Watching Obama’s Watch — The First Five Years

I don’t have the data to prove it, but am confident that President Barack Obama’s watch is the most visible, most “seen” watch in the world. Three factors have combined to bring Barack Obama’s watch into the view of billions of people: President Obama appears in media throughout the world; he wears a big watch; and he often rolls up his sleeves, so that the watch catches the eyes of even those who are not usually “watch spotters.”

Obama Wearing Jorg Gray JG6500 Chronograph

Over the last five years, I have spent more time than I care to count watching Barack Obama’s watch. From the time of his emergence as a candidate in the summer of 2008, to his August 2013 summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I have studied thousands of photos of Obama, looking for any changes in his watches or any trends in his watch wearing habits.

Barack Obama Wearing Jorg Gray JG6500 Chronograph

If this fascination with Barack Obama’s watches seems unusual, I am comforted in having had good company all along the way. Over the last five years, newspapers, magazines, blogs and discussion forums around the world have told the story of Obama’s “Secret Service” watch. For the last five years, I have maintained a web-page reporting on Barack Obama’s watches.

This posting will cover the “frequently asked questions” regarding the watches worn by President Barack Obama over the last five years.

Which Watch Does Barack Obama Wear?

President Obama wears a Jorg-Gray model JG 6500 chronograph that has the logo of the United States Secret Service on the dial.

Jorg Gray JG6500 Chronograph, with Secret Service Logo Jorg Gray JG6500 Chronograph, Back

He received the watch from his Secret Service detail, in August 2007, as a present for his 46th birthday. Senator Obama, then a candidate for the Presidency, had admired the watch worn by a member of the Secret Service detail, so the agents chipped in to buy him this watch for his birthday. The watch was purchased by the agents at the employee store at United States Secret Service headquarters, in Washington, DC.

What is Jorg Gray?

At the time that Barack Obama received his watch, “Jorg Gray” was a brand offered by Logomark, a California-based supplier of promotional products. Jorg Gray customers typically ordered the watches with a company logo or name on the dial. The Logomark catalog includes thousands of corporate gifts – clocks, pens, golf products and hundreds of other promotional items. With the visibility and worldwide demand for Obama’s chronograph, Jorg Gray has become an independent watch brand, with a full line of watches available through retailers and directly from Jorg Gray.

Are Watches Like Obama’s Available to the Public?

Jorg Gray now offers the JG 6500 in a commemorative edition, with the case-back engraved with Obama’s first inauguration date, January 20, 2009. The JG 6500 chronograph is offered in 10 different versions, including smaller 37 millimeter versions, models in rose gold cases, models with Swiss movements, and a model with a carbon fiber dial.

Jorg Gray Advertisement in SkyMall

In addition to the JG6500 “Presidential” line of chronographs, Jorg Gray offers collections in the Classic, Sports and Limited Edition Categories. In essence, Jorg Gray has leveraged the popularity of Obama’s JG 6500 to build a watch brand and to develop its full line of watches and chronographs.

Does the Secret Service employee store still offer chronographs like Obama’s, with the Secret Service shield on the dial?

In the frenzy following Obama’s election and inauguration, in 2009, the employee store had stopped selling the JG6500, but the store is currently offering the watch for sale again. The Jorg Gray JG6500 chronograph, with the Secret Service shield on the dial, sells for $300.

Jorg Gray JG6500 Chronograph, Detail of Secret Service Logo

The Secret Service employees store is operated by the United States Secret Service Employee Recreation Association, and all profits from the store go to charities supported by the Association. The store is not open to the public.

We see these watches, with the Secret Service shield, offered on eBay from time to time. Are these legitimate?

The manager of the Secret Service employee store confirms that she “knows her customers”, meaning that she is selling to agents who she knows and trusts. The agents purchasing the watches know about the popularity of the watches, and may know that some have been “flipped”, but very few of these watches make it onto the market. The agents who are trusted to protect the life of the President and other national leaders can be trusted not to be “flipping” watches that are sold to them with the understanding that they are for personal use.

What about Barack Obama’s other watches?

Before he received the Jorg Gray “Secret Service” chronograph , Barack Obama’s daily wearer was a TAG Heuer Series 1500 Two-Tone Diver, Reference WD 1221.

Barack Obama Wearing TAG Heuer Series 1500 (2007) Barack Obama Wearing TAG Heuer Series 1500

The Series 1500 was introduced by TAG Heuer in 1991 and produced through 1998. When introduced the Series 1500 Two-Tone Diver sold for $625 on the bracelet or $575 on the leather strap.

It appears that even after he began wearing the Jorg Gray on a daily basis, President Obama wore the TAG Heuer on some occasions, for example, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize and made is first State of the Union address. We have not seen the TAG Heuer recently, however, leaving us to wonder whether President Obama has retired the watch or perhaps he is just another citizen who has a nice watch in a sock drawer, awaiting the battery replacement.

