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Gold pocket watch found in Titanic sold for record-breaking price

John Astor's pocket watch and cufflinks were up for auction, 112 years after the tragedy - CORIN MESSER/BOURNEMOUTH NEWS AND PICTURE SERVICE

John Astor's pocket watch and cufflinks were up for auction, 112 years after the tragedy - CORIN MESSER/BOURNEMOUTH NEWS AND PICTURE SERVICE© Provided by The Telegraph

Agold pocket watch recovered from the body of the richest man on the Titanic on Saturday sold for a record price of £1.175 million.

The 14-carat gold Waltham watch, which belonged to business magnate John Jacob Astor, beat the £1.1 million paid in 2013 for the violin played by the bandmaster of the Titanic.  

The leather case that protected Wallace Hartley’s violin from the freezing water of the Atlantic also sold at the auction today for £360,000. Hartley placed the wooden instrument in the valise which he then strapped to his body, possibly for added buoyancy, as he plunged into the icy water.

Hartley, like Astor, died in the 1912 disaster which claimed the lives of 1,522 people. 

The two items were among dozens of Titanic-related pieces of memorabilia that went under the hammer at Henry Aldridge & Son. 

Other notable lots include a chess board made from wood recovered from the wreck site of the Titanic fetched £42,000, and an extremely rare pocket book of sailings for Titanic’s voyages for the rest of 1912. According to the schedule, the “unsinkable” ship would have made another 13 crossings of the Atlantic, with the last being on Dec 18 – the book sold for £70,000.

A chess board recovered from the Titanic wreck site fetched £42,000 - CORIN MESSER/BNPS© Provided by The Telegraph
A photo of the iceberg that may have sank the Titanic has come to light 112 years after the disaster - CORIN MESSER/BNPS© Provided by The Telegraph

Andrew Aldridge, the auctioneer said: “The Astor watch has now become the most valuable piece of Titanic memorabilia ever sold, just beating the £1.1 million paid for the violin over 10 years ago.

“It is a remarkable result. We expected the watch to sell for £150,000 but we had some incredible bidding on it and it eventually went to a US collector. 

“The results demonstrate the ongoing fascination of the Titanic story 112 years after she sank.”

On the night of the disaster, Astor, 47, saw his young, pregnant wife Madeleine into a lifeboat but was turned back by Charles Lightoller, the first officer. Rather than try his luck with another lifeboat, the impeccably dressed Astor was last seen smoking a cigarette on the starboard of the bridge wing chatting to a fellow first-class passenger.

Astor’s body was recovered from the north Atlantic seven days later.

His exquisite pocket watch, which was engraved J.J.A, was removed from the American’s body. The timepiece, along with his £55 million estate (£7 billion today), was left to his 20-year-old son Vincent.

It is not known what condition the watch was in at the time but it would have stopped working at 2.20am – the moment the Titanic and Astor disappeared into the Atlantic. 

As many as 1,517 people died when the Titanic sank on April 15 1912 - BNPS© Provided by The Telegraph

Vincent Astor later had the watch restored and repaired and wore it until 1935 when he gifted it to his godson, William Dobbyn.

Dobbyn’s father, also William, had been Astor’s executive secretary and was close to Vincent. Dobbyn Snr had accompanied Astor and Madeleine on their extended honeymoon to Egypt and France in September 1911. 

The newly-wedded couple boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg on April 10, 1912, to return to America but Dobbyn stayed behind in France, a move that saved his life.

The gold watch was acquired from the Dobbyn family by the private collector of Titanic memorabilia in the 1990s.

Since then, it has been displayed at various museums including the National Geographic Exhibition in Washington DC and the Titanic Museum, “The World’s Largest Titanic Attraction” in Missouri, US. 

Story by Telegraph reporters 

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