How much value does celebrity appeal add to jewelry and watches? It depends. Case in point: seven jewels and two watches were placed on auction on January 7 along with approximately 120 other items. In terms of material they are unremarkable, low-karat gold (10k and 14k) set with diamonds and gems with seemingly little significance. The designs also are unconventional. Yet they commanded significant prices. That’s because these jewels were either owned or gifted by none other than Elvis Presley. Yes, you guessed it, this post is about Elvis jewelry.
Presley, who died in 1977, is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. This type of fame adds value to a jewel or timepiece, says Jeff Marren, consignment director of Graceland Auctions, which hosted the recent sale of Elvis memorabilia.
“He’s a seminal figure in 20th century music and that seems to be attributed to his staying power,” Marren said prior to the auction. “The attachment to Elvis is the vast majority of the value and it’s always a multiple of the appraised value. It’s not exponential but certainly a multiple.”
The Story Behind Elvis’ “TCB” Necklace
Marren says this also adds to the value of a piece. For example, one item of Elvis jewelry that sold was a 14k pendant necklace featuring the letters “TCB” above a lightning bolt. The necklace was gifted by Presley to his bodyguard Sam Thompson and the brother of Elvis’ girlfriend Linda Thompson. TCB, an acronym for “Taking Care of Business,” with the lightning bolt was designed by Presley and his wife Priscilla and became the unofficial logo for the Presley operation. The necklaces were given by Elvis to his employees and personal friends.
The TCB logo carries a lot of weight, especially when gifted to a close friend of his and at a famous setting like a show and movie set,” Marren says. “The story’s always a part of the value.”
The story may not have resonated as anticipated to those who collect Elvis jewelry and memorabilia as the item sold for $9,500, below its estimate of $12,000 – $15,000.
Elvis Presley Watches Disappoint at Auction
In fact, several items sold below their low estimate and a gold Baume & Mercier watch gifted by Presley in 1969 to Armond Morales, a member of the The Imperials Christian music group, did not meet its reserve. Its estimate was $10,000 – $15,000.
This underscores the point that unlike the Elvis jewelry auction, most of the major auction houses do not base their estimates on celebrity appeal. They mostly base estimates on the “intrinsic” value of a piece.
Elvis Presley Watches Disappoint at Auction; Elvis’ Rings Perform Well
Elvis memorabilia collectors know that “The King” loved watches. Look at his wrist in any of the many photos of him, and you’ll probably spot one of the many famous timepieces that helped to define his signature style.
Among the many Elvis Presley watches seen in photos were two that made their way to auction, where anticipation ran high. After all, one of the most famous Elvis watches, a circa 1960 black dial Omega Constellation, sold for a record $42,000 when it was auctioned off in 2012.
Despite hopes that these Elvis watches would perform well, certain items sold below their low estimate and a gold Baume & Mercier watch gifted by Presley in 1969 to Armond Morales, a member of the The Imperials Christian music group, did not meet its reserve. Its estimate was $10,000 – $15,000. Since this famous Elvis watch did not sell, it is likely to make its way back to auction again in the future.
Another of Elvis’ watches, a 1973 Gold Omega TC1 digital, sold for $3,000, which was lower than its estimated price of $4,000 – $6,000. Like the 1960 Omega Constellation Elvis watch mentioned earlier, this one was engraved as a gift to Charlie Hodge from Elvis Presley. The two were lifelong friends who were drafted into the army together, so it’s not surprising that Hodge was the recipient of multiple Elvis Presley watches.
Elvis’ rings performed better than the watches. A 1969/70 gold, diamond, and black sapphire ring known as the “Number 10” sold for $10,000. This unique piece features an open front and a very masculine square band. The “1” is a slender rectangle with three diamonds that weigh just .08 carats apiece. The “0” is a black cabochon star sapphire that weighs approximately 2.5 carats. It is surrounded by 13 .06 carat diamonds.
A second Elvis Presley ring known as the “Aztec” sold for $13,000. This piece contains an opaque green chrysoberyl calcite cabochon, which accents a protruding, Aztec-inspired jaguar head with green tourmaline eyes. Like other Elvis jewelry such as his diamond owl ring, this piece is highly stylized, with whimsical details that make it unique.
Some Celebrities do Better than Others at Auction
Unlike the Elvis jewelry auction, most of the major auction houses do not base their estimates on celebrity appeal. They mostly base estimates on the “intrinsic” value of a piece.
This was famously noted following the two-day Elizabeth Taylor auction in 2011, which set numerous records, including, at the time, being the most valuable jewelry sale in auction history, as opposed to the Elvis jewelry auction.
The estimates were almost laughably low as final sale prices reached rarified heights. After the opening night in which seven records were set, Francois Curiel of Christie’s was asked why the actual prices for the jewels were so far above the estimates.
“We wanted to let the market decide what premium to pay over the value of the stones or the value of the jewels,” he said.
The market decided.