Gold Pocket Watch That Belonged To The Titanic’s Richest Passenger Sells For $1.46 Million

Published April 29, 2024

The watch belonged to John Jacob Astor IV, the richest man aboard the RMS Titanic, who died when the ship sank into the North Atlantic during the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.

John Jacob Astor Pocket Watch

Henry Aldridge & SonsA number of objects were found on John Jacob Astor’s body, including this engraved pocket watch.

When John Jacob Astor IV boarded the RMS Titanic on April 10, 1912, he was one of the richest men in the world. But when the ship went down just a few days later in the North Atlantic, he became one of the tragedy’s 1,500 victims.

His body was found with a number of expensive objects, including a gold watch that has just sold for $1.46 million. According to the auction house that sold the watch, this shattered the pre-sale estimate.

The Story Of John Jacob Astor’s Pocket Watch

When Henry Aldridge & Sons put John Jacob Astor’s golden pocket watch up for auction, they expected it would sell for between £100,000 and £150,000. Instead, the watch went for several times that when it sold on April 27. The anonymous buyer purchased it for $1.46 million (£1.17 million).

The watch thus became the most expensive Titanic artifact ever sold, surpassing the record previously held by the sale of Titanic band leader Wallace Hartley’s violin. In 2013, the violin sold for £1.1 million.

According to the auction house, the watch was recovered from Astor’s body on April 22, 1912, a week after the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. Astor had a number of expensive objects on his person, including a diamond ring, gold and diamond cufflinks, £225 in British currency, and $2,440 in American currency.

Astor Pocket Watch From The Titanic

Henry Aldridge & SonsThe inside of John Jacob Astor’s golden pocket watch.

Afterward, the watch came into the possession of Astor’s oldest son.

“The watch itself was completely restored after being returned to Colonel Astor’s family and worn by his son,” the auction house explained, “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.”

How John Jacob Astor, The Titanic‘s Richest Passenger, Went Down With The Ship

On April 10, 1912, John Jacob Astor boarded the RMS Titanic in Cherbourg, France, with his new wife, Madeleine Talmage Force. Their marriage in 1911 had caused a scandal — Madeleine was younger than Astor’s eldest son — and so the newlyweds had left the United States in hopes of returning once the shock around their wedding had died down.

John Jacob Astor And His Wife Madeleine

Public DomainJohn Jacob Astor and his wife, Madeleine. Circa 1911-1912.

But just a few days into their journey home, at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg.

According to Henry Aldridge & Sons, Astor initially didn’t believe that the Titanic would sink. When it became clear that disaster was imminent, he helped his wife to the lifeboats and asked if he could join her because of her “delicate condition” (Madeleine was pregnant). Astor was turned away and told that the lifeboats were only for women and children.

Astor asked for the lifeboat number — Titanic Second Officer Charles Lightoller thought that Astor wanted the information so that he could sue the White Star Line, though he may have just wanted to know how to find Madeleine later — then lit a cigarette and tossed his gloves to his wife.

He then went to smoke his cigarette with author Jacques Futrelle, neither of whom survived the sinking. The richest man aboard the ship, he was last seen on the Titanic‘s deck, clutching his pocket watch. His body was later identified by the initials sewn into his jacket and engraved in the watch.

In the century since, John Jacob Astor has become one of the Titanic‘s most well-known victims. His death showed how the sinking of the Titanic, though much more fatal for those in third class, didn’t discriminate. Even Astor’s wealth couldn’t protect him from the catastrophe.

And his watch, as the auction house remarked, is “truly [a] unique piece of history.”

After reading about the sale of the golden pocket watch that belonged to the Titanic‘s richest passenger, go inside some of the most heartbreaking stories told by Titanic survivors. Or, look through these rare photos of the Titanic before and after it sank in April 1912.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Gold Pocket Watch That Belonged To The Titanic’s Richest Passenger Sells For $1.46 Million.", April 29, 2024, Accessed May 23, 2024.