As the Titanic sank, John Jacob Astor was reportedly seen “smoking a cigarette and chatting with another passenger.” This is how the British auction house Henry Aldridge

Born in 1864, John Jacob Astor, fourth of his name, was an ancestor of a fur trader of German origin who amassed a colossal fortune in the 19th century, as detailed in this blog article from the American Library of Congress.

Three generations later, William Astor consolidated the family fortune with real estate acquisitions in New York City. In particular, he built the Waldorf Hotel on Fifth Avenue. His son, John Jacob IV, added another flagship of New York architecture in 1897: the Astoria, attached to the first by a footbridge, the whole became the Waldorf-Astoria. John Jacob Astor IV also served in the United States Army, serving as lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War.

At the time, his fortune, estimated at $87 million, was among the largest in the world, let alone the Titanic. In April 1912 in Cherbourg, it was a 47-year-old Astor, recently divorced and remarried – to the great dismay of New York “society” – who boarded the transatlantic with his 18-year-old wife, Madeleine Talmadge Force, with whom he travels on his honeymoon.

On the night of April 11 to 12, 1912, he found a place for the young woman on a lifeboat just before perishing with 1,500 other passengers and crew members (the episode is notably featured in James’s film Cameron, Astor being played by Eric Braeden, the “Victor Newman” of The Young and the Restless).

His body was found a few weeks after the shipwreck, with the famous watch on his wrist. Waltham brand, it is made of 14-carat gold, and engraved with the initials of John Jacob Astor. First passed on to his son Vincent Astor, the jewel was then bequeathed to the son of his secretary.

In April 2024, the watch was sold for 1.2 million pounds sterling, or 1.37 million euros. A level never reached for a “memorabilia”, an object linked to the history of the famous ship sunk at the bottom of the Atlantic on April 14, 1912. Another object, a violin whose notes resonated until the final moments of the famous liner, was sold by the same house in 2013 for the sum of 1.1 million pounds.