Elvis Presley's jeweler reveals untold stories from the King's heyday


The Memphian Theater was mostly empty when Lowell Hays walked in and took a seat behind Elvis Presley on Christmas Eve of 1969. From time to time, the rock n' roll icon would gather friends for private movie screenings at the gilded, Art Deco venue -- but Hays, the city's most respected jeweler, wasn't yet one of those deeply trusted companions. He was there on business.

"Come on with me," Presley said, ushering him into the men's room where the musician pushed open a stall door and took a seat on a toilet. "You can put your briefcase right here on my lap," he gestured to the brown leather bag Hays had stocked with jewelry.

"So that's exactly what I did," the jeweler, now 78, recalls nearly five decades later at a rib joint near Presley's Graceland home. In what was the first of nearly two hundred purchases from the brown leather case that sits before us today, Elvis picked out three large diamond pieces for his aunt, father and girlfriend that night.

"I could tell you stories like these for hours," smiles Hays. Because the truth is, over the course of his seven-year friendship with Presley, he amassed stories so wild, they can feel mythic.

31 PHOTOS
Elvis Presley through the years
See Gallery
Elvis Presley through the years
Circa 1958, American singer and actor Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) sits in a restaurant wearing his US Army uniform. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
ELVIS PRESLEY -- Pictured: Singer Elvis Presley during a performance (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
GERMANY - FEBRUARY 1959: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley signals that everything is ok during his tour of duty in Germany in February of 1959. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
GERMANY - FEBRUARY 1959: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a portrait during his tour of duty in Germany in February of 1959. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
GERMANY - 1959: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley wearing his US Army uniform during his tour of duty in 1959 in Germany. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
1959: Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley gets his hair shorn off in preparation for his tour of duty in in the United States Army in 1959 in Germany. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
(GERMANY OUT) Presley, Elvis*08.01.1935-16.08.1977+Singer, actor, USA - Elvis visits rock 'n' roller Bill Haley (l) in his dressing room during his Germany tour in Frankfurt (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Elvis Presley runs a comb through his famous tresses at the Draftee Receiving Depot here on March 24th. The songster is scheduled for a trip to the G. I. barber on March 25th, where the key to his locks will probably be found.
JUNE 24: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a portrait with teddy bears to publicize the release of his record 'Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear' on June 24, 1957. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
CIRCA 1957: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a portrait in circa 1957. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 6: Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley performs on stage on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957 in New York City, NY.(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Singer Elvis Presley holding up actress Jennifer Holden, his co-star in the film 'Jailhouse Rock', as they spend time together in a swimming pool, circa 1957. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American rock and roll singer and actor Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) smiles as he stands with his hands in his pockets and a guitar around his shoulders during his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, New York, New York, October 28, 1956. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 1956: Photo of Elvis Presley during the filming of 'Love Me Tender' in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Portrait around 1966 of the American singer/actor Elvis PRESLEY. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: A portrait around 1966 of Elvis PRESLEY, the famous American singer/actor. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Las Vegas, Nev..Entertainer, Elvis Presley sits cheek to cheek wit his bride, the former Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, following their wedding May 1, 1967.
(Original Caption) 5/1/1967-Las Vegas, NV: Elvis Presley gives his new bride, Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, a kiss following their wedding. The bride wears a large diamond on her finger.
ELVIS: '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL -- Pictured: (l-r) Susan Henning as Blonde Girl, Elvis Presley during his '68 Comeback Special on NBC -- (Photo by: Frank Carroll/Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
ELVIS: '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL -- Pictured: Elvis Presley during his '68 Comeback Special on NBC -- (Photo by: Frank Carroll/Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 1: Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley during a press conference after his first performance at the International Hotel in Las vegas, Nevada on August 1, 1969. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
380450 08: President Richard Nixon shakes hands with Elvis Presley December 21, 1970 at the White House. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
Promotional headshot of actor and musician Elvis Presley, as he appears in the documentary film 'Elvis; That's The Way It Is', 1970. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 9: Entertainer Elvis Presley gives a press conference for his three day concert at Madison Square Garden on June 9, 1972 at New York Hilton Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
(Original Caption) Elvis is Back. New York: Elvis Presley, 37, tells one of his rare news conferences in New York that his gyrating performances of 15 years ago, which shocked thousands of parents and got him censored below the waist on television, were 'tame compared to what they're doing now.' He said, 'All I did was jiggle.'
Elvis Presley (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
(GERMANY OUT) Presley, Elvis *08.01.1935-16.08.1977+Saenger, Schauspieler, USA - Comeback-Konzert im International CenterHawaii 'That's the way it is' (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
circa 1975: American rock singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977), wearing a white rhinestone-studded suit and strapped guitar, singing into a microphone with his eyes closed. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)
Elvis Presley (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
Elvis Presley with girlfriend Linda Thompson (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Like the time he first visited Graceland only to find Presley outside in the rain in a floor length mink-coat shooting a pistol: "They shot up his daddy's office pretty good." Or middle of the night phone calls with near-impossible jewelry requests, and flights Hays would take to New York's La Guardia airport for the sole purpose of picking up precious gems to help meet Presley's demands. "Our nickname for Elvis was 'Crazy'... you never knew what he was gonna do next," Hays says. It's a moniker that would ultimately be engraved onto a gold ID bracelet for the star.

