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You can’t envision a much cooler moment than Elvis Presley sauntering into a cocktail lounge at the Sahara in early-1960s Las Vegas: Picture him taking a seat next to a stranger, who notices the flash of diamonds on the wrist of the king of rock ‘n’ roll. “I like your watch,” the stranger says. Noticing that the guy who broached the subject is also wearing an expensive timepiece, Elvis responds: “I like your watch — want to trade?”
That scenario happened more often than you might think. Now, one of the watches Presley gave away is about to take the spotlight: A vintage Omega, purchased by RCA Records in 1961 at Tiffany & Co., will hit the auction block May 12 at Phillips in Geneva. And it’s not just any watch, it’s a milestone piece. RCA execs presented the watch to their most valuable artist to celebrate the sale of 75 million Elvis Presley records. The case back’s engraving commemorates the event: “To Elvis, 75 Million Records, RCA Victor, 12-25-60” (the record company pinpointed Christmas 1960 as the day the record-breaking sales figure was achieved).
“This was a big moment in Elvis’ life, and this watch celebrates that,” says Paul Boutros, senior vp and head of watches for the Americas for Phillips. “He had just been discharged from the Army, which had drafted him at the peak of his career, and even though he was out of the limelight, his records were still selling like crazy. He crossed the 75-million mark and was being welcomed back to record more music and make more movies. This is the watch that documents that fascinating moment in time.”
RCA spared no expense, it seems, in selecting this particular trophy: The 33-millimeter manual watch is crafted in 18-karat white gold, with 44 round brilliant diamonds embellishing its bezel. The dial is also marked “Tiffany & Co.” under its Omega logo. (For watch nerds, the piece’s movement is also stamped with “OXG,” Omega’s U.S. import code, for additional proof of its authenticity.)
“It’s a very nice, very slim dress watch that’s well-suited to its period,” Boutros notes. “I would consider it the most elegant of all his watches that we’ve come across in our research.”
The watch makes its public debut this weekend at Watches & Wonders, a multi-brand event for watch aficionados taking place throughout Miami’s Design District. Phillips is displaying the piece, alongside other highlights from the upcoming Geneva auction, Friday through Sunday at the Design District’s Opera Gallery.
The watch is being consigned by the nephew of the man who indeed traded his Hamilton timepiece for Presley’s Omega in that Sahara cocktail lounge. “The watch has hardly been worn over the years; it’s in excellent condition and, given the crispness of the engravings on the case back, doesn’t look like it’s been polished,” says Boutros, adding that the consignor approached Phillips following the success of October’s Paul Newman Daytona auction. “He’d been sitting on the watch for years, and after reading about the record-breaking result of that auction, he got in touch with us. He’d spoken with other houses previously, but he felt they didn’t understand the watch’s importance.”
Phillips has set an auction estimate of $50,000 to $100,000 for the piece, which will come with a certificate of authenticity from the Elvis Presley Museum at Graceland and a 1982 Dave Marsh book, simply titled Elvis, which includes images of Presley wearing the timepiece.
Ultimately, while Boutros estimates that Presley owned — and traded — perhaps hundreds of watches over the years, it’s not likely there’s another sitting in a drawer that will draw the same interest. “This is the most historically significant one ever to appear on the market,” he says. “When you fold in its clear provenance and its great background story, it became a very compelling piece for us to sell. We love watches with great stories.”
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