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French president appears to remove expensive watch during live TV debate

By Sarah May on
 March 26, 2023

As protests continue to engulf his country over his unpopular retirement benefit reforms, President Emmanuel Macron has been caught in a firestorm over a video in which he appears to clandestinely remove an expensive watch in the middle of a televised debate, presumably to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, as the U.K. Independent reports.

Viewers who were under the impression that they caught Macron, 45, in a sneaky move meant to deflect potential criticism swiftly slammed the nation's leader for embarrassingly living up to his supposed reputation as “president of the rich.”

Presidential sleight of hand?

During the television appearance at issue, Macron was speaking and gesturing in a normal fashion, with his watch clearly visible, and then at some point during the proceedings, he brought both hands beneath the table in front of him.

Once his hands reemerged, the watch he had been sporting just minutes prior had mysteriously disappeared. WATCH:

Eagle-eyed viewers took the opportunity to slam what appeared to them to be a sneaky move designed to hide his luxury timepiece – which some claimed was worth the equivalent of roughly $86,000 – from a citizenry outraged by his determination to move forward with plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Critics weigh in

According to the Daily Mail, there was no shortage of commentary from those who were aghast by Macron's watch maneuver.

One wry and historically minded viewer mused that the timepiece might “remind the French what they did to the bourgeoisie in the last revolution.”

Member of Parliament Clémence Guetté railed, “Just as he is talking about 'minimum wage workers' who have never had such high purchasing power, he discreetly removes his pretty luxury watch.”

Those already skeptical of Macron's recent moves suggested that as a result of the disappearing act with his watch, the “president of the rich has never lived up to his name so well.”

More to the story

Though the optics of the “now-you-see-it-now-you-don't” wristwatch were readily exploitable by Macron's foes, the Elysee Palace quickly provided clarification about what actually occurred during the televised debate.

Representatives for Macron indicated that did not take off the watch “in order to hide it,” but rather “because it was clinking against the table,” something which can indeed be heard in widely circulated video clips of the program.

Macron's camp further contended that online estimates placing the watch's value at the equivalent of more than $86,000 was “a perfect example of fake news,” noting that he was actually wearing a Bell & Ross model that generally runs about $3600 before the addition of the presidency's coat of arms included on Macron's version.

While still quite far from a bargain timepiece, Macron's watch was apparently nowhere near the embodiment of conspicuous consumption that his most vociferous detractors attempted to claim.

“Explosives on an inferno”

The kerfuffle over Macron's watch – whether legitimate or not – was just the latest flashpoint in ongoing protests that have gripped France as a result of pension reforms, with over 1 million people reportedly demonstrating on Thursday alone, according to NPR.

Widespread strikes have closed schools, upended travel, and halted traffic in refineries as well as ports, and street battles have resulted in significant destruction of property, the outlet added, and the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles were forced to remain closed during Thursday's unrest.

Police in Paris attempting to maintain law and order amid the protests were hit with fireworks, Molotov cocktails, and other foreign objects, prompting the use of tear gas to disperse the crowds, while violence in the town of Lorient resulted in the local police station being set ablaze and its windows smashed.

Putting the issue of the president's watch aside, Socialist Party Secretary Olivier Faure said the aforementioned debate program appearance revealed Macron to be in “absolute denial” about the true level of resistance he faces, adding that his comments had “put even more explosives on an inferno that is already ablaze,” and with more demonstrations planned for next week, things may get much worse in France before they get better.