But for all of the spur of the moment trips the duo took across the country, Memphis is where they were happiest.

Juke joints lined Beale Street when Hays' father, Lowell Sr., began doing jewelry repairs from his family's home attic in 1937, but it would be another decade before the city became the epicenter of the rock 'n' roll movement. "Having been in the business all of my life, I can tell you that there are very few people that have the talent my father did," says Hays.

It was talent that was partly cultivated by chance. As a 12-year-old boy, Lowell Sr. ran away from home to escape a physically abusive stepfather and ended up at a YMCA in Houston, Texas, where he connected with a jeweler. For more than a decade Lowell Sr. would work in a factory and eventually become a master craftsman, developing skills that were ultimately imparted to Hays. "I started at the bottom, doing pick-ups and deliveries as a kid from one end of Main Street to the other before progressing on to the jewelry bench," Hays says.

More than anything, though, he wanted to branch into retail, and convinced his father to open a women's fine jewelry store in the city's Germantown neighborhood. When the responsibility of that store, which was open from 1971 until 2005, prevented Hays from joining Presley on the road, he would simply send the brown case filled with precious golden pieces to wherever the star was. "Elvis knew the combination to the lock, so whenever he wanted something, he would tear the tag off and leave it for me."

15 PHOTOS
Elvis Presley and wife Priscilla Presley
See Gallery
Elvis Presley and wife Priscilla Presley
(Original Caption) 5/1/1967-Las Vegas, NV: Elvis Presley gives his new bride, Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, a kiss following their wedding. The bride wears a large diamond on her finger.
(Original Caption) Las Vegas, Nev..Entertainer, Elvis Presley sits cheek to cheek wit his bride, the former Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, following their wedding May 1, 1967.
UNITED STATES - MAY 01: Wedding Photos of Elvis Presley to Priscilla on May 01,1967 (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Portrait of American rock and roll singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) and his girlfriend and later wife Priscilla Beaulieu, 1960s. (Photo by Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Newlyweds Elvis and Priscilla Presley, who met while Elvis was in the Army, prepare to board their private jet following their wedding at the Aladdin Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley & Elvis Presley in Hawaii, California (Photo by Magma Agency/WireImage)
American actress Priscilla Presley, who was married to Elvis Presley from 1967 to 1973, circa 1975. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American actress Priscilla Presley, who was married to Elvis Presley from 1967 to 1973, circa 1975. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Entertainer Elvis Presley leaves Santa Monica California Superior Court after being granted a divorce from his wife Priscilla. The couple had been married six years and in spite of the October 9 divorce proceedings, they appeared very amicable as they left the courtroom.
American actress Priscilla Presley, who was married to Elvis Presley from 1967 to 1973, circa 1975. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) USA Photo of Lisa-Marie PRESLEY and Priscilla PRESLEY and Elvis PRESLEY, with his wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa-Marie - c.1970 (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
LOS ANGELES, CA - 1988: Actress and former wife of Elvis Presley, Priscilla Presley, poses during a 1988 Los Angeles, California, break in filming of 'The Naked Gun.' Presley starred with Leslie Nielsen in the three cop spoofs. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 4: Priscilla Presley gives a press conference to announce Elvis Presley's home, Graceland Mansion, will open to the public on June 7, 1982 as a memorial museum on May 4, 1982 at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Priscilla Presley, Chairwoman of Elvis Presley Enterprises, pictured at news press conference to promote Elvis Presley Showtime TV Special, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, 4th January 1985. (Photo by Eddie Sanderson/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

For every piece Presley kept for himself, he gave nearly just as many away. During a 1975 show in North Carolina, for example, Hays remembers Presley summoning the bag on stage: "He just started handing jewelry to people in the front." When Hays hopped in Presley's limo after the show, distraught about how much money had been guzzled away, the singer got a twisted little half-smile on his face and patted Hays on the knee. "He said, 'Lowell, I'll have to sing five minutes longer tomorrow night to pay for it.'"

