The Unlikely Watch Collector: Michael Jackson
The “King of Pop” was a complicated man with an equally eccentric assemblage of watches.
In the video for “Thriller,” Michael Jackson declared in his characteristically soft-spoken voice, “I’m not like other guys.” That was certainly true. As part of the Jackson 5, he grew up in the public eye. And it could be quite easily argued that his albums and music videos made him one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century.
But it could be just as validly argued that Jackson is also one of the most problematic people of the 21st century. Until his death in 2009, the mysterious singer mostly lived a secluded life on his Neverland Ranch, where he hung out with Bubbles the monkey and altered his features with plastic surgery. And then there was the baby dangling and sleepovers with children.
While we wrestle with Michael Jackson’s complex legacy, let’s take a look at his curious watch collection. Maybe it will provide some clues into what made Jackson tick.
Jacob & Co. – Five Time Zone
Jackson was a collector of all kinds of unusual things. Neverland, his storied Santa Barbara ranch/amusement park, housed everything from artwork to a menagerie of live animals.
It makes sense that his timepieces would be just as outré. One of his most extravagant watches was a stainless steel 47mm Jacob & Co. Five Time Zone with a diamond bezel and a quartz ETA movement. Jackson bought this bold watch in the 1990s, precipitating the big celebrity watch boom, and it was one of the first Jacob & Co. timepieces worn by a megastar.
The Five Time Zone is now one of the cornerstones of Jacob & Co.’s heritage. Like MJ’s music, we still can’t get this watch out of our heads even after two decades. And like the music icon, it has inspired many imitators and is still the force behind many of the company’s newest timepieces.
Vacheron Constantin – King Kalla
Jackson’s profligate collecting eventually caught up with him, and by the end of the ‘90s, he was in considerable debt.
In 2000, a Beverly Hills jewelry sued Jackson for more than $1.4 million, claiming that the pop star promised to purchase a rare (only five in existence at the time) diamond-encrusted Vacheron Constantin King Kalla watch valued at $1.9 million.
According to the suit filed by luxury retail jeweler David Orgell, Jackson haggled the price down to $1,450,000 and then asked if he could test drive it “for a couple days” before making a final decision.
Jackson proceeded to wear it for nearly four months without paying, then returned it scratched and encrusted with food particles. One day after the suit was settled, Jackson used the watch as collateral for a loan from the Bank of America.
In 2005, forensic accountants estimated that Michael was spending $20-30 million more per year than he earned and was in debt by as much as $285 million.
Rolex – Various
Even after the Vacheron escapade, Jackson still kept buying watches. Mostly Rolexes. And at the same time Neverland Ranch was being parceled off to pay off the singer’s mounting debts, he was photographed by the paparazzi buying Rolex watches for himself, his family, and his friends.
In 2007, for example, Jackson celebrated daughter Paris’ ninth birthday with a trip to Las Vegas and a stop at the Rolex boutique in the Wynn.
Apparently, Jackson favored gold models like the Day-Date and avoided the tool Rolexes because he didn’t feel they sat well on his wrist.
Casio & Swatch
Despite his over-the-top signature style, in his personal life, Jackson often wore disguises to protect the privacy of his children, Prince, Paris, and Michael II.
In a YouTube video, British watch dealer Paul Thorpe mentioned meeting the megastar in 1999 and noticing that Jackson was wearing a red Casio. The pair had a conversation about collecting, and the pop god mentioned that on top of his extensive collection of Rolexes, he also wore Swatches. These modest timepieces helped him go undercover to experience “normal” things with the kids.
We couldn’t find a clear enough image of Jackson sporting a Swatch or Casio to be able to identify which models he favored, but here’s a pic of his son Prince in what looks like a classic Casio F91W-1 with a black resin strap.
(Images sources mentioned)