In early March 1960, Elvis Presley returned to the United States after serving two years in the army. Like most southerners who had done stints in the army, he returned to doing what he had been doing before their departure. Elvis once said: “All I do is sing and dance a little.” So, that’s what he did.
On March 20 of the same year, Elvis returned to RCA’s Nashville recording studio to cut tracks for what would become his tenth studio album titled “Elvis Is Back!”. Alongside the album tracks, Elvis also recorded three singles: “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”. All three would swiftly climb to number one with the latter two becoming two of his all-time greats. By the end of the year, record sales had crossed the 75 million mark, and Elvis had become a global phenomenon.
To put this achievement into context, one has to only look back at the early days of Elvis’ attempts at becoming a recording artist. The southern United States in the 1950s was a deeply segregated society, and this applied to music as well. Rock-and-roll was in its infancy, born from a fusion of Rhythm-and-blues and country music. Its pioneers were black men such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Rock-and-roll was, therefore, black man’s music. As a result of this tag, radio stations catering to white audiences would not play Rock-and-roll music even though it was growing in popularity among young whites.
Elvis walking into Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, in August 1953, was a crossing of paths that seemed destined to happen. From his high-school performances to his early auditions, Elvis was told that his singing voice and his choice of music were of little value. Sam Philips, the founder of Sun Records, was a great believer in the future of Rock-and-roll, but he was also pragmatic enough to know that to break barriers he needed a white equivalent of Chuck Berry or Little Richard. Elvis was the complete package he had been waiting for although it took a while for Elvis’ potential to be realised. When it eventually did, RCA Victor came calling and paid what was then an astronomical amount of $35,000 for Presley’s recording contract.
Sam Philips’ conviction about Rock-and-roll and other “black” genres of music proved correct. The phenomenal success of Elvis Presley brought Rock-and-roll into the mainstream and simultaneously opened the door for black artists to have their music played to white audiences on radio and television. Elvis Presley crossing the 75 million mark, therefore, is not just a personal milestone given that it was achieved after a two-year break; it was also a milestone on a journey that helped change the musical and social landscape by fracturing racial segregation in America and beyond.
At the charity luncheon and concert organised by RCA Victory in February 1961, to celebrate the milestone, Elvis was presented with a commemorative plaque and an Omega watch. They probably chose an Omega because Presley is known to have worn several Omega watches during his career, including a Seamaster during his time in the US Army.
A watch made by Omega, retailed by Tiffany & Co, featuring 44 brilliant cut diamonds and silvered ivory dial which was presented to the King of Rock-and-roll is now at home at the Omega museum for a princely sum of $1.8 million
The Omega presented by RCA was a 33 mm 18-karat white gold and diamond wristwatch, purchased by them at Tiffany & Co. It features 44 brilliant cut diamonds surrounding the bezel, and an elegant silvered ivory dial with a small-seconds sub-dial. The dial contains no numerals, only markers, with a small seconds’ markers on the subsidiary dial at 6 o’clock. It bears the ‘Tiffany & Co.’ signature under the Omega signature and applied logo. The timepiece houses a manually-wound OMEGA calibre 510. The perfectly preserved case back inscription reads: “To Elvis 75 Million Records RCA Victor 12-25-60.
The provenance of this one-of-a-kind timepiece is confirmed by a certificate of authenticity from Jimmy Velvet, the Founder/CEO of the Elvis Presley Museum as well as document supplied by the parts’ manufacturers. There are even photos of Presley wearing the watch at the concert after the presentation.
Presley had a habit of giving away or exchanging watches if someone expressed admiration for them. Something similar happened with the watch in question. Elvis was apparently sitting in a restaurant when a man approached him and said, “nice watch.” Elvis liked the diamond-set Hamilton the man was wearing and offered to trade. It was consigned to the Geneva Watch Auction: Seven, organised by Phillips, by the unidentified lucky man’s nephew.
It was estimated to sell for between CFH 50,000 and 100,000, but after a lengthy and competitive round of bidding, the Omega Museum in Biel/Bienne became the proud new owner after paying the highest price ever for an Omega at CHF 1.5 million.
The Omega that left home for America, and adorned with diamonds at Tiffany’s, and which graced the wrist of a man who changed the course of musical history has now made history in returning home.