A Look at Two Most Important Watches at Phillips New York Spring AuctionBy Cheryl Chia
Taking place on 11 and 12 June, Phillips’ New York Auction SIX marks the auctioneer’s first ever Spring watch auction in the Big Apple. The live sale will be a permanent instalment moving forward, in addition to the year-end sale Philips has held annually in the city since 2017. This follows a superlative 2021, where the annual sale in New York raised $35.9 million, setting a record for the highest value watch auction in US history.
Headlining the inaugural spring auction are two historically important watches that speak to the core of independent watchmaking – its foundations and legacy. The star of the show is an Anniversary wristwatch by the late George Daniels. It bears the serial number “00” and is one of just four examples made in platinum. The second is an F.P. Journe Chronomètre Souverain, also in platinum, which was a personal gift from Francois-Paul Journe to Daniels in 2010. Engraved on the balance cock are the words “FP to George Daniels, My Mentor 2010”
Rightly considered to be the most influential watchmaker of the 20th and 21st century respectively, the two watchmakers shared a close personal bond, both having been inspired by the work of Abraham-Louis Breguet and strove to emulate his elegance in engineering.
George Daniels Anniversary Watch, Number “00”
Widely recognized as the greatest watchmaker in the modern history of horology, George Daniels is perhaps most renowned for inventing the Co-Axial escapement, but of equally significant influence was his contribution to the trajectory of independent watchmaking. The trade, covering the span between the industrial revolution and the quartz crisis, was largely characterized by an intense division of labour. But Daniels became the first watchmaker to master 32 of the 34 essential skills required in the construction of a mechanical watch. He proved that it was possible to make a living as an independent watchmaker, pioneering a market and sector that had never existed before. His acclaimed tomes of scholarship on Breguet and his instructional book Watchmaking, which is widely regarded as a horological bible to this day, provided a guiding light for a whole new generation of watchmakers.
During his lifetime he made 24 unique pocket watches and four unique wristwatches – a double-case tourbillon, a chronograph with a four-minute tourbillon and a pair of rectangular tourbillon watches in blue and white respectively. On top of that, he created two serially produced limited editions with his protégé and heir apparent, Roger Smith – the Millennium launched in 1998 which was powered by a self-winding ETA-derived Omega movement and the Anniversary, which became the only serially produced wristwatch with a new movement made from scratch.
The Anniversary watch was created in 2010 to mark the 35th anniversary of the invention of the Co-Axial escapement. It was conceived entirely on the Isle of Man, according to the exacting handmade approach championed by Daniels, commonly referred to as “The Daniels’ Method.” In contrast to the Millennium, an entirely new calibre was built for the Anniversary series, which was then produced by Smith who was responsible for delivering the watches after Daniels’ death in 2011.
The series consists of 35 watches produced in yellow gold, four in white and four in platinum. This particular example is in platinum and is the only Anniversary watch across any metal to bear the serial number “00”.
Measuring 40mm wide, the watch features a symmetrical dial layout in the style of a four-minute tourbillon chronograph pocket watch created by Daniels in 1994. A power reserve indicator is located at noon with a date sub-dial on the bottom left and a small seconds on the bottom right. The dial is made of silver and has been decorated with three different guilloche patterns to create subtle contrast for each indicator. It has an inlaid hour chapter ring while the rings for the other indicators are raised, creating depth. Their markings are hand-engraved and filled with black lacquer. Notably, in contrast to the yellow gold examples, the platinum version features blued steel hands.
Like Breguet’s pocket watches, Daniels’ timepieces are distinguished by its mechanical elegance – a functional simplicity of construction. The center wheel is held in place by a large finger bridge, enabling much of the gear train to be seen. Because the fourth wheel is located at around six o’clock when viewed from the caseback, the small seconds is driven by an extension wheel to the third wheel.
Visible next to the barrel is a cone and feeler, also known as a differential screw mechanism for the power reserve. This method of displaying power reserve is a recurring element in many timepieces from Daniels, who preferred its aesthetics over the more common differential gear system.
While the differential gear system relies on a planetary gear, the differential screw system consists of a cone that is driven up and down the threads of a vertical screw linked to the barrel. It is accompanied by a tensioned feeler arm that measures the motion of the cone and transmits the state of wind to the power reserve hand on the dial. Notably, the differential screw system operates in conjunction with a stopwork mechanism in the Anniversary.