The trail of sparkling baubles, which have become prevalent in the auction world in recent years, often make their way back on the jeweler's radar when he's contacted for certificates of authenticity. Pieces like the ruby and baguette diamond ring that will be auctioned at Graceland on August 12, can fetch $10,000 to $15,000. Other creations, like the Aloha Horseshoe ring that was designed with a central 10.5 carat diamond surrounded by 11 full-cut round diamonds, have brought in upwards of $200,000.

Among the pieces Presley never parted with, however, is the "TCB" ring Hays crafted using 56 diamonds including an 11.5 carat solitaire. Intended to be a show ring, "something that would immediately make people think 'Elvis Presley,'" it incorporated Presley's "Taking Care of Business" mantra that also doubled as his backing band's name. To this day, the ring remains identifiably Elvis, who was so thrilled with the design, he paid the $35,000 price and then handed Hays the keys to his Lincoln Mark III Cartier edition as an additional token of gratitude.

But beyond the jewelry itself, time has also revealed the extent of how pioneering Hays and Presley's collaborative partnership was. Though it's now the norm for high fashion jewelers like Ben Baller and Lorraine Schwartz to create jewel-drenched statement pieces specifically for a musician's ensemble, Hays set this precedent for male artists. One could go so far as to argue he's the reason artists like JAY-Z would later wear custom pave chains. Jewelry was never merely a status symbol for Presley, though, who was always intent on pushing fashion forward; it became a carefully considered part of his artistic persona.

At the suggestion of the profundity of his and Presley's influence, Hays goes silent. Maybe it's out of modesty, or maybe it's a quiet admission that his work with the icon comprised only a portion of a more than 50-year career that also attracted clientele like Al Green and Isaac Hayes. "Elvis and I were like that." Hays crosses his fingers. "We were like brothers."

15 PHOTOS
Riley Keough, Elvis Presley's granddaughter, hits the red carpet
See Gallery
Riley Keough, Elvis Presley's granddaughter, hits the red carpet
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Andrea Roa, Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Trey Edward Shults, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and David Kaplan attend the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actress Riley Keough attends 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actress Riley Keough attends 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Riley Keough attends the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Christopher Abbott, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Carmen Ejogo, Joel Edgerton and Riley Keough attend the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actress Riley Keough, clutch and tattoo detail, attends the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at The Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actress Riley Keough, shoe and tattoo detail, attends the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at The Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actors Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Riley Keough attend 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actresses Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough attend the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at The Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actress Riley Keough attends 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: (L-R) Actors Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough attend 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actresses Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough attend the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at The Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actress Riley Keough attends the 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at The Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Actors Joel Edgerton and Riley Keough attend 'It Comes At Night' New York premiere at Metrograph on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Their relationship was also fundamentally different than the one Presley shared with his Memphis Mafia entourage, who all wore the golden lightning bolt "TCB" necklaces Hays designed from a sketch Presley and then-wife Priscilla drew out on a cocktail napkin. While the Memphis Mafia was paid to surround Presley constantly, Hays could come and go as he pleased. "Regardless of whether or not I was actually traveling with Elvis, there was a always a room at every hotel with my name on it." When the musician, who struggled with addiction to prescription drugs, tragically died in August 1977, Hays still had his own life to lead. His path, in other words, wasn't dependent on Presley's.

Which isn't to say he never stepped in to protect the King.

During a show at what was formerly the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Hays remembers sitting in one of the circular booths when he noticed a man trying to sneak on stage. "Elvis is pointing but the bodyguards aren't paying any attention, so I bailed out of my seat and took care of it." After the show, Presley ripped into the guards. "Then he looked at me and said, 'Lowell, you have any TCBs?'" Hays fetched the briefcase and handed a necklace over. "It's about time you had one of these," Presley said to him.

It still sits on his neck.


Read Full Story

Sign up for Entertainment Insider by AOL to get the hottest pop culture news delivered straight to your inbox!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.