Titanic watch sells for record-breaking £1.175 million

A gold pocket watch that was recovered from the body of the richest man on the Titanic has sold for a record-breaking £1.175 million.

The watch was sold on Saturday to a private collector in the US at Henry Aldridge & Son in Devizes, Wiltshire, for 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 – which sold at the same auction house in 2013, according to the auctioneers.

The golden pocket watch engraved with businessman John Jacob Astor's initials
The golden pocket watch was engraved with businessman John Jacob Astor’s initials (Henry Aldridge & Son/PA)

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 at Henry Aldridge & Son on Saturday for £360,000 including fees and taxes.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge told the PA news agency that the prices fetched by the Titanic memorabilia at the sale were “absolutely incredible”.

He said: “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.

“112 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 is 2,200 stories.

“2,200 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.

Mr Aldridge said: “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.

“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 by Mr Astor’s son Vincent to the son of his father’s executive secretary, William Dobbyn.