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Icons Rediscovered: Is this the watch that Sammy Davis Jr. was buried with?

For this story, I got the opportunity to write about a subject close to my heart, The Rat Pack. Recently, during a late-night Wikipedia binge, I stumbled upon an obscure entry in an article that struck me. The entry stated, “Davis Jr. was buried with a gold watch that Sinatra had given him at the conclusion of The Ultimate Event Tour.” This piqued my curiosity and I’ve researched the reference and history of the watch that Sammy Davis Jr. was supposedly buried with

By Josh Shanks
Managing Editor US

There are countless valuables buried with deceased celebrities throughout Southern California. Over the years, there have been stories of grave robbers and lootings of crypts and plots. It’s rumored that Marilyn Monroe is buried with a million-dollar diamond necklace and there have been multiple attempts to rob her crypt.

With all the recent barn finds and vintage celebrity owned pieces being uncovered by amateur and professional sleuths, it should come as no surprise that dealers and auction houses around the globe are always looking for their next buzz piece. What fascinates me about watches and jewelry is their heritage. These days, most notable pieces end up at auction houses or vintage sellers. However, there are still some watches out there that haven’t been found or had their whole story told.

Let’s begin in 1988, when, after a dinner at Frank Sinatra’s house, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin agreed to a concert tour dubbed “Together Again”. The 17-city tour was to take the three Rat Pack members from one coast to another, finishing with four concerts at Radio City Music Hall. Looking back at the original press conference to announce the tour, you can see the three crooners had aged (Frank was 73, Martin 71, and Davis Jr. 63) but were still vibrant and cracking jokes. They were even dressed in their requisite black tuxedoes with sunglasses, and smoking their trademark cigarettes, the group still epitomized cool.

Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Sammy Davis Jr.
The Ultimate Event Tour

The Ultimate Event

The tour kicked off March 13, 1988 to a sold-out audience at the Oakland Colosseum. Four shows into the tour, Dean left due to the reoccurrence of a kidney issue. Frank and Sammy then brought in Liza Minnelli to finish off the remaining dates and the tour was renamed “The Ultimate Event”. If you watch the videos of the tour you can see that Sammy still had it.

The Entertainer: He Did It All

If the legend is true, sometime after the tour, Sinatra gifted Sammy Davis Jr. a gold watch. Within a few months of the tour’s conclusion, Sammy felt a pain in his throat. After visiting doctors, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer and began treatments. Sadly, it was too late to stop the cancer and Sammy passed away May 16, 1990. Upon Sammy’s death Sinatra responded, “from my standpoint, he should be remembered as one of the finest human beings I ever knew in my life, of course, multi-talented, he was a wonderful boy.”

If the rumor is correct, before Sammy passed away, he must’ve asked to be buried with the watch that Frank had gifted him. You’re probably thinking, this should be an open and shut case. If Sammy were buried with the watch, the location of it shouldn’t be a mystery. Anyone with an internet connection can locate where Sammy is buried. He’s in a plot at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. According to FindaGrave.com, Sammy is located at Garden Crypt #5774, a locked private garden located in the Garden of Honor at Forest Lawn. One would expect this watch would be resting comfortably on Sammy’s wrist, inside of his casket, buried beneath dirt and a headstone basking under the California sun.

His headstone read: "The Entertainer: He Did It All”

The research

My research of this watch has taken me down some paths that I wasn’t expecting. If Sammy was buried with this watch, surely there would be photos of him wearing it prior to his death. In fact, I’ve found plenty of photos of Sammy with gold jewelry and watches. Specifically, Sammy was a big fan of gold Rolexes. In his most famous horological picture, he’s spotted wearing a Heuer Monaco in Vietnam during a concert for the troops. According to an OnTheDash thread that Heuer was purchased at a Davis estate sale in 1991 for $200 and later auctioned at Antiquorum in May 2010 for $21,600. The Monaco is a stainless piece, and I couldn’t find further evidence of Sammy wearing this watch in the late eighties.

