Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Presidents And Vulcain - One For The Gipper

Just over 33 years since the last known presentation of a Vulcain Cricket to a US President past, present, or future (to Richard Nixon by the National Association of Watch and Clock Makers in 1955), Ronald Reagan visited Helsinki, Finland on his way to one final summit meeting in Moscow with the Soviet leader who was first presented with a Cricket directly from the brand just one year prior - Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

And history (at least in terms of watch collecting) was about to be made. Several US Presidents had received or owned Vulcain Crickets up to this point. But insofar as the Vulcain company records indicate, not to mention the personal recollections of Michel Ditisheim, the company had never presented a Vulcain Cricket to a US President (sitting, past or future) up to this point.
Unbeknownst to most everyone, a family jeweler in Helsinki, Finland had been working on a special surprise for future US Presidents. What would later prove to be one of the most impressive "soft power" marketing strategies in the watch business, really started out as a sincere and heartfelt thank you.

Jouko Paajanen was the owner of that family jewelry store. But he was not originally from Helsinki. His family had lived fairly close to the Finland/Soviet border when the Winter War saw a young Jouko and his family flee their homes to escape an advancing Soviet army. His son Keijo remembered it this way -
"As many watch historians and fans know, there was in the past a tradition of presenting a Vulcain Cricket to US Presidents. We wanted the great story to continue and also because our family has always wanted to have good relations with the USA. My father and his family escaped from advancing Russians (Soviets) in 1939."

At some point in the 1980s (and despite my asking everyone involved, nobody remembers exactly when), Jouko and Keijo met with Michel Ditisheim in Switzerland, with the idea of ordering a collection of Vulcain Crickets to present to US Presidents visiting Helsinki. There was but one small problem - the Vulcain company was dormant. But the Cricket was still alive, and chirping - as the Thommen Revue Cricket.

Courtesy of Paajanen Jewelers
This was, essentially, the same watch but under a new livery. So a deal was struck, and Mr. Ditisheim agreed to create a special series of Crickets, but with a dial and case back indicating Vulcain. This made sense for everyone involved. The Paajanens had been loyal customers of Vulcain, and later of Revue Thommen. More than a business relationship, there was a genuine friendship between the two families.

The Paajanens ordered 100 pieces, in stainless steel, and stainless steel with gold plating. The gold plated models would be presented to Presidential visitors, and the balance would be sold exclusively by the Paajanens in their store. And while I have stated in the past that this was solely the effort of idea of the Paajanen, I have learned that in fact that while the Paajanen's did indeed order and pay for 100 pieces, none of it would have been possible without the willingness of Michel Ditisheim to partner with them on a project that would not truly benefit him or Revue Thommen as the watches bore the name Vulcain on the dial and case backs, and were only sold in Helsinki, Finland. But having spent some time with Mr. Ditisheim, I have come to learn that at heart, he is a bit of a romantic. And having spent some time in La Chaux-de-Fonds as well as the new Vulcain HQ in Le Locle, it is abundantly clear that there would be no Vulcain as it is today without the contributions made by the Ditisheims, and Michel Ditisheim in particular.

But back to 1988 -
A customer of the Paajanen's had connections of some sort at the US embassy, and through protracted arrangements, it was agreed that a Vulcain Cricket would be delivered. But nothing is ever that simple. The watch was delivered to the embassy a full week in advance, but it remained unknown up until the very last minute as to whether or not the watch would find its way to President Reagan when he visited. 

Spoiler Alert -

Courtesy of the Paajanen Family

And so, nearly 4 decades later, the Cricket was once again alive and well and chirping on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tune in next time, when the Cricket hops to the wrist of a high school kid who instead of heading to the Ivy League, opted to enlist as a Naval Aviator following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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