A topic that ducked our radar in 2019 just came to light here at TimesTicking. Elvis Presley, the dubbed “King of Rock & Roll”, gifted a wristwatch to his lifelong friend J.D. Sumner in 1974. What became newsworthy about this piece is that it sold at auction for ~$500,000 less than a year ago. While details are difficult to nail down about the private purchaser of the watch, the details surrounding this timekeeper are both sentimental and uniquely valuable. Sumner, who went on to be one of Presley’s backup vocalists, was an award-winning Gospel singer—a star in his own respective genre. Touring with Elvis for nearly six years brought the two gentlemen closer together. Inscribed with the words, “From Elvis to J.D. Sumner, 1974”, Sumner’s Ebel watch was a mark of friendship. Any Ebel watch is valuable, the company itself was founded in 1911 and built a reputation of quality throughout the 20th century. However, this particular piece combines rare metal, precious stones, and a history all its own.
Elvis’s Ebel: The Half-Million Gift
When Elvis gifted Sumner his Ebel in 1974, Ebel themselves were experiencing their heyday. Ebel’s timepieces were so sought after that the company was concurrently designing watches for Cartier—and other Swiss brands. Sumner’s gift was built with sculpted 14-karat gold (emulating the look of raw gold). As well, the bezel of the watch was inlaid with 26 diamond brilliants. Even the chain attached to the watch was made with solid gold. While all of these precious materials make up the look of the watch, it was also designed with an expert Swiss mechanical movement inside its luxury walls.
Ebel eventually got bought out in 2003 by Movado for around $60million (give or take a few million). Original Ebel pieces are currently sought after, especially pieces from the 1970s. When Sumner died in 1998, his gifted watch was originally inherited by the owners of his estate. It wasn’t until last fall that anyone had publicly floated the idea of selling it. Many original Ebel watches from Elvis’s time are still selling in the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars. So it’s no surprise that a signature Elvis piece—gifted or no—hit the high dollar mark at nearly $1million.
A Hunka Hunka Burning Auctioneering (Hot Item)
As we mentioned earlier, details about the final sale are a bit murky on the Elvis Ebel gifted to J.D. Sumner. Originally listed for sale through the MS Rau auction house, it appears to have sold at some point not long after its listing. Another site titled “1stdibs”—known for selling high-end luxury pieces—also had the Elvis Ebel listed for sale (currently “sold out”). Whoever the wealthy fan was, they certainly got their money’s worth. With Elvis’s death coming just three years after gifting his watch to his good friend Sumner, and the full liquidation of Ebel’s assets/name to Movado 17 years ago, the piece is a rare grab. Sure to cause the owner to swing their own pelvis in celebration—it marks a potent vignette in both music and wristwatch history. The only major publication to cover this sale was Newsweek and it was a headline that was glossed over by many. Though the sale of Sumner’s Elvis Ebel didn’t sell or set any new records, we can’t help falling in love with the story and artistry behind both the watch and its legacy.
Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.