Reflecting On George Daniels: An Interview and An Auction

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 CollectionSotheby’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)

 

 

AN 18K YELLOW GOLD CHRONOGRAPH WITH DANIELS INDEPENDENT DOUBLE-WHEEL ESCAPEMENT, MEAN-SOLAR AND SIDEREAL TIME, AGE & PHASE OF THE MOON AND EQUATION OF TIME INDICATIONS CIRCA 1982 SPACE TRAVELLERS’ WATCH
Estimate: 400,000 – 600,000 GBP (629,320-943,980 USD)
AN 18K YELLOW GOLD OPEN-FACED CO-AXIAL FOUR-MINUTE TOURBILLON WATCH WITH DANIELS COMPACT CHRONOGRAPH MECHANISM AND 48-HOUR POWER RESERVE 1994
Estimate: 300,000 – 500,000 GBP (471,990-786,650 USD)
AN 18K YELLOW GOLD FOUR-MINUTE TOURBILLON WRISTWATCH (42mm) WITH DANIELS SLIM CO-AXIAL ESCAPEMENT AND COMPACT CHRONOGRAPH MECHANISM CIRCA 1991
Estimate: 150,000 – 250,000 GBP (235,995-393,325 USD)
AN 18K YELLOW GOLD OPEN-FACED ONE-MINUTE SPRING DETENT CHRONOMETER TOURBILLON WATCH 1970
retrograde hour hand
Estimate: 150,000 – 250,000 GBP (235,995-393,325 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!

Click here for Full Details on the November 6, 2012 Sotheby’s auction:  The George Daniels Horological Collection.

Click here to read the Interview of George Daniels by VeryImportantWatches.com, December 2009.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Outta-Time/100002940522372 Outta Time

    George Daniels said many times that unless there was something to improve or attempt experimentally, then why build the watch? His dismissal of the new materials is typical of this belief. Silicium provides no advantage, so why use it? Silicon hairsprings are extremely fragile and often shatter when shocked. They are more stable than the current alloys, but their fragility makes them unsuitable, IMO. I wasn’t aware that Omega didn’t have exclusivity on the escapement, so I have to agree, it is odd that no other companies are utilizing it.
    Anyway, as a watchmaker myself, Dr. Daniels is my hero, a master I never met, yet continue to learn from. We had a single copy of his book, “Watchmaking”, at school, and we passed it around reverently, amongst the students. It was a valuable insight and a jaw-dropping book then, and continues to be the bench standard for anyone who wants to build their own watch from scratch.
    Rest In Peace, Doc.

    • http://www.perpetuelle.com/ Perpetuelle

      Thanks for the comments! For all of you who have not read the full interview, I can not recommend it enough.

  • morten

    Great interview. Really liked his perceptions of tourbillons and other complications, and his straight forward opinion of the different high-end brands.

    • http://www.perpetuelle.com/ Perpetuelle

      Me too.

  • goju1

    Thanks for a great post.
    I recently read the interview and also balked at the comments about the use of new materials because the search for new ideas, things and materials really is part of kaizen and should (IMO) be pursued.
    However, perhaps Dr Daniels was alluding to a practice that some manufacturers are just using gimmicky materials as a way of marketing their watches by introducing something that doesn’t really add any value.
    But if one thinks of the concept watches made by Cartier and Tag-Heuer et al then I think there is evidence of true innovation (I would have liked to have heard his opinion of Hublot!)

    • http://www.perpetuelle.com/ Perpetuelle

      I grant you that it was tough to discern what exactly Daniels meant on those comments. He may well have been speaking to the “gimmicky” aspect. Though my takeaway was that he did not see anything other than traditional watchmaking materials as appropriate and was in a sense shunning “materials innovation” but OK with, in fact stressing the need for, mechanical innovation. Thanks as always for your sharing your thoughts!

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