Sometimes, when something sells for a lot of money at an auction, you look at it and say, “Yeah – I get it. That’s a lot of money, but the item is pretty cool.”
A good example of that would be the recent sale of Babe Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring, which sold for $2.1 million in a recent auction. Granted, the 1927 New York Yankees are regarded as one of the greatest and best-known baseball teams of all time and the ring was also being sold by actor Charlie Sheen, who is himself famous.
That’s a lot of provenance, and the ring itself is a nice looking piece of jewelry. So when someone paid $2.1 million for it, most people probably saw that value in that, even though it was a tremendous amount of money.
On the other hand, the recent sale of a pocket watch that belonged to legendary gangster Al Capone sort of falls into another category. Sure, Al Capone is one of the most famous criminals of all time, and he’s famous for his years of crime, his incredibly lavish lifestyle, and the fact that he managed to avoid being jailed for his crimes for years before finally being imprisoned for tax evasion.
The watch sold for $84,375 at an auction of crime and police-related memorabilia called the Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen, held recently in Massachusetts.
To read the description, the watch certainly sounds impressive. It has an odd triangular shape and a platinum case, accompanied by a platinum chain. The watch was made by the Illinois Watch Company, which certainly isn’t a household name, but one which apparently had a solid reputation back in the day (the company’s remains are now owned by the Swatch Group.)
The bezel of the watch was set with 72 cut diamonds and a platinum dial with gold-toned numerals and watch hands.
23 cut diamonds were used on the back to form the initials “AC”, and those were surrounded by an additional 26 diamonds.
So the watch is platinum and gold and it has a lot of diamonds on it, and it was owned by one of the most famous, if not the most famous gangster in the era of well-known gangsters.
It’s still an ugly watch.
Now perhaps the watch hasn’t been cleaned up and was being sold “as is.” It’s possible that it might, as they say, “clean up nicely” and make an attractive presentation piece if given some TLC by a reputable jeweler.
It’s also possible that Al Capone had lousy taste and just asked the Illinois Watch Company to build a tacky-looking watch for him. It’s really hard to say.
It doesn’t really matter, anyway. The watch was undoubtedly purchased by someone who was interested in the item as an example of something owned by a major crime figure. It almost certainly was not purchased by someone who is a collector of watches.
The watch was offered for sale by a grandson of Capone, and accompanied by a letter of provenance, which said:
“Shortly after the passing of Albert Francis ‘Sonny’ Capone, his daughter, Barbara Prince, nee Capone, a resident of California, delivered the watch described below to me, along with other personal property that at one time was the personal property of my great grandfather, Alphonse G. Capone.”
An interesting piece, to be sure, but not necessarily one that will appeal to everyone’s taste.