Sotheby’s Celebrates George Daniels and English Watchmakers with July 2017 London SaleBy Ken Kessler
Among the names that stimulate upper-echelon watch collectors to a degree best described as “feverish”, few excite like “George Daniels”. Arguably the greatest watchmaker of the 20th century, inventor of the co-axial escapement and one of the key chroniclers of the works of Breguet, Daniels produced precious few watches himself, one of which is the star of Sotheby’s 6 July sale in London.
Concluding Sotheby’s series, “The Celebration of the English Watch,” this auction is titled “Part IV: George Daniels Twentieth Century Innovator.” It consists of 78 watches from great English makers, dating from the middle of the 17th century to the 1970s, climaxing with a Daniels. Included in the sale are the smallest English pocket chronometer ever made, contrasting with one of the largest English coach watches in existence, and examples from greats including Dent, Earnshaw, the Vulliamys, Tmpion, Arnold, Ellicott, Frodsham, Graham and many others.
Representing the cream of English watchmaking from the 17th century is Lot 2, a rare, ornately pierced silver hour striking coach watch made by Edward East, circa 1655. Engraved with flowers and foliage on the movement and the case, its estimate is £30,000-50,000. Lot 3 is a superb silver astronomical verge watch, made by Benjamin Hill, estimate £50,000-70,000, once owned by Daniels and previously sold in 2012.
Highlights from the 18th and 19th century include are Lot 23, an eye-opening coach watch in a gigantic 200mm case from Walter Partrige, dated 1756. It is offered with an estimate of £150,000-250,000. Conversely, Lot 65 measures a minuscule 26.5mm in diameter. Created by John McLennan in 1861, it is believed to be the smallest-ever English pocket chronometer, with a spring detent escapement and up-and-down power reserve indication. Its estimate is £20,000-30,000.
Ultimately, all eyes will be on Lot 78, one of only 23 pocket watches produced by George Daniels. His Spring Detent Tourbillon Watch carries an estimate of £250,000- 350,000, which rather highlights the farcicality of the prices of Paul Newman Daytonas. Made in 1970, this is gold twin-barrel, one-minute tourbillon pocket watch with spring detent chronometer escapement and retrograde hour hand. It is a perfect example of Daniels’ lateral thinking, an improvement on the spring detent escapement invented by Thomas Earnshaw. The watch is accompanied by a hand-written letter from Daniels.
Says Joanne Lewis, Head of Sotheby’s London Watch Department, “It is not possible to overstate the importance of George Daniels’ contribution to horology. Despite having only ever made a relatively small number of timepieces in his lifetime, Daniels’ work and his legacy continue to be critical to the craft of watchmaking.
“Culminating in Daniels, this sale shows just how horologists through the ages have pushed the boundaries of their craft, making the finest of adjustments to improve the accuracy, performance and appearance of each timepiece. We have been honoured to be able to offer such a rare and exceptional range of timepieces through The Celebration of the English Watch series, and we are confident that this final instalment is the best yet.”