Discovering a charming vintage watch at auction recently – its unusual brand name caught my eye, “Diamond Jim Brady” the petite lady’s wristwatch said. The Art Deco era 10K rolled gold timepiece had ruby and diamond or look-alike stones encrusting the face and across its case.
Self-made Diamond Devotee
It jogged my memory, causing me to recall colorful sagas I heard of years ago about an early 20th century self-made man referred to as Diamond Jim Brady. His name was actually James Buchanan Brady, born into humble surroundings on Manhattan’s lower west side (1858-1917). He rose to prominence and wealth by sheer will and persistence.
Starting at the Bottom – but Not for Long
From starting out as a young bellhop on the railroad, by the age of 21, Brady became a highly successful sales agent for the Pressed Steel Car Company. He then invested in the stock market. Some historians tally his wealth during the Gilded Age to be at $12 million. Calculating for inflation, that put his 1900 stash of $12 million to be worth approximately $372 million in today’s money.
In a city known for rich robber barons and tycoons, Brady was still the first man to own an automobile in New York City. His other excesses included a ravenous appetite. He dined lavishly and often, and insiders claim he could eat enough for 10 people at one meal.
If You Got it, Flaunt It
Also, during his colorful life, Brady developed an opulent taste for jewels, and diamonds in particular. His theory was that a man of wealth should show off his prosperity. So, he adorned himself right down to his undies in fine diamonds and gemstone jewelry every day of his life. That ostentatiousness provoked the ire of high society – but he didn’t let that dampen his enthusiasm for flaunting his high net worth and esteem for diamonds and gemstones.
Today we hear of women jewelry collectors who amass hordes of baubles during their lifetime. And a beautiful woman is certainly the perfect complement for gorgeous jewels. But let’s remember there was once a time when the ultra-flashy collector was a man who loved diamonds and gemstones so much, he just had to wear them all at once, and all the time.
Brady lived life to the fullest, and died at 60 years of age in his sleep. Having never married, his vast wealth was dispersed after his death to the benefit of hospitals and other worthwhile institutions around the east coast.