On the Block: A Daniels TrioBy Ken Kessler
Despite George Daniels working in modern times, his pieces are as rare as any from the 17th or 18th centuries. How so? Because he made every part himself, and his work-intensive methodology precluded serial production. Thus, for not one, not two, but three Daniels timepieces to appear in auction in the same season is remarkable.
It starts with two magnificent items being offered at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: NINE on 11-12 May 2019. Lot 32, being a wristwatch, will probably attract the most interest in general, as it is a wearable timepiece, whereas Lot 34 is a pocket watch, and therefore of narrower – if more elevated – appeal. Both, however, rank among the “crème de la crème” of timepieces, important on every imaginable level: technical, historical and ultimately collectible.
A bare-bones, dry catalog description of Lot 32 would read “An extremely rare, historically important and attractive yellow gold wristwatch with power reserve indicator and date, circa 2010, 40mm Diameter Case, dial, movement and buckle signed. Estimate CHF180,000-360,000/€160,000-321,000/$181,000-363,000”
As Daniels’ most fervent fan-base is – like Daniels himself – British, it’s either ironic or cynical that the estimate isn’t stated in pounds sterling as well. This writer would love to see all of the Daniels watches stay in the UK, but that remains to be seen. It is one of the 35 Anniversary watches, its functions including power reserve indicator and date, this example’s movement with Daniels’ milestone Co-axial escapement stamped with the limited edition number 24/35. The 40mm case is made of yellow gold and it is fitted with a black alligator strap, with 18K yellow gold George Daniels deployant buckle. The watch will be sold with its original fitted box with key, presentation manual, cleaning cloth, setting pin and extra alligator strap.
This watch was produced to mark the 35th anniversary of Daniels’ invention – championed by Omega for 20 years – the watchmaker stating that his goal “has always been to make watches which provide historical, technical, intellectual, aesthetic, amusing and useful qualities. This wristwatch is a culmination of over 40 years of watchmaking and unashamedly takes inspiration from several pieces in my body of work. The 18 karat gold case houses a completely new and original Daniels calibre which is fitted with a calendar and power reserve complication and, along with the minute, hour and seconds, provides all the information that a fine watch should.”
Daniels, however, was partial to pocket watches, and Lot 34 is a unique example of his skills and philosophy. Dating from 1987, the George Daniels Grand Complication features a manually-wound, Co-axial escapement movement with instantaneous perpetual calendar, minute repeater, moon phase display, bimetallic centigrade thermometer, power reserve, equation of time, annual calendar and one-minute co-axial tourbillon. Its 62mm case is made of 18k yellow gold, and is accompanied by original fitted box and chain.
A perfect showcase for what is regarded by many as one of the greatest innovations in horology of the past 250 years, the Co-axial is Daniels’ modification of the lever escapement, enhanced by features of the detent escapement. It obviates the need to lubricate the pallets, thus minimising one of the shortcomings of the traditional lever escapement, by operating with a system of three pallets that separate the locking function from the impulse. This in turn avoids the sliding friction of the lever escapement.
Daniels fitted the escapement to various timepieces before finally interesting Omega in its acquisition. The Grand Complication is the only Daniels timepiece to feature an instantaneous perpetual calendar with retrograde date and minute repeater, both of his own design. Breathtakingly beautiful, Grand Complication also features a differential screw mechanism for the reserve of winding, and the Daniels keyless pendant and bow. Adding to its appeal, the Grand Complication was kept by Daniels for his personal use. It was never sold during his lifetime. Phillips’ estimate is available on request, so one suspects a seven-figure result.
Just as collectors were revelling in the news that Phillips had secured the two Daniels timepieces for the upcoming sale, Sotheby’s pulled a blinder with the announcement that its 2 July 2019 sale in London would include the timepiece Daniels described as “The kind of watch you would need on your package tour to Mars.” The Space Traveller I, from 1982, is yet another phenomenal pocket watch to tempt serious collectors and horological museums.
Its sale is timely, as the watch was created to commemorate the 1969 American moon landing, an event known to have made a great impression on his life. Its 50th anniversary is being marked in Houston at NASA headquarters while Omega – appropriately the supplier of watches for astronauts and the keeper of the Daniels Co-axial Escapement flame – will be celebrating the landing, too.
This 62mm 18k gold watch employs Daniels’ Independent double-wheel escapement with mean-solar and sidereal-time, phases of the moon and equation of time indications. Sotheby’s estimate is $900,000-1.2 million/£700,000-1 million, probably a conservative amount for not just one of the 23 pocket watches he produced, but also one of the most revered.
One cherished anecdote about this timepiece, described as “the most important English watch of modern times,” is that it was of enormous personal significance to Daniels, who treasured it and often wore it as a showpiece. Recounts Sotheby’s, “In 1982, over dinner with a collector, he was persuaded to part with it – a decision he quickly regretted.” The watch appeared for sale at Sotheby’s in Geneva in 1988, where it made a then-record of CFH 220,000. This is its first appearance in public in just over 30 years.
As a coda, it is also known that, driven by seller’s remorse after parting with the Space Traveller I, Daniels made a second version of the watch, Space Traveller II, made in 1982. That watch sold at Sotheby’s in 2017 for £3.2m/$4.3m.