Jerry Lewis: Actor, Singer, Producer, Screenwriter . . . And Secret Watch Collector As This Auction Highlights
Jerry Lewis (1926-2017) was a prolific actor, singer, producer, screenwriter, and author. Known for his slapstick style of comedy, he wrote, produced, and starred in a plethora of comedic television shows and feature films throughout the course of his very long career.
In the United States, he is perhaps most famous for the Labor Day telethon, an annual television event he called to life in support of muscular dystrophy research. He was the spokesman and national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association for 60 years.
The highly entertaining annual American ritual known as the Labor Day telethon ran for 44 years from 1966 and raised $2.45 billion for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through 2009. Most American Generation Xers know Lewis far better from this yearly live telecast than any of his other work.
Lewis made up one-half of the comedy duo Martin and Lewis; his official partnership with Dean (Dino) Martin went from 1946 to 1956. Their friendship, though strained for a while, lasted a lifetime – as with the other so-called rat-packers, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra.
Though hard to believe now, he was one of the most successful performers in show-biz history: his films’ box office gross receipts have totaled about $800 million – most of which came from a time when a movie ticket cost between $.25 and $.50.
Lewis died at the ripe old age of 91 in Las Vegas in August of 2017, leaving his estate to his second wife, Sandra Lewis (SanDee Pitnick) and their daughter, Danielle.
Jerry Lewis the watch collector
On June 22, 2018 Julien’s Auctions is set to auction thousands of items from Lewis’s life. Naturally, this auction will take place in Las Vegas.
I was pretty surprised to find a large number of very nice watches among the artifacts – watches that could lead me to conclude that he was something of a connoisseur and collector.
And one with taste.
As Julien’s is not a watch-specific auction house, we unfortunately know little about these watches’ years of production, their reference numbers, and even what type of movements power them in many cases. But we can get a great idea of what this man was like.
I was also unabashedly awed to find out he also owned a few ship chronometers, including an antique brass ship sailing station (lot 101), a brass Wempe Chronometerwerke marine station with thermometer, hygrometer, barometer, and alarm (lot 102, together with two other instruments), and some larger marine-looking clocks from various brands (lot 105).
Other watches not pictured here include a Dalí-inspired Exaequo (lot 128), a 1940s Longines with diamond markers (lot 130), two Longines he gifted his father (lot 335), an Asprey (lot 131), an early Carl F. Bucherer Pathos (lot 132), a Louis Vuitton Tambour chronograph (lot 165), a truly dandy 14-karat Van Cleef & Arpels Concord timepiece (lot 208), two Baume & Mercier watches (lots 271 and 272), a Mathey-Tissot pocket watch (lot 278), some Boucheron watches (327-330), a Raymond Weil dual time watch (lot 338), some Piaget (lots 380 and 381), Audemars Piguet (lots 382-384), and a few other sundry watches.
He also seemed to have a penchant for Tiffany watches and clocks (lots 169-174) and even owned a rectangular yellow gold Tiffany powered by a Chopard L.U.C movement. At an estimate of $600-$800, this one could be the great find of this auction. Vacheron Constantin did not escape his notice, either. While I highlight a few exceptional pieces below, others can be found at lots 273-275 and even a VC pocket watch at lot 280.
And he apparently kept at least some of this treasure in a beautiful Agresti briarwood box (lot 129).
Let’s have a look at the more prominent lots going under the hammer.
This is an 18-karat yellow gold Patek Philippe watch with silvered baton markers that was gifted to Lewis from Sammy Davis, Jr. There is even an engraving on the back that reads, “To Jerry From Sammy Jr. 10/58.”
The case back and lugs look fairly scratched up, and the crown has obviously experienced some hard use, so I would assume that he wore this one quite a bit.
This is an 18-karat yellow gold quartz Cartier Tank Cintrée with blued steel hands and the brand-typical sapphire cabochon in the crown. I notice two things about the dial: for one there is fairly extensive damage in the upper half and for another the word “London” at 6 o’clock. This signifies it comes from the period in the brand’s history when Cartier London, Paris, and New York each created their own watches. These three entities were united only in 1979.
Lewis would have – obviously – bought this in London. The lot comes with an original Cartier box.
Here is another 18-karat gold quartz Tank by Cartier, but this time a Tank Américaine. Probably from around 1989, this one’s dial is intact, but the case has taken something of a beating. It has the typical Cartier sapphire cabochon in the crown.
This is a miniature gold Cartier watch with a winding crown on the back for the manually wound movement. Unfortunately, we don’t know who wore this watch (I think I might assume his first wife) or what movement is in it (I would assume Jaeger-LeCoultre).
The playful design is very Cartier with its rounded square case inside a gold oval.
This manually wound watch belongs to the Cartier Baignoire family, unmistakable with its 18-karat gold oval case. This elliptical line was called to life in 1906 and continues today – still outfitted with a sapphire cabochon in the crown, a signature Cartier element.
This is an 18-karat white gold quartz Tank Allongée by Cartier. A small rectangular timepiece with black Roman numerals and blued steel hands, it offers the typical blue sapphire cabochon in its crown.
This tiny 18-karat yellow gold Cartier ladies’ watch hides a crown for manually winding it on the back underneath a sliding closure. With Arabic numerals and blue hands, its 18-karat gold clasp is also signed Cartier.
This 18-karat yellow gold ball-shaped watch is signed Cartier. I briefly consulted with our resident Cartier expert, George Cramer, who thinks this lot and lot 238 are quite rare.
