For those not familiar with the great man – who died last year aged 85 – Dr Daniels was regarded as the most important watchmaker since Abraham Louis Breguet, and was credited with the greatest horological advance in 200 years when he invented the co-axial escapement during the 1970s.
Based on the Isle of Man for the latter part of his life, Dr Daniels is believed to have been the only person ever to have mastered the 32 skills required to make every part of a watch from scratch, bar the glass and the mainspring.
He produced no more than 30 pocket watches, all entirely by hand and each taking up to 2,500 hours to complete. He rarely sold them and the two or three that have appeared on the open market have fetched up to $US285,000 apiece.
In November, however, Sotheby’s will stage a landmark sale of the personal watch and clock collection he left behind, giving connoisseurs a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own some of the unique pieces he created. Among the 130 lots will be one-off experimental timepieces, painstakingly constructed replicas of Breguet clocks [below, right, the Breguet et Fils No.3225 Replica Weight-Driven Three Wheel Skeleton Timepiece] and three examples of the 50 ‘Daniels London’ wristwatches which he produced to mark the millennium.
But the undisputed highlights of the sale will be the remarkable pocket watches which he made from scratch with meticulous attention to detail. One of these, the Grand Complication watch of 1987, features a one-minute tourbillon, minute repeater, instantaneous perpetual calendar, equation of time, moon phases, thermometer and power reserve indicator enveloped in a massive, yellow gold case. It is estimated to fetch up to £800,000.
Another piece for which he was acclaimed, his 1982 Space Traveller watch, boasts a chronograph with Daniels’ independent double-wheel escapement, mean solar and sidereal time displays, ages and phases of the moon and equation of time indication. It is likely to fetch more than £600,000, while the Millennium wristwatches – one in white gold, two in yellow – could exceed £100,000 apiece. When first released, Dr Daniels sold them for between £25,000 and £30,000.
The sale will also include part of the vast horological library put together by Dr Daniels, as well as sculptures and several remarkable clocks, notably an exquisite, silver-mounted striking table clock by the great 17th Century maker Joseph Knibb [above, left], which is tipped to fetch £600,000 - 900,000.
Geoffroy Ader, head of the Sotheby’s European watch department, described the sale as a landmark event likely to have a significant effect on what is already an exceptionally buoyant market.
“George Daniels can legitimately be described as the father of modern horology,” says Ader.
“He is the person who led the way for today’s great independent makers, the person who proved that the truly hand-made, mechanical watch still had a place in the world. Above all, I very much hope the sale will open the eyes of collectors to the wonder of technical pocket watches – this is a rare opportunity to buy a piece made by the last great genius of timekeeping.”
Under the terms of Dr. Daniels’ will, the proceeds of the sale will be donated to the George Daniels Educational Trust to make funds available for students of horology, medicine, engineering, building or construction.
The sale of the George Daniels collection will take place in London in November, date to be confirmed. Selected items from the sale will go on show in a travelling exhibition opening in London at the end of April before moving to Geneva, New York and Asia. More details at sothebys.com or by calling +44 (0) 20 7293 5000.