Yesterday, October 21, 2012, marked the one year anniversary of the passing of horological genius Dr. George Daniels. In many ways, Daniels left behind a profound impact on the art of watchmaking. He is one of if not “the” defining watchmaker of the 20th century. And on this occasion, I would like to bring to your attention two important matters related to George Daniels. First, just published, a very rare and revealing interview from December 2009, conducted by Mr. Constantin Stikas. Second, a preview of the upcoming sale (November 6) by Sotheby’s of “The George Daniels Horlogical Collection.” There’s never been a better time to learn about and appreciate the late Dr. George Daniels and his contributions to horology.
Creating Innovation: George Daniels interviewed by Mr. Constantin Stikas, December 2009
Like most of Stikas’s interviews, his intimate discussion with George Daniels is incredibly revealing and insightful. That he was granted an interview with Daniels was in itself amazing. Apparently Stikas just picked up the phone and called him!
In particular, you will learn about and even hear Daniels in his own voice speak of his invention of the co-axial escapement (perhaps his most recognized achievement), his views on Abraham Louis Breguet (the past), Roger Smith (the future), and much more. Stikas is masterful in his interview, probing and engaging Daniels in a revealing conversation that will amaze you. For me, oddly, I also sensed Daniels being acutely aware of, perhaps even reflecting on, his finiteness during the interview. At certain points he speaks of his age (“too old”) and talks about being very careful as to the one and only watch he makes per year, saying “I have no more time to spare.” Perhaps the benefit of hindsight — the remarks were made less than two years before his passing — are why these remarks were as profound as they were to me.
One series of exchanges I found particularly interesting was Daniels speaking about the co-axial escapement. Invented in 1970, Daniels notes that his co-axial escapement was first new escapement invented in four hundred years. And yet it took the Swiss twenty years to adopt it into their watches! And even then just one brand uses it today — Omega! But did you know Omega has no exclusivity on the co-axial? That’s right — any watch brand, anywhere in the world could incorporate it into their watches. And yet they do not. Clearly Daniels does not appreciate this, and in the interview you will see him admonish the Swiss for not broadly adopting his co-axial escapement — but he says eventually they will because of its superiority!
One other specifically interesting dialogue which I enjoyed was Daniels’ emphatic response to a query about the use of silicium and other new materials in watchmaking: “Waste of Time. Unnecessary….Absolutely no advantage whatsoever…Absolutely unnecessary.” He was not one to mince words, for sure! Though this did strike me as somewhat contradictory, the kind of statement that only someone as accomplished and respected as Daniels could make. On the one hand, Daniels comes across here as perhaps an old man who is firmly set in his ways (that is, preferring watches made of brass and steel, disdaining silicon); on the other hand, it Daniels is also a man who also speaks strongly of the need for innovation in watchmaking. A man who himself developed one of the most profound innovations in the history of watchmaking — the co-axial escapement! For Daniels to so strongly admonish materials innovation — why should it be perceived any differently than mechanical innovation — struck me as a peculiar statement! To me, it was analogous to someone who might have grown up using a mechanical typewriter — and seeing no need nor having no use for a personal computer.
That’s all I will share — I do not want to spoil the interview for you. Go now and read for yourself this fine and rare interview of George Daniels — in its entirety at VeryImportantWatches.com: George Daniels Interview. Then you will be well informed and ready to be excited about the upcoming sale of his personal horological collection.
The George Daniels Horological Collection: Sotheby’s, November 6, 2012
Coming up in London this November 6th, Sotheby’s will auction “The George Daniels Horological Collection”, a sale which Sotheby’s says comprises Daniels’ entire personal collection. One neat thing accompanying this auction is that Sotheby’s has obtained written tributes to Dr. George Daniels by several of today’s most prominent watch industry figures and watchmakers. There are tributes to Dr. Daniels by Stephen Forsey, Roger W Smith, Stephen Urquhart (Omega), Francois-Paul Journe, Emmanuel Breguet (descendant of AL Breguet), Alan Banberry (former curator Patek Philippe Museum), Michael Turner (Sotheby’s) — you can access all the wonderful tributes to Dr. Daniels here.
There’s also some great pieces by John Arnold, Breguet and others. Here is a look at a few of the top lots of the auction — some amazing Daniels pieces! Apologies in advance for not getting in to the specifics of each of these pieces. I’ll try to take a closer look at some of these in coming days.
AN 18K YELLOW GOLD ONE-MINUTE TOURBILLON WITH DANIELS SLIM CO-AXIAL ESCAPEMENT, MINUTE REPEATING, INSTANTANEOUS PERPETUAL CALENDAR, EQUATION OF TIME, MOON-PHASES, THERMOMETER AND POWER RESERVE INDICATION CIRCA 1987 THE GRAND COMPLICATION WATCH
Estimate: 500,000 – 800,000 GBP (786,650-1,258,640 USD)
Also up for grabs — and I think these would be something absolutely splendid to own — are a few sets of “The Art of Breguet” by George Daniels:
THE ART OF BREGUET, LONDON, 1975
Estimate: 800 – 1,200 GBP(1,258-1,887 USD)
One side note: Sotheby’s is honoured to hold the sale of George Daniels’ collection which includes, not only those pieces made by him that he retained for his own pleasure, but also fine and rare examples of both clocks and watches by some of the most famous makers of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. And on this note I am a small bit disappointed to see that one of the clocks was estimated (pre-sale) to be the top lot of the George Daniels auction, rather than one of Daniel’s pieces! OK, a nice and valuable clock, but why steal some of the thunder from the auction named specifically after George Daniels?! Sure it is just a pre-auction estimate, and I hope that one of Daniels’ pieces is the top selling lot, but don’t overshadow Daniels at his own namesake sale!