the country exported more than 500 million timepieces during that period. Brands like Cartier and Vacheron Constantin have been cutting jobs and repurchasing inventory as some models fail to sell.

Cricket Sound

Vulcain, founded in 1858, produced the first wristwatch with a reliable mechanical alarm in 1947. The Cricket name came from the shrill metallic sound it makes, and the watch sells for about 7,000 francs ($6,970). The brand, which was relaunched in 2002 after disappearing in the 1980s, makes about 3,000 watches a year. Since 2009, the watchmaker has been owned by the Al-Rayes family of Saudi Arabia.

Both Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson could be seen wearing their Crickets frequently while in office. The Secret Service occasionally mistook Truman’s alarm for a bomb, according to the watchmaker.

Trump may be the first recipient of a watch from Vulcain who already sold a line of timepieces. His signature line was available at U.S. department store Macy’s about a decade ago.

Arcinfo, a local Swiss news website, reported Vulcain’s job cuts earlier and said the company may be for sale. Vulcain declined to comment on any possible change in ownership.

Wechsler said he doesn’t know the rules on the value of gifts that U.S. commander-in-chiefs are allowed to receive, but Vulcain’s presents have never been returned. Instead, Vulcain’s headquarters, nestled in the Jura mountain town of Le Locle, features an exhibit of thank-you notes and photos from U.S. presidents.

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