A sale of rare significance will be held this November 6th at Sotheby’s London, when the complete personal collection of the late George Daniels (1926-2011), regarded as the greatest watchmaker of the twentieth century, comes under the hammer in 137 lots.
One hundred of the lots are clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century by such acclaimed names as John Harrison, Thomas Tompion and Joseph Knibb. Twenty-seven are watches made by Daniels himself, in his workshop in the Isle of Man. Of these, nine (lots 9 to 17) were made entirely by the English master watchmaker, from the complication movement to the case and dial, down to the screws. Each took more than three thousand hours to complete. Among them is the genius watchmaker’s first chronograph wristwatch (lot 13), which he made in 1991. The remaining ten lots comprise bronzes, books, manuscripts and watchmaking tools.
George Daniels devoted his life to watchmaking, except time spent indulging his other passion of classic cars. His interest in watches began at the early age of five, when he pieced together a broken watch which his parents had thrown away. He worked for a time in a mattress factory, then at a garage, before setting up a clock repair business. Not content with repairing timepieces, he decided to build… a marine chronometer. And the rest is history.
An extraordinary career
Self-taught, an authority on Abraham-Louis Breguet, and the author of several manuals on watchmaking, George Daniels is world-renowned as the inventor of the co-axial escapement, a revolutionary mechanism which he developed in the 1970s and would incorporate into all his timepieces. In 1975, his escapement equipped an Omega Speedmaster cal 1045. Patek Philippe, then Rolex, were interested in his invention, but it was Swatch Group which in 1999 launched the Omega Millennium, equipped with the famous co-axial escapement. Omega acquired the exclusive right to use the mechanism, with Roger Smith. Needless to say then, George Daniels was amply rewarded for his creative genius.
Says François-Paul Journe, one of his many admirers, “were it not for the example he set, I would never have dared build my first watch.” The Geneva-based watchmaker points to Daniels’ courage in making his first watch in 1969, when quartz ruled, thereby paving the way for all those who believe the measurement of time is an art.
All proceeds from the sale will be donated to the George Daniels Educational Trust.
Lot 9: Space Travellers pocket watch made by George Daniels (1982). Yellow gold, double-wheel escapement, sidereal time, moon phases, equation of time. Estimate: GBP 400,000-600,000 / USD 635,000-950,000 / CHF 599,000-899,000.
Lot 10: Grande Complication watch made by George Daniels (1987). Yellow gold, one-minute tourbillon, co-axial escapement, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, equation of time, moon phases, thermometer. Estimate: GBP 500,000-800,000 / USD 790,000-1,270,000 / CHF 749,000-1,199,000.
Lot 13: First tourbillon wristwatch made by George Daniels (1991). Yellow gold, four-minute tourbillon, co-axial escapement. Estimate: GBP 150,000-250,000 / USD 257,000-395,000 / CHF 224,000-374,000.
Lots 57, 58 and 59: The Art of Breguet written by George Daniels (1975). Gilt tooled calf binding. Estimate: GBP 800-1,200 / USD 1,300-1,900 / CHF 1,200-1,800 per volume.
Lot 62: Two-day marine chronometer, signed Breguet et Fils (1818). Mahogany case. Estimate: GBP 20,000-30,000 / USD 31,600-47,400 / CHF 30,000-44,964.
Lot 130: Exceptionally rare, small silver-mounted ebony Roman striking table clock with velvet-covered dial, signed Joseph Knibb Londini Fecit (1677). Estimate: GBP 600,000-900,000 / USD 950,000-1,430,000 / CHF 899,000-1,349,000.
Lot 131: Ebony Roman striking longcase clock, signed Joseph Knibb Londini Fecit, (1685). Estimate: GBP 200,000-300,000 / USD 216,000-474,000 / CHF 299,000-449,000.