George Daniels (watchmaker)
George Daniels, CBE, DSc, FBHI, FSA (19 August 1926 – 21 October 2011) was a British horologist who was considered to be the best in the world during his lifetime. He was one of the few modern watchmakers who built complete watches by hand (including the case and dial). But it was his creation of the co-axial escapement for which he will be most remembered. The movement, which removed the need to add a lubricant, has been used by Omega in their highest-grade watches since 1999.
In 1944, Daniels entered the British Army; he already had an interest in watches and did some repairs for army friends. On leaving the army in 1947 with a gratuity of £50, he bought some tools and got a job as a watch repairer. From studying horology at night classes, he became a Fellow of the British Horological Institute. After a decade of hard work, Daniels opened his first watch repair and cleaning shop in 1960 in London. Becoming interested in the works of the notable early 19th-century French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, he soon became the 1960s' leading expert on Breguet and was often involved in advising on his work.
Rise to prominence
It was a friend named Sam Clutton who introduced Daniels to the upscale timepiece market and convinced him that he had a future in expensive hand-crafted watches. In 1968, Daniels constructed - for £2,000 - his first pocket watch for Clutton. When his friend showed the piece to fellow collectors, it created great interest. Five years later, Daniels bought the watch back for £8000. In 2012, it sold at auction in the United States for $285,000.
Throughout his career, Daniels made signature timepieces for personally selected clients, stating "I never made watches for people if I didn’t care for them." The watches, which cost tens of thousands of pounds, took more than 2500 hours to make. His signature was to give them clear and clean dials with subsidiary dials interwoven with the main chapter ring.
After much experimentation, Daniels had designed a new type of watch escapement by 1974. The mechanism, which was first unveiled in 1976 and patented in 1980, was called the co-axial escapement. Its design avoided the need to add oil to the escapement because the mechanism operated with very low friction. Traditional escapements had to use lubricants but this eventually caused problems with accuracy as oil thickened over time. But co-axial escapement used radial friction instead of sliding friction making the need for lubricants unnecessary. Daniels' mechanism has since been described as the most important development in horology in the past 250 years.
Although the horological industry was first introduced to the concept in 1976, Daniels' escapement was met by scepticism and disinterest. It was not until the 1980s that Swatch Group chairman Nicolas Hayek adopted the concept using it in his upmarket Omega brand. The company unveiled - to great acclaim - its first mechanical watch using Daniels’s co-axial escapement at the 1999 Basel Watch and Jewellery Fair.
Daniels, who was a member of the Swiss Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants', continued to make watches well in to later life. In total he created 37 hand-made watches completely by himself and a 50-piece wristwatch series in conjunction with independent watchmaker, Roger W. Smith, using a basic Omega movement. By the time of his death he is said to have "completed 24 of the most extraordinary and technically advanced watches ever made". His mechanical watches were more accurate than quartz with some losing less than a second per month.
Daniels, who was a Master of the Clockmakers' Company of London, was given their Gold Medal, a rare honour. He also received the Gold Medal of the British Horological Institute, the Gold Medal of the City of London and the Kullberg Medal from the Stockholm Watchmakers’ Guild.
In 2006, to celebrate his work and his 80th birthday, Sotheby’s and Bobinet (the antique watch dealer) held a retrospective exhibition of his work, featuring every watch Daniels had made, except one which is held by the British Museum. He was given an Award of Doctor of Science honoris causa by City University London in 2007.
He died on 21 October 2011
Daniels was a collector of classic cars. His collection included:
- 1908 Itala 100 hp Grand Prix Car: won the 1908 French Grand Prix and 1910 Brooklands All-comers Plate (fastest lap at 101.8 mph)
- 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner: ex-Frank Taylor of Taylor Woodrow Construction
- 1929 4½-litre Bentley Tourer by Vanden Plas: ex-Maharaja of Bhavnagar
- 1907 Daimler 45 hp Roi-de-Belges Tourer: built for the Earl of Craven
- 1929-32 Bentley 4½-Litre Supercharged Single-Seater: know as Bentley Blower No.1, developed and driven by Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin, it set the Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record at more than 137 mph in 1931
- 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 : Formerly Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin Le Mans Works car and owned by Italo Balbo
Watchmaking, written by Daniels and first published in 1981, remains one of the most definitive books on Horology. It was the first of another six books, some of which have been translated and published in French, Italian and German, that remain in print. Watchmaking, now in its Third Edition, was revised and reprinted in 1999.
On 6 November 2012 part of Daniels' collection, including some pieces he made, was sold by Sotheby's in a 134-lot sale. The auction raised over £8 million for the George Daniels Educational Trust, which helps students seeking higher education in the fields of horology, engineering, medicine, building or construction. The most expensive item was his 'Space Traveller’s Watch' which sold for £1,329,250.
- Watches, Clutton, Cecil and George Daniels, B. T. Batsford, Ltd., London, 1965
- English and American Watches, George Daniels, 1966
- The Art of Breguet, George Daniels, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1974 ISBN 0-85667-004-9
- Clocks & Watches in the Collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, Clutton, Cecil and George Daniels, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1975 ISBN 0-85667-019-7
- Watchmaking, George Daniels, Sotheby's, London, 1981 ISBN 0-85667-150-9 (2011 edition ISBN 0-85667-704-3)
- The Practical Watch Escapement, George Daniels Isle of Man, 1994
- All in good time: reflections of a watchmaker, George Daniels Isle of Man (UK), 2000
- Father time: Why George Daniels is the world’s best horologist
- All in good time : reflections of a watchmaker, George Daniels Isle of Man (UK), 2000.
- "George Daniels". The Economist. 26 November 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
- "George Daniels". Obit of the Day. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
- "George Daniels". London: Telegraph. 24 October 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
- Roger W. Smith
- Edwards, Mark (2 November 2012). "Dr George Daniels: 'Watchmaking god's' collection auctioned". BBC. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
- Omega site bio
- George Daniels
- The London Gazette: . 31 December 2009.
- Isle of Man watchmaker Dr George Daniels is awarded CBE
- "Watchmaker George Daniels's world-class classic car collection". PaulFraserCollectibles.com. Retrieved 2012-02-29.
- "Books published by George Daniels". www.danielslondon.com. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
- "STANDING ROOM ONLY AT SOTHEBY’S LONDON AS THE GEORGE DANIELS HOROLOGICAL COLLECTION TOTALS £8,285,139". Sotherby's. 6 November 2012.
- http://www.danielslondon.com/ George Daniels Official site.
- George Daniels tells his life story at Web of Stories
- The Art of Watchmaking - George Daniels
- http://www.omegawatches.com/index.php?id=332 Short biography and photograph
- BBC obituary
- George Daniels Biography by Michael Weare