In a recent episode of CBS’s Ghost (the American version of the BBC show) titled “The Vault,” audience meet a ghost named Elias Woodstone. The episode ends with the living couple – Samantha and Jay – finding his pocket watch which he purchased for $5,000. They celebrates because they will be able to sell the watch to pay off some of their debts.
It was a minor plot point and I should have moved on.
…….but I have a Ph.D. and love for history, so I had to know more about that watch. Specifically, were there watches from the 1880s that sold for $5,000? And if they did exist, what would they be worth today?
(Why 1880s? Well, while the death years for Elias and his main-character wife, Hetty Woodstone, have yet to be stated, some articles point to the 1880s. An article for MediaPost states that Hetty died in the 1880s and a fan wiki places her death in 1891.)
After some research, I found multiple high-end watch companies that were around during this decade. These being Boucheron, Bulgari, Chopard, Cartier, Tiffany and Co. as well as Patek Philippe. Sadly, I couldn’t find public resources documenting the prices those companies sold watches for in the 1880s.
I should have stopped there because I have plenty of work and a social life. Then I realized I have no social life and began researching organizations dedicated to watches.
I found and emailed the Horological Society of New York. To my surprise, Executive Director Nicholas Manousos got back to me. Manousos shared that “spending $5,000 on a pocket watch in the 1880s wasn’t impossible, but was unlikely except for those that were unique and highly complicated.”
While he didn’t know of any watches from the 1880s that matched Elias’s, he pointed me in the direction of a Patek Philippe watch. Called the Palmer Grand Complication, it was produced in 1898 and sold in 1900 for the price of 6000 Swiss Francs. And in 2013 this watch sold at a Christie’s New York auction for over $2.25 million.
So, for the characters of Samantha and Jay in Ghosts, the high-end pocket watch they now have could get them a lot of money.
And for those curious about inflation, $5,000 in 1885 (to pick a random year) would be worth $143,712.37 in 2022. Which is also a nice chunk of change.
 According to HistoricalStatistics.org, 6000 Swiss Francs in 1900 would be worth $1159.76 USD in 1900. Though not $5k, the existence of this watch is further evidence that really expensive watches existed in the 1880s.
You can check out our review of the recent UK Holiday Special here.
Also, “Ghost” – the American version – has just been renewed for season 2. So, congrats to everyone working on the show!!!!