Of all the swagger and style that defined Elvis Presley – the spinning hips, the clothes, the cars, the grin of all the grin, that hair! — his collection of watches probably didn’t spark dizzying screams in late 1950s teens.
But ‘Elvis’, a new biopic about the singer’s life, celebrates it all. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (with, it is believed, the same panache that virtually turned the music and dancing into characters in films like “Moulin Rouge!” and “Strictly Ballroom”), the film is said to be a tribute to a humble man. whose love of collecting and trading watches was often overlooked during his all-too-short 42 years.
“Watches were a symbol of his success and a big part of his story, and he collected more valuable watches as his career progressed,” Catherine Martin, the four-time Oscar-winning costume and production designer for the film, said in a telephone interview from her. home in her native Australia. “They were a status symbol, and yet Elvis traded and gave away watches. He traded watches with strangers whose watches he admired. It was crazy.”
Ms Martin, who is also the film producer and married to Mr Luhrmann, said she saw Presley’s love of watches as essential to telling his story: the way he wore, collected and traded watches reflects the image that he created for himself. like ‘the king’, but mixed with his folk roots.
“Elvis was an absolutely iconoclastic dresser and he was always decorating watches,” said Ms. Martin. “He has constantly reinvented himself throughout his career. We don’t find him shocking now, but in the ’50s it was like being a member of the Sex Pistols.”
That radical transformation of Presley, played by Austin Butler in the film, is a big part of the storyline for “Elvis,” including his tumultuous relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who discovered the singer in 1955.
Watches are an ever-present, if not obvious, element in many of the movie scenes, Ms. Martin said, especially since Presley always thought carefully about how he wore watches and applied accessories.
“Even in the 1968 TV special, in his black leather outfit, he had a custom leather wristband made for a Bulova Accutron Astronaut,” she said, referring to Presley’s famous televised comeback concert. “Many of the watches he wore were about technological style advancement. He was always interested in what the latest watches were.”
The watch that started it all was one he owned the moment he hit it big: the triangular Hamilton Ventura, created by American industrial designer Robert Arbib and known as the world’s first battery-powered watch. It became a signature for Presley — who appeared in a gold version in his 1961 film “Blue Hawaii” — and for the watch company, which reintroduced the “Elvis watch” in 2015 to mark what would have been his 80th birthday. (It was also featured in all four “Men in Black” movies.)
“It just so happened that we didn’t get to the ‘Elvis watch’ because it’s such an iconic watch and so well known that we didn’t want it to be an important part of the story,” Ms Martin said. “There is so much more to tell in 40 years. I don’t want to deny that this watch was super important in the Elvis story, but watches in general were.”
An example is the Omega Constellation he wore when he was stationed in Germany with the US Army from 1958 to 1960. Made of rose gold with a black “sniper” dial, it was one of the originals in the Constellation line. Presley later gave it to Charlie Hodge, a friend and fellow musician.
Antiquorum auctioned the timepiece in June 2012, expecting it to fetch $10,000 to $20,000; it sold for $52,500.
And there was a second Omega Constellation, given to Presley in 1961 by his record company, RCA. The 33-millimeter white gold watch has a silver dial, with 44 round diamonds accentuating the bezel, and a caseback engraved with “To Elvis, 75 Million Records, RCA Victor, 12-25-60.” Lettering below the Omega logo shows that RCA purchased the watch from Tiffany & Company.
Legend has it that Presley traded the watch for a fan’s watch, and the fan’s cousin auctioned the watch at Phillips in 2018. It sold for 1.8 million Swiss francs (about $1.87 million today), making it the most expensive Omega ever sold at the time. The highest bidder: Omega itself, who added the watch to the museum collection in Bienne, Switzerland.
One watch that was prominent late in Elvis’ career was the Rolex King Midas, which features an asymmetrical case with a wide integrated bracelet and was designed by Gerald Genta, the name behind such legendary watches as the Royal Oak and the Nautilus. Concert promoters gave the Midas to Presley in 1970 to perform six days of sold-out concerts, and it is now on permanent display at Graceland, Presley’s Memphis home, where he died in 1977.
“The King Midas is a very unusual shape, and Baz just happens to have one, so Austin Butler wore it in the movie,” Ms. Martin said. “Some watches are borrowed or bought online. Some were so valuable it was impossible to have them on set, so we had copies made.”
The subject matter of the film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month, certainly falls into the larger-than-life category that Mr. Luhrmann and Mrs. Martin seem to be drawn to when making films (like their 2013 version). from “The Great Gatsby”).
“Elvis’ character arc is fascinating, as is the fact that he was an extraordinary stylist who created his own look,” said Ms. Martin. “He became super famous super fast and watches were important to him to show that he made it.”