Gold watch breaks record for Titanic memorabilia sales

The Titanic, under construction in Belfast in 1911-1912.

The Titanic, under construction in Belfast in 1911-1912. Photo: Universal Images Group via Getty

A gold pocket watch recovered from the body of the richest man on the Titanic has sold at auction in the UK for a record-breaking $2.3 million.

The watch was sold for £1.175 million ($2.27 million) on Saturday to a private collector in the US – the highest amount ever for Titanic memorabilia, the auctioneers said.

The original owner of the watch, businessman John Jacob Astor, 47, went down with the ship in 1912 after seeing new wife Madeleine onto a lifeboat.

The previous highest amount paid for Titanic artefacts was £1.1 million for a violin that was played as the ship sank.

It sold at the same auction house in 2013, according to the auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son in Devizes.

A spokesperson for the auctioneers said the £1.175 million was inclusive of fees and taxes paid by the buyer.

The case for the violin was sold at the same auction as the pocket watch on Saturday for £360,000 ($696,700) including fees and taxes.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said the prices fetched by the Titanic memorabilia at the sale were “absolutely incredible”.

“They reflect not only the importance of the artefacts themselves and their rarity but they also show the enduring appeal and fascination with the Titanic story,” he said.

“One hundred and twelve years later, we are still talking about the ship and the passengers and the crew.

“The thing with the Titanic story, it’s effectively a large ship hits an iceberg with a tragic loss of life, but more importantly it is 2200 stories.

“Twenty two hundred subplots, every man woman and child had a story to tell and then the memorabilia tells those stories today.”

Rather than try his luck with another safety vessel, impeccably dressed Astor, who was a prominent member of the wealthy Astor family, was last seen smoking a cigarette and chatting with a fellow passenger.

His body was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean seven days later and his exquisite 14-carat gold Waltham pocket watch, engraved JJA, was found.

“Astor is well known as the richest passenger aboard the RMS Titanic and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time, with a net worth of roughly 87 million US dollars – equivalent to several billion dollars today,” Aldridge said.

“At 11.40pm on April 14 ,1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and started to take on water.

“At first, Astor did not believe the ship was in any serious danger, but later it was apparent she was sinking and the captain had started an evacuation after midnight, so he helped his wife into lifeboat 4.”

Mrs Astor survived, and her husband’s body was recovered on April 22 not far from the sinking.

The watch was passed on by Astor’s son Vincent to the son of his father’s executive secretary, William Dobbyn.


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