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Horological History: Timepiece Recovered From Richest Passenger to Die in Titanic Tragedy Sells at Auction

Titanic Relic: Wealthiest Passenger's Gold Pocket Watch Sold at Auction
Source: Unsplash

The watch was restored and worn by his son for years, officials said.

May 5 2024, Published 1:02 p.m. ET

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A gold pocket watch that was recovered from the body of John Jacob Astor IV following the sinking of the Titanic went up for auction.

The auction for the wealthiest Titanic passenger's 14-carat gold Waltham pocket watch began recently, with the starting bid set at 60,000 pounds ($74,979), according to auction house Henry Aldridge and Son.

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"Astor is well known as the richest passenger aboard the R.M.S. Titanic and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time, with a net worth of roughly $87 million (equivalent to several billion dollars today,)" the auction house wrote in a description of the lot.

Astor, who was in his 40s when he died, was on the Titanic returning to the U.S. from his honeymoon in Europe and Egypt with his 18-year-old wife, Madeleine.

When the boat sank on April 14, 1912, Astor asked if he could join his wife on a lifeboat, citing her "delicate condition," but he was not allowed, according to the auction house.

While his wife survived, Astor was among the more than 1,500 who died. His body was recovered on April 22 by the steamer CS McKay-Bennett. In addition to the pocket watch, which is engraved with the initials JJA, a diamond ring, gold and diamond cufflinks and a large amount of cash were recovered with his body.

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"The watch itself was completely restored after being returned to Colonel Astor's family and worn by his son making it a unique part of the Titanic story and one of the most important pieces of horological history relating to the most famous ship in the world," the auction house said.

John Jacob Astor IV was, among other things, a real estate developer who founded the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. He was the grandson of German-born John Jacob Astor, a fur trader who became one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. by the time of his death in 1848.

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CBS News reported that the gold pocket watch sold for $1.46 million.

TMX contributed to this report.


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