Titanic: The word evokes one of the most tragic moments in modern history.
On her maiden voyage 100 years ago, the world's largest ocean liner struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, sinking within two hours on April 14, 1912. The deaths of more than 1,500 passengers, paired with harrowing stories of survival, made headlines around the world.
But the Titanic also evokes a time of grandiosity and pomp, which Premier Exhibitions Inc. will display with a collection of recovered Titanic jewels for the next two months in Atlanta, Ga.
Most of the jewels come from a single leather bag found two and half miles below the ocean's surface in 1987, during one of the earliest expeditions to the site of the wreck of the Titanic.
On that fateful night, when passengers and crew members aboard the Titanic were ordered to abandon ship, pursers began to place banknotes, documents and jewels in leather bags with the idea to place them on lifeboats and later return them to the rightful owners. The chemicals used to tan the leather bags repelled microorganisms that would otherwise have attempted to eat away at the contents, which allowed them to be discovered on the ocean floor 75 years later.
Since their recovery, retrieved objects have brought the story of the Titanic to life.
Mark Lach, creative director of "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" said the first-ever showcasing of these Titanic jewels provides a unique look at another era.
"We are all fascinated with the rich and famous of the world, and the Titanic had those passengers on board. When we study these pieces of jewelry there is something to learn. We're fascinated by their beauty, but they also have fascinating stories to tell from another time."
Most of the passengers aboard the Titanic were would-be European immigrants to the United States on third-class tickets, but a who's who of the world's elite also was aboard what was billed as the most luxurious ocean liner of its day, with first-class tickets starting at $57,200 in today's dollars.
Lach said one of his favorite pieces is a gold nugget necklace, thought to belong to philanthropist and socialite Margaret Brown – the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” of Broadway and film. The unrefined gold nuggets are believed to have been a gift from her husband, J.J. Brown, representing the wealth the family accumulated in the mining industry.
A pocket watch, belonging to hotelier Thomas William Solomon Brown, was returned to his surviving daughter, Edith Brown Haisman in the 1990s after it was recovered. Brown Haisman, who was also a passenger on the Titanic, bequeathed the watch to Premier Exhibitions upon her death.
One of the most curious pieces of jewelry is a charm necklace, whose owner has never been identified, with the inscription, "This be your lucky star."
Lach said we can all relate to that sad irony. "I think we all put ourselves on that ship. We think about our own families when we think about that great tragedy and we are still fascinated these many years later."
The 15-piece exhibition opens this Friday in Atlanta, and then moves to Orlando, Fla. and Las Vegas.