A Gold Pocket Watch Recovered From the ‘Titanic’ Just Sold for a Record HK$11.5 Million
The Waltham timepiece belonged to the wealthiest passenger on the world-famous liner.
BY Rachel Cormack  |  May 4, 2024
2 Minute Read

Image courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son

More than a century on, the RMS Titanic remains not only a source of intrigue but a source of treasure

A gold Waltham pocket watch belonging to the richest person aboard the ill-fated 883-foot steamship sold for roughly US$1.5 million (approximately HK$11.7 million) at a Henry Aldridge & Son auction in the UK over the weekend, setting a new record price for Titanic artefacts.

The timepiece was recovered from the body of John Jacob Astor, after he died in the sinking of the ship in the early hours of 15 April 1912. A prominent American businessman, real estate developer, and investor, Astor was the wealthiest passenger aboard the Titanic, the auction house says. With a net worth of roughly US$87 million (HK$679.7 million)—equivalent to several billion dollars today—the 47-year-old was also one of the richest people in the world at that time. Astor was on the ship honeymooning with his new wife Madeleine when it struck that fateful iceberg. He was able to help Madeleine onto a lifeboat but was told by the officer in charge to stay on the ship as women and children were the priority.

The watch is engraved with the initials “JJA.”
Image courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son

Astor’s body was found not far from the sunken ship by CS MacKay-Bennett on 22 April. His personal effects included gold cufflinks, a diamond ring, £225 (HK$2,205), US$2,440 (HK$19,065), and, of course, the Waltham. Crafted from 14-carat gold, the pocket watch features 17 jewels and the initials “JJA” on the case. After it was recovered from the ocean, the piece was returned to Astor’s family and fully restored. The watch was sold with a signed affidavit from the family confirming the provenance. Henry Aldridge & Son has deemed it one of the most important pieces of horological history relating to the most famous ship in the world.

The watch was snapped up by an American collector for £1.175 million (HK$11.5 million) at the sale on Saturday, becoming the most expensive piece of Titanic memorabilia to be sold at auction. The previous record was set by a violin that hammered down for £1.1 million (roughly HK$10.7 million) at Henry Aldridge & Son in 2013. The case for that violin sold for £360,000 (approximately HK$3.5 million) at Saturday’s auction.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge told the PA news agency that the sums the lots achieved were 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. “112 years later, we are still talking about the ship and the passengers and the crew.”