The Unlikely Watch Collector: Dean Martin
Unlikely Watch Collector

The Unlikely Watch Collector: Dean Martin

The King of Cool’s watch collection was as esoteric as the late crooner’s career.

By Rhonda Riche

It’s no secret that we here at Watchonista are fans of the Rat Pack, that swinging collective of entertainers comprised of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. Through movies like Ocean’s 11 and residencies on the Las Vegas strip, they set the swingin’ style of the 1950s and 1960s – think of a perfectly tailored tux but with the tie loosened or a handmade hat worn at a rakish angle.

The Rat Pack loved sharp threads, fine liquor, and, most importantly, fine timepieces. The most dapper of the Rat Pack, Dean Martin’s watch collection was just as interesting as the life he led. Here are four examples that best reflect how he stood out from the Pack.

Night Clubbing

No one epitomized the Rat Pack like Dean Martin. Born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, to Angela (née Barra) and Gaetano Alfonso Crocetti, a barber, Martin was an elevated everyman. Before becoming an entertainer, Martin held jobs as a boxer (named Kid Crochet), a steel mill worker, a gas station worker, and a casino croupier and dealer.

Eventually, Martin found work as a nightclub singer in and around New York City. It was there that he met a young comic named Jerry Lewis in 1945, deciding to team up soon after. Only a few years later, the comedy duo became one of the top-grossing acts in the world, signing a lucrative radio deal with Paramount in 1949 and starring in movies like At War with the Army and That’s My Boy.

While a big part of their appeal was the contrast between Martin’s suave demeanor and Lewis’ goofy physical comedy, they were great friends. They even wore matching watches.

Men’s wristwatches in the 1950s skewed smaller than today’s timepieces, and in the style of the era, Martin’s and Lewis’ matching watches were chain-link bracelets set with tiny dials. In photos, you can see the pair sporting identical watches in either yellow or white gold.

A 2018 auction of Lewis’ estate even featured a similar set – a 14K yellow gold Tobias watch and a 14K white Schulz watch, both with baton and Arabic chapters on rectangular dials and chain bracelets. Given the timepieces are identical, but for the color of gold used, we’re assuming that these were custom-made pieces.

Dynamic Duo

Martin was both loyal and generous to his friends. At the previously mentioned Lewis estate auction from 2018 was a 14K gold LeCoultre inscribed: "Jerry My Buddy / And Pal / I Love You / Dino."

This round watch illustrates another aspect of Martin’s tastes. With its textured, saucer-shaped case and super small dial, this is the personification of idiosyncratic, mid-century watch design.

As a side note, due to regulations on imports at the time, not only did Jaeger-LeCoultre operate as LeCoultre in the US market, but movements were often cased in the US. The 14K assay mark, as opposed to the 18K hallmark used by the Swiss, also suggests American origins.

Just like the Las Vegas strip, timepieces’ kitschy styling phase has long since passed but has become timeless. Much like Martin himself.

Flying Solo

Personality conflicts caused the duo to break up. But after Martin and Lewis disbanded, Dino went on to have greater success as both a singer and an actor.

It was during stage of his career that he recorded classics like “Volare,” “That’s Amore,” and his signature piece “Everybody Loves Somebody.” He also got good reviews while appearing with heavy hitters Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift in The Young Lions. Which led to a role co-starring with Frank Sinatra in the drama Some Came Running.

Having relocated to Hollywood permanently, Martin soon became part of Sinatra’s social circle, nicknamed “The Rat Pack” by the press. Eventually, Martin followed Frankie to Las Vegas, where the versatile group of entertainers made the city a mecca for all things glamorous.

The Rat Pack knew how to live the high life, which seemed to include handing out gold watches like party favors. In the early 1960s, in the peak Pack days, Sinatra gifted Martin with an oval Bueche-Girod. Going out of business in the early 2000s, Bueche-Girod an opulent brand popular with Vegas performers but is best known today as the timepiece Robert De Niro’s crime boss character Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein wore in the movie Casino.

It’s a quirky watch, with a quirky provenance. Martin’s watch is inscribed: "I Love Ya Pal / 'The Daig.' "

Fun Fact: “The Daig” was a private nickname for Sinatra that somehow traveled to Martin then back to Sinatra after Dino’s death. Sinatra then regifted it to a longtime associate.

TV Time

As rock and roll and counterculture eclipsed crooning and buddy movies like Ocean’s 11, Martin found a new platform for his star power in television. The Dean Martin Show, which ran from 1965 until 1974, brought the camaraderie of the Rat Pack into American living rooms.

Martin once said, “In regular clothes, I’m a nobody. In a tuxedo, I’m a star.” But because TV is a more familiar medium, Martin’s wardrobe became more casual. But whether he wore a tailored suit or country-club sweater and plaid pants combo, it was Martin’s laid back demeanor that really sold his style.

One of the main sponsors of The Dean Martin Show was Bulova. And Martin slipped into wearing an Accutron just as easily as a cashmere sweater. While we haven’t been able to ID the exact model he is wearing in this still from the show, ads from the era suggest it dates from 1966 and was a present from Bulova.

While it’s a departure from his avant-garde gold watches from the 1950s and early ’60s, it still shows how versatile Martin was in adapting to new technology and fashion without giving up his unique persona.

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