George Daniels (watchmaker)

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George Daniels

George Daniels.jpg
Born(1926-08-19)19 August 1926
Died21 October 2011(2011-10-21) (aged 85)
Known forCoaxial escapement

George Daniels, CBE, DSc (honorary), FBHI, FSA, AHCI (19 August 1926 – 21 October 2011) was an English horologist who was considered by some to be one of the best in the world in the field of luxury mechanical watches and timepieces during his lifetime.[1] He was a watchmaker who built complete watches by hand (including the case and dial). But it was his creation of the coaxial escapement for which he is most remembered. The movement, which theoretically removed the need to add a lubricant, has been used by Omega in most of their collections since 1999 except of the Speedmaster Moonwatch (until the release of the Speedmaster Moonwatch Caliber 3861 in 2021).[1]

A yellow gold chronograph pocket watch made by George Daniels, the Space Traveller's Watch I, ranks as one of the 20 most expensive watches ever sold at auction, fetching £ 3,615,000 in London on 2 July 2019.[2]

Early career[edit]

Daniels was born in Sunderland in 1926. His mother was unmarried so she fled London and travelled north. After Daniels was born he and his mother returned to London, where she married Daniels' father.[3] 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, Daniels soon became the 1960s' leading expert on Breguet and was often involved in advising on his work.[4]

Rise to prominence[edit]

His friend named Sam Clutton introduced Daniels to the upscale timepiece market and convinced him that he had a future in expensive handcrafted watches.[a] In 1969, 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 £8,000. In 2012, it sold at auction in the United States for $285,000.[7]

Throughout his career, Daniels made signature timepieces for personally selected customers, stating "I never made watches for people if I didn't care for them."[8] The watches, which cost tens of thousands of pounds, took more than 2,500 hours to make. His signature was to give them clear and clean dials with subsidiary dials interwoven with the main chapter ring.

Coaxial escapement[edit]

The coaxial escapement was created by George Daniels in 1974.

During the quartz crisis, George Daniels accepted a commission from American industrialist and watch collector Seth G. Atwood to create a timepiece that would fundamentally improve the performance of mechanical watches.[9] After much experimentation, Daniels had designed a new type of watch escapement by 1974. The mechanism, which was first unveiled in 1976 as the Atwood watch and patented in 1980, was called the coaxial escapement.[10]

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. However, the coaxial escapement used radial friction instead of sliding friction, making lubricants theoretically unnecessary. In practice a small amount of lubrication is used on the impulse and locking surfaces of the pallet stones. Daniels' mechanism has since been described by some as the most important development in horology in the past 250 years.[11]

Although the horological industry was first introduced to the concept in 1976, Daniels' escapement was met with scepticism and lack of interest. 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 automatic watch using Daniels' coaxial escapement at the 1999 Basel Watch and Jewellery Fair.[12]

Later life[edit]

The Grand Complication watch of 1987

Daniels, who was a member of the Swiss Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants', continued to make watches well into later life. In total he created 37 handmade watches completely by himself and a 50-piece wristwatch series in conjunction with independent watchmaker, Roger W. Smith, using a basic Omega movement.[13] By the time of his death he is said to have "completed 24 of the most extraordinary and technically advanced watches ever made".[14] His mechanical watches were more accurate than quartz watches, with some losing less than a second per month.[7]

Daniels, who was a Master of the Clockmakers' Company of London, was given their Gold Medal, a rare honour.[15] 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.[11]

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.

In 2010 Daniels, who was already an MBE, was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours.[16][17]

Personal life[edit]

He married, in 1964, Juliet Marryat, with whom he had a daughter. The marriage was later dissolved. He was the uncle of philosopher Stephen Neale. Daniels died on 21 October 2011.[11]

Daniels's ex-Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin red Bentley Motors monoposto racer, known as "Bentley Blower No.1" or the "Brooklands Battleship", shown at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

Daniels was a collector of classic cars. His collection included:[18]

  • 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: known 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.[19] 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.[19]

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.[14] The most expensive item was his "Space Traveller's Watch" which was sold for £1,329,250 in 2012[20] and then for £3,196,250 when it was resold in 2017.[21]

Published works[edit]

  • 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, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 2010. ISBN 978-0-85667-687-1
  • All in Good Time: Reflections of a Watchmaker, George Daniels Isle of Man (UK), 2000

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cecil "Sam" Clutton (1909–1991) was senior partner in his family's firm of Chartered Surveyors, a Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, a founder member of the Vintage Sports-Car Club and a published cartoonist.[5] Daniels met Clutton in the early 1960s through their shared interest in vintage sports cars. They found they also had a shared an interest in horology and shortly after their first meeting Clutton invited Daniels to inspect his collection of antique watches.[6]
  1. ^ a b Youde, Kate (5 September 2010). "Father time: Why George Daniels is the world's best horologist". The Independent. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  2. ^ "George Daniels, London (A Unique and Highly Important Yellow Gold Watch)". Sotheby's.
  3. ^ George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker and His Art by Michael Clerizo
  4. ^ Daniels, George (2000). All in Good Time: Reflections of a Watchmaker. Isle of Man (UK): Philip Wilson Publishers. ISBN 978-0-85667-680-2. Retrieved 26 March 2015 – via
  5. ^ Grannell, Adam (21 December 2007). "Motoring Artist Information -Cecil (Sam) Clutton". Motor Racing Art. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  6. ^ Daniels 2000, p. 60.
  7. ^ a b "George Daniels". The Economist. 26 November 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  8. ^ "George Daniels". Obit of the Day. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  9. ^ Ramsay, Rachel (8 March 2012). "Sale of a Master's Collection". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  10. ^ Manousos, Nicholas (21 June 2018). "Historical Perspectives: Rarely Seen Documentary Video Featuring George Daniels And Seth Atwood". Hodinkee. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  11. ^ a b c "George Daniels". Telegraph. London. 24 October 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  12. ^ Andrew Crisford (January 2015). "Daniels, George (1926–2011)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/104233. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  13. ^ Thomson, Curtis D. (14 October 2002) Roger W. Smith: Isle of Man - The Millennium Watch Archived 23 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 26 March 2015
  14. ^ a b Edwards, Mark (2 November 2012). "Dr George Daniels: 'Watchmaking god's' collection auctioned". BBC. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  15. ^ Master watchmaker Dr. George Daniels, 1926 – 2011 24 October 2011, Retrieved 26 March 2015
  16. ^ "No. 59282". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2009. p. 7.
  17. ^ Isle of Man watchmaker Dr George Daniels is awarded CBE BBC. 3 February 2010. Retrieve 26 March 2015
  18. ^ "Watchmaker George Daniels's world-class classic car collection". Archived from the original on 14 January 2012. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  19. ^ a b "Books published by George Daniels". Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  20. ^ "Standing Room Only at Sotheby's London As the George Daniels Horological Collection Totals £8,285,139" (PDF). Sotheby's. 6 November 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  21. ^ "Dr George Daniels' Space Travellers' watch sells for £3.2m". BBC News. 27 September 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2017.

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