Rediscovering Amelia Earhart’s Tiffany & Co Travel Watch
The aviation pioneer’s non-Pilot timepiece is a high point of Christie’s “An Evening of Exceptional Watches” auction.
American history is full of larger-than-life legends. And Christie’s “An Evening of Exceptional Watches” auction on December 7th offers mere mortals a chance to take home timepieces once beloved by giants such as jazz icon Billie Holiday, baseball god Joe DiMaggio and pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart’s Tiffany & Co. travel watch is an especially compelling offering. After all, like Holiday and DiMaggio, Earhart’s exploits helped define her adventurous generation: not only was she the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic she was also the first aviator of any gender to complete the solo voyage between Honolulu and Oakland, CA.
But it’s her mysterious disappearance in 1937 that has kept her memory alive in the public imagination. In fact, Earhart was still making headlines last September when a picture surfaced purportedly showing the aviator and her co-pilot Fred Noonan after having been captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.
While her fame never fades, the style of the Earhart timepiece featured at the Christie’s auction is a little more obscure. Known as a travel watch, these cigarette-lighter-sized objects were designed to be easily stowed in a handbag or pocket. They differ from pocket watches in that the cover of the timepiece slides backwards to reveal a dial which springs upwards when opened, making it an ideal travelling companion when placed on a desk or bedside table. And they are different from travel clocks in that they lack an alarm.
Which makes this tiny timepiece interesting even without the Earhart connection. It also has a uniquely American horological history. The watch was made in Newark, NJ, by the Cressarow Watch Co., a division of Henry Blank and Company (another fun fact: Henry Blank was a survivor of the Titanic disaster). While Cressarow is now forgotten, until well after World War II it was one of the largest and most successful jewelry firms in the USA. The company specialized in producing women’s wrist-, pendant, chatelaine, and purse style watches as well as men’s wrist- and pocket watches.
And Tiffany and Co. was Blank’s largest account. Then and today, Tiffany’s was the go-to place to purchase luxurious tokens of friendship and other presentation items. The Earhart watch is a stunning example of one such very thoughtful gift. It was sold by Tiffany & Co. In 1932. Inside the covered silver case (numbered and signed Cressarow) is a manual-wind 15-jewel movement.
The cream-colored dial, however, is marked by the retailer, and the watch is sold with the original presentation box which is engraved LA SECTION FEMININE, DE L'AERO CLUB DE FRANCE, A MRS AMELIA EARHART, PARIS 1932.
In the Air
Swapping valuable baubles was also a common practice of the era. When Earhart was in the sky, she wore a Longines one-button, two-register chronograph, which she later gifted to H. Gordon Selfridge Jr., owner of the famous London department store. But on the ground, she was fond of this Art Deco travel watch — a present from another admirer, British aviator Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia in 1930.
Sisters in the skies, these pioneering fly girls became good friends, working together and with others to promote women’s rights, equality and education.
The case is engraved simply with Earhart’s monogram on the front of the cover and “To Amelia, In Sincere Admiration, Amy” on the back of the watch.
The Earhart watch is also alluring because it is a beautiful object. Like many of Tiffany & Co.’s art deco offerings, the design is timeless. In fact, you can see the squared-off styling of this timepiece reflected in Tiffany’s current East West Watch Collection (which was informed by one the company’s archival travel clocks).
But the real reason that the Earhart watch carries an estimate of $60,000 to $120,000 is that it is a small but personal item once treasured by an outsized American legend. The lot also comes with and a book about Earhart entitled Soaring Wings, written by George Putman in 1939. Putnam, was, of course, a famous book publisher and Earhart’s husband (she refused to take his name as her own). The watch has been in the Putnam family since Earhart’s death and it is the first time it has come to auction.
The lot also includes three original photos of Earhart.
But at the end of the day, who can’t help but picture Earhart pulling the watch out of its sleeve and placing it upright on her nightstand before falling asleep, dreaming of her next adventures?
This fine silver travel watch, belonging to American Aviation pioneer, Amelia Mary Earhart is offered in An Evening of Exceptional Watches at Christies on December 7, in New York.
(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)