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Elvis Presley wasn’t just the king of rock ‘n’ roll — he was one of the kings of watch and jewelry collecting back in the day. There is hardly a photo of the legend without something gold, diamond or ticking adorning his body — from the Omegas of his heartthrob days to the modernist 18-karat gold Rolex King Midas of the glitzy 1970s Elvis. But the singer wasn’t a collector in today’s sense of appreciating horology. Says Jerry Schilling, a close confidant and author of Me and a Guy Named Elvis, Presley’s love of watches really was just fashion sense at the time. “I think he considered watches more or less as a piece of jewelry; it was more of a dressy thing than really knowing what time it was. He had people to tell him when to be where.”
Presley, who purchased most of his watches through now-defunct jewelers in Memphis and Los Angeles, is likely to have owned hundreds. “Elvis loved jewelry, including fine watches,” remembers actress-songwriter Linda Thompson, the King’s partner from 1972 to 1976 (the singer died in 1977). “The first time I met him, at the Memphian theater, he used the diamond-encrusted watch he was wearing to start a conversation with me. It was a great icebreaker!” Presley also frequently gave watches as gifts. “He was so generous,” adds Thompson. “If someone said, ‘Hey, I love that watch,’ Elvis would likely take it off and give it to the person.”
Rolex no longer makes the King Midas, but two watches Presley wore continue to be in production. During his time in the Army from 1958 to 1960, he wore an Omega Constellation Calendar with sweep seconds and date that was chronometer-certified for accuracy. Presley’s was stainless steel plated in pink gold. The watch — which the singer later gifted to a close friend — was sold at an Antiquorum auction in December 2014 for $37,500. (Current iterations of the Omega Constellation start at $2,700.) He later owned a digital Omega, the groundbreaking “Time Computer,” the first watch to sport an LED display. “He was the first guy I knew who had a digital wristwatch,” recalls Schilling.
However, it is the futuristic, triangular Hamilton Ventura that most aficionados associate with the King’s wrist. “That was one of his favorites,” says Schilling. Presley was given one to wear in 1961’s Blue Hawaii as product placement, and he was so taken with the timepiece (the world’s first electric wristwatch) that he bought a second one in white gold and gave Venturas as gifts. This year, Hamilton, now part of the Swatch Group, debuted a special Ventura, the Elvis80. Endorsed by the singer’s estate, the mechanical timepiece celebrates what would have been Elvis’ 80th birthday with, natch, an 80-hour power reserve.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s fourth annual Watch Issue.
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