Elvis Week: Bob Kortz on tracking down a black diamond for The King in the middle of the night

This Thursday, August 16 marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. The iconic singer spent a great deal of time in the Centennial State and had many adventures. In honor of The King, Backbeat is sharing some of these stories all week.

See Also: - Jonny Barber brings Elvis back to life in honor of Elvis week - Velvet Elvis's Top 10 favorite Elvis songs in honor of the King's passing - Jonny Barber putting Velvet Elvis to rest with one last gig - Elvis Presley once flew to Denver in pursuit of Fool's Gold - Gym Elvis helped Denver Police Department build to be torn down

In the winter of 1975-'76, while on vacation in Vail, Elvis Presley's newfound interest in numerology led him to believe he needed a black diamond ring, immediately. He had a police friend call local jeweler Bob Kortz late in the evening with the odd request -- a request that Kortz heeded, despite having never even seen a black diamond.

Never mind that it was a Saturday, and Kortz, whose family business is in its 118th year, had no idea of where to find such a stone. Elvis sent word to Kortz through his DPD pal that he had two airplanes waiting for the jeweler at Stapleton Airport, ready to fly to Vail once he procured the black diamond.

After a few phone calls, Kortz finally located the gem through another local jeweler and collector of unusual stones. Nowadays they are made synthetically, but, back then, Kortz notes, black diamonds were not so easy to track down. Tinted dark gray due to inclusions of other minerals, the diamonds are only found naturally in Brazil and the Central African Republic.

Kortz picked up the stone and a gold ring, keeping them separate in case the King didn't like the way the two looked together. He forewent the plane and instead drove to Vail, thinking he would spend a couple days up there skiing anyway and watching the Super Bowl on television. He arrived at Elvis' rental house near Golden Peak and was escorted into The King's bedroom by four or five off-duty officers. Elvis was eating a frozen, Lean Cuisine-type Mexican dinner.

By this time, it was well after midnight. Elvis liked the ring, said he wanted it and instructed Kortz to have the gem set. Another late-night phone call to another jeweler later (this time in Vail) lead to a visit to that jeweler's shop at some ungodly hour to have the stone set, and, finally, The King was satisfied.

"At first, he liked it... and then he didn't... and then he did again," Kortz remembers. "One of the police guys said he liked the ring, so Elvis gave it to him. Then, about an hour later, Elvis decided he liked the ring after all, so he traded it for something else with the cop." The King had a stash of jewelry in his room. No big deal.

But that's not the end of the story. Kortz and the cops returned to the rental house where Elvis was vacationing around 3 a.m., but the singer was hardly ready for bed. "His entertainment for the middle of the night was to go snowmobiling down Vail Mountain," Kortz told a small crowd gathered for Jonny Barber's Memphis kickoff at Nick's Cafe last week. "He had like ten snowmobiles parked in front of his house. So the last view I had of Elvis is him walking right past me in a one-piece snowmobile outfit with a solid gold police badge on it, a face mask, a cigar sticking out of his mouth and his pistol."

Kortz recalls the diamond cost the singer maybe $13,000. When Kortz returned to Denver, he gave each of his employees a few hundred dollars. "I didn't want to be greedy," Kortz says modestly. So where's the ring now? Lost, in all probability, says Kortz. He heard that the gem later fell out of the ring, and that was the end of it.

"Don't blame me though!" he concludes, laughing. "I'm not the guy who set it."

In honor of the 35th anniversary of Elvis's death, Kortz has created a custom Fool's Gold Loaf pendant that's available exclusively at Nick's Cafe on 7th and Simms, with a large portion of the proceeds going toward the victims of the recent Aurora theater tragedy.

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Mark Sanders
Contact: Mark Sanders