As with the previous little ladies’ watches, the winding is on the back of the case.
This is an 18-karat yellow gold quartz watch by Cartier with brand-typical Roman numerals and the ever-present sapphire cabochon in the crown. It is on an 18-karat gold Cartier link bracelet.
Sandra Lewis noted that the watch was gifted to her husband by Sammy Davis, Jr. when they performed together at Bally’s Casino Resort in Las Vegas in October 1988. The lot is accompanied by an image of Jerry Lewis wearing the watch.
This is an 18-karat yellow gold Cartier Tank Franҫaise, Reference 2385. It is small and quartz powered with Roman numerals, blue hands, and a sapphire cabochon crown.
This 18-karat yellow gold Cartier Classic Tonneau has a mechanical movement, blue hands, Roman numerals, screwed lugs, and a sapphire cabochon crown. Officially classified as a ladies’ watch, I am beginning to wonder if Lewis liked the decorative nature of these Cartier classics for himself (especially as there is a photo showing him wearing lot 240).
This 18-karat yellow gold Cartier Maxi Oval with a mechanical movement from Cartier’s Baignoire collection – circa late 1960s to early 1970s – is signed “London” (see lot 233 for explanation). It also has a sapphire cabochon in the crown.
Cramer explained that it is said that this is the model that famously melted in a car crash to become the inspiration for the Cartier London Crash model (read more about that in this How To Spend It article).
It is accompanied by a black and white image of Lewis wearing the watch.
While Lewis seems to have had a definite love affair with Cartier, he also seems to have recognized “the watchmaker’s watchmaker” in his collecting taste: Jaeger-LeCoultre.
This little 14-karat yellow gold watch – the use of 14-karat gold denoting it was a U.S. market watch – was very likely officially a ladies’ watch with its satin-finished polish and decorative, geometric, applied markers on what could be classified as a large gold bezel.
The sole name “LeCoultre” on the dial is a further clue that this was a U.S. market watch.
An engraving on the back reads, “Jerry My Buddy/and Pal/I Love You/ Dino.” Dino, of course, being Dean Martin.
Lewis seems to have spent some time in London as a few of his watches have shown. Here is further evidence of that.
This 18-karat yellow gold rectangular Jaeger-LeCoultre watch with prominent lugs looking something like chain links was retailed by London’s Asprey. The black dial offers gold baton markers and gold baton hands. The crown is oddly positioned at 6 o’clock to steer clear of interfering with the watch’s 1960s design.
The gold “JL” clasp indicates it could have been a custom watch – or just a custom clasp made by Asprey, also a possibility.
More black and yellow combinations lead us to this 18-karat yellow gold automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre automatic timepiece with black dial and elongated Roman numerals. It too has a 14-karat yellow gold “JL” clasp, making me wonder if it too comes from the London boutique.
This is a ladies watch in 14-karat gold signed “LeCoultre” – and if you ask me it’s the partner watch to lot 371, which offers the same design in round. Both watches were definitely bought in the United States.
“To Mom/I Love You/Sonny” is engraved on the back: a gift from Jerry Lewis to his mother.
This watch is essentially the same as lot 372, just that the Asprey name is missing from the dial.
It does, however, have the 14-karat yellow gold personalized “JL” clasp.
This stainless steel Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso with a plain case back on the flip side is from about 2000. It is also quartz-powered and classified as a ladies’ watch with a case size of 28 x 25 mm. It comes on an original tan crocodile-skin strap from the manufacturer.
I do wonder if Lewis just really liked smaller watches.
This 18-karat yellow gold three-handed dress watch boasts a beautiful guilloche bezel, baton markers, and gold hands. Signed on the dial as “Vacheron & Constantin,” it’s clearly from the 1950s.
The back is engraved with a heart shape and the words “Jerry/In/Appreciation/Marty/March 1952” within.
It comes on a black velvet strap with a 14-karat gold buckle – which probably signifies U.S. retail.
This 18-karat yellow gold dual-time-zone watch with gold hands was crafted between 1950 and 1955. Signed “Vacheron & Constantin,” a small diamond replaces the ampersand on this black dial.
A laurel wreath is engraved on the back with the words “Prestige de la France.” It comes with its original red pouch.
Another 18-karat yellow gold Cartier Baignoire watch with Roman numerals, blue hands, and a sapphire cabochon in the crown.
It is engraved on the back with “Water resistant/Swiss made/18K/1954/519034CD.”
This Bulgari 18-karat yellow gold ladies’ quartz watch is from the 1990s. With Arabic numerals and baton markers, the white oval dial remains clean.
This 18-karat yellow gold wristwatch on a textured gold bracelet by Patek Philippe is powered by a manually wound movement. It has a white dial with gold-tone baton markers and hands.
This 18-karat yellow gold pocket watch by Patek Philippe was gifted to Jerry Lewis from the ABC engineering crew. The hunter-style pocket watch opens to reveal a two-sided inscription from the crew thanking Lewis for happy memories. The inscription reads in part, “moments, which magnified your outstanding creative abilities as a great performer and most lovable clown and comedian . . .”
Made between 1870 and 1875, it includes a repeater function. Its serial number 47540 is stamped three times on the interior.
For more information, please visit www.julienslive.com/m/view-auctions/catalog/id/269. You can flip through the auction catalogue at www.juliensauctions.com/auctions/2018/jerry-lewis/Jerry-Lewis-Flipping-Book/Jerry-Lewis.
Also published on Medium.