Don’t we also see President Obama wearing a plastic sports watch?

Yes. We have seen President Obama wearing two relatively inexpensive multi-function plastic sport watches, a Highgear Enduro Compass watch (below left) and a New Balance N7 (below right).

Highgear Enduro New Balance N7 Watch

President Obama seems to wear these sports watches on vacation, to play golf, and for more rugged activities (for example, when he inspected the damage along the Gulf Coast following the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform).

Obama Wearing New Balance Watch -- Shooting

Just as Barack Obama seems to have switched to the Jorg Gray Secret Service chronograph, and retired his TAG Heuer from daily use, so too he seems to have retired the Highgear Enduro watch after he began wearing the New Balance watch. You can see detailed information about the Highgear Enduro watch [here] and information about the New Balance watch [here].

Obama Wearing New Balance Watch -- Vacation (Detail)

When do you see the highest volume to traffic to your webpage covering Obama’s watch?

Whenever people are watching President Obama, there are searches along the lines of “Which watch does Obama wear?” The greater the visibility of Obama and his watch, the more traffic there is to the webpage.

For example, during the Presidential campaign debate in October 2012, President Obama and Mitt Romney were in a somewhat casual setting, strolling around the stage with a handheld microphone, as they answered the questions. Every time Obama strolled around the stage answering a question, traffic on the webpage jumped, as people were trying to identify his watch.  The more animated President Obama is, the more people see his watch, and the more they go to Google trying to identify it.

Barack Obama at Presidential Debate -- October 2012

Obama Romnet Debate

When Obama is in Brazil, I see increased traffic from Brazil; when he is in Germany, there is increased traffic from Germany.  Wherever he is, people are curious about his watch.

How do you find the photos of Obama and his watch?

I am looking for high resolution photos that show President Obama and his watch in interesting situations. The best sources have been Getty Images and the Flickr photostream of the White House. Of course, there are other times when no search is required, for example the magazine covers from Fall 2012 (shown below). When the weather is hot, and Obama rolls up his sleeves, the Jorg Gray “Secret Service” watch is not so difficult to spot. People will see these kinds of photos and want to learn more about the watch.

Obama on Cover of Newsweek Obama on Cover of Time Obama on Cover of Rolling Stone

Do you believe that President Obama is a “watch guy”?

As is so often the case, it’s all in the question of what we mean by a “watch guy”. Without any information directly from President Obama or those in daily contact with him, we can only guess about his attitude towards watches. If I had to describe his watch quotient, it might be as follows:

  • Barack Obama likes to wear a watch. This is not something that we should ever take for granted when so many people are relying on smart phones and other devices to determine the time.
  • He wears different watches for different occasions. While the Jorg Gray Secret Service chronograph is clearly the President’s “go to” watch, the fact that he owns at least four watches and changes them to suit the occasion seems to show that he aware of different styles.
  • The Jorg Gray seems to be President Obama’s “lucky watch”. Barack Obama received the JG6500 Secret Service watch in August 2007, at a time when he trailed Hillary Clinton in the polls, by a substantial margin (45% to 25%).

Why are people so interested in Barack Obama’s watch?

The tradition for U. S. Presidents is that they wear an inexpensive, nondescript watch while in office, such as a Timex Ironman or some other plastic sports watch. By contrast, many world leaders are known to wear expensive watches while in office, but the citizens of their countries do not seem to be critical of their choices. The Dalai Llama wears a Rolex; Putin has far more expensive tastes; Bibi Netanyahu wears a Panerai.

Obama’s choice of a watch is interesting, as his background, political leanings and social agenda suggests that he should be wearing a humble, inexpensive watch. By wearing the Jorg Gray “Secret Service” watch, Obama essentially skirts the issue of whether he will wear a luxury watch or an inexpensive watch. The Jorg Gray is a bold watch that gets a lot of attention. It looks expensive and has been mistaken for far more expensive watches. But because it is a relatively inexpensive watch that he received as a gift from his Secret Service detail, he is able to wear a bold watch without risking the sort of backlash that a luxury watch might create.

I believe that people are interested in Obama’s watch because he wears it well . . . visibly and boldly. As the first African-American President of the United States, Obama has a very different profile from our recent Presidents — he is young, handsome and athletic, and animated when he speaks.  The Jorg Gray JG6500 “Secret Service” chronograph suits President Obama well, and that’s why so many people want to see it and learn more about it, and even wear the watch themselves.  Barack Obama was elected as a populist; five years later, we see that the Jorg Gray JG6500 chronograph has become the “people’s watch”.

Barack and Michelle Obama, August 2012

Copyright, Jeffrey M. Stein, 2008 - 2017;   all rights reserved