Sammy Davis Jr. wearing his Monaco stainless steel watch

In my analysis of photos from the period 1987-1990, I simply couldn’t uncover a single picture of Sammy wearing a watch other than a gold Cartier Pasha. In the photos surveyed, he’s only wearing one watch, a gold Pasha. A good-looking watch that has the style is very indicative of the era. After a bit of Googling, I was quickly connected with the exact watch that I kept seeing in photos.

Photo taken March 7, 1989 at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii as he stands waiting for his car. He would pass away 14 months later of throat cancer. Photo © Alan Light

Sammy, I Luv Ya, F.A.S

Upon further investigation, I found the watch, it just so happened to be Lot 251 in a June 2009 Antiquorum auction. The lot was a 18k gold Cartier Pasha Quartz Two Time Zone produced in 1987. In reading the description, the intrigue grew “the Cartier Pasha watch model that was a gift from Frank Sinatra to another fellow Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. Still bearing the engraving by Sinatra that reads, “Sammy, I Luv Ya, F.A.S.” Eureka!

Cartier Pasha caseback with engraving from Frank Sinatra

While Sammy may have owned many gold watches, the one offered at Antiquorum was a Cartier Pasha (check) AND it was given to Sammy by Frank Sinatra! I couldn’t believe my eyes; did I find the watch that Frank Sinatra gifted to Sammy near the end of his life? But wasn’t he buried with that watch?

The numbers started to add up, the piece that Antiquorum auctioned was made in 1987 and it had an engraving from Frank that added the provenance I was looking for. My morbid curiosity quickly got the best of me. IF this was the watch that Sammy was buried with, you would think that it would still be underground with the crooner.

Sadly, our story isn’t that simple

When Sammy died, he died with a reported 7 million dollars in tax debt to the IRS. Rumor has it, when his wife Altovise found out about this debt, she had him exhumed to remove the nearly $70,000 of jewelry Sammy was buried with. In my research, I’ve seen various mentions of this exhumation, but usually always about the “jewelry” Sammy was buried with. There hasn’t been a single mention of a watch being retrieved. However, some in our community do refer to watches as jewelry pieces and certainly a gold watch could stand up to the same sentiment.

Sammy’s wife Altovise died March 14, 2009, just three months before the June 2009 Antiquorum auction. Perhaps her estate discovered the watch shortly after her death and had it auctioned.

June 2009 Auction photo via Antiquorum

Another curiosity is Matt Birkbeck’s 1994 autobiography of Davis Jr. “Deconstructing Sammy” where he writes: “During the months prior to Sammy's death, his employees looted his home of memorabilia, jewelry and artwork." Perhaps the watch disappeared during that time.

This poses the question, is this Cartier Pasha the actual watch that Frank Sinatra gave to Davis Jr. around the same date as the tour? The engraving on the back certainly helps point to a yes. The timeline of events may be a little murky. I was led to believe a watch was given to Davis Jr. after the tour, but instead, I kept seeing this Cartier Pasha in photos taken before the tour started and after it concluded. I’m sure Frank and Sammy exchanged many gifts over their 50+ year friendship, but based on the photos, this watch feels like it had a special place in Sammy’s heart.

We may never know

In closing, is this the watch that Sammy Davis Jr. was buried with and later exhumed and resold to settle a tax debt? We may never know. I’ll let the reader decide based upon the data I have provided. What I do know, is that if this legend is true, someone out there has a watch with a very storied history. This also raises the question, does an exhumation of an object and its subsequent sale change the provenance or value of a timepiece?

Unfortunately, all members of the Rat Pack have passed on, and out of respect for Sammy’s family, we didn’t reach out to his estate for comment.

Interestingly enough, in 2005, the Sinatra estate lent his likeness to a series of Oris watches.

Oris Frank Sinatra Worldtimer Limited Edition

No word on Sammy Davis Jr.’s watch line

If you have any information regarding the watch or even a cool Sammy story, drop a line at: josh.shanks@watchonista.com

Title image "Press Conference to Announce 'The Ultimate Event' Concert Tour with Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis, Jr.“ on editorial license from Getty Images © / Ron Galella, Ltd. 1988

 
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