The basis for a stopwork mechanism is to stop the balance before the mainspring winds down completely. It is a simple solution to address waning torque, utilizing only part of the mainspring, during which force is most consistent. As the cone falls during unwinding, a forked lever that is connected to a brake lever embraces the cone, causing the brake lever to lock the balance. As the watch is wound, the cone rises and pivots the brake lever to release the balance wheel. Visible just above the balance wheel on the right is a tensioner spring that puts pressure on the forked lever, facilitating engagement and disengagement of the balance.
However, the star of the show is no doubt the Co-Axial escapement. In fact, the Anniversary is equipped with a single-wheel Co-Axial escapement that was revised by Smith. As a recap, the Co-Axial escapement successfully combined the benefits of both the lever and detent escapements while eliminating their weaknesses. It is a dual-impulse escapement that is self-starting while being oil free. Its only downside is its relatively complex construction, necessitating a pair of co-axially mounted escape wheels which increases inertia and demands careful adjustments to ensure concentricity. Thus, to improve efficiency, the upper and lower wheels have been integrated into a single piece by changing its geometry and adding a set of vertical teeth, or pillars, to the inner part of the wheel. This ensures precise concentricity while being lighter, reducing rotational inertia. In Daniels’ words, “This development guarantees both radial and concentric orientation of the two sets of teeth and their pivot point and I see it as a natural and useful development of my escapement”.
Power reserve is 36 hours while the balance runs at a frequency of 2.5 Hz. The balance is free-sprung with four gold inertia weights on its rim and is held in place by a rounded, black polished cock. The rest of the movement has a beautiful frosted finish which offers an appealing contrast to the engine-turned dial. Lastly, the barrel bridge is engraved with the number “00” alongside the Daniels name.
The watch has an estimate of US$500,000 to 1,000,000.
F.P. Journe Chronomètre Souverain Gifted to George Daniels
A gift to George Daniels from Francois-Paul Journe, the Chronomètre Souverain is, in essence, a relic of the legacy left behind by Daniels, carrying the admiration one watchmaker had for another. Almost inevitably, through his books, pocket watches and common branches of interest, Daniels became a great inspiration and a mentor to Journe.
Both watchmakers shared the same language of mechanics – an elegant practicality in construction while putting precision at the heart of their watchmaking. This extended beyond the essence of watchmaking to the development of complications. Both have a knack for executing complications in an inventive yet exceedingly practical way, most evident in watches such as George Daniels’ compact chronograph wristwatch and the F.P. Journe Centigraphe.
The Chronomètre Souverain is a distillation of Journe’s unique language. The calibre 1304 within is equipped with double barrels installed in a parallel configuration. In contrast to serially coupled barrels, which achieves a longer power reserve, the objective of parallel barrels is to offer greater and more consistent torque. Power reserve is 56 hours and the balance runs at a frequency of 3 Hz.
Most intriguingly, the movement was designed such that the escape wheel appears to be mysteriously disconnected from the gear train. While the center wheel is visible between the barrels, the rest of the going train before the escape wheel are hidden beneath the base plate. As such, the architecture of the movement, which is characterized by beautifully shaped bridges, is more prominent and elegant when viewed from the case back. Made of solid rose gold, the base plate is decorated with perlage while the bridges are striped. The movement measures just 4mm thick, allowing the watch to clock in at 8mm high. The free-sprung balance is held in place by a balance cock engraved with the words, “FP to George Daniels, My Mentor 2010.”
The calibre is housed in a 40mm platinum case that is paired with a silver dial. It adopts an asymmetrical layout that is attractively balanced. The small seconds sub-dial is located at 7 o’clock, while the power reserve display is at 3 o’clock. It features blued steel hands and clous de Paris guilloche patten on the central dial.
Accompanying the watch is a signed letter from Journe, noting in French, “Thanks to your publications such as The Art of Breguet or Watchmaking, I have patiently learned on my workbench to make my first watch, you know the rest.” The watch has an estimate of US$250,000 to US$500,000. It was initially sold as part of the personal collection of George Daniels at Sotheby’s in 2012, and last sold for US$420,627 at Christie’s last year.