Book Review: ‘George Daniels, A Master Watchmaker & His Art’ By Michael Clerizo
George Daniels is a polarizing and fascinating figure. He was a watchmaker you hear stories about, one you idolize for his many confident successes, and one you try to emulate as a rags-to-riches type of self-made triumph on a human level.
While I knew Daniels, who passed away on October 26, 2011 at the age of 85, I did not know him well; his remote location on the Isle of Man – where I once visited him – made it difficult to spend much time with him.
When he did come to industry events like Baselworld or the odd Omega happening, where he would help promote the co-axial escapement he invented and sold to the Swatch Group-owned brand after 20 years of searching for a partner, he was so often swamped by journalists and well-wishers that it was hard to get a few words.
Michael Clerizo is an expat American journalist living in Britain and in the employ of The Wall Street Journal. He took a liking to watches several years ago and began to write about them, starting at the top – with the independent watchmakers.
Clerizo took it upon himself to spend the amount of time with Daniels needed in order to write a detailed book about his life – no mean feat. And this book was successfully completed despite Clerizo’s own illness during the research portion of the work and Daniels’ death following a hip replacement procedure before the book was fully finished.
While Daniels had already written his own autobiography in a book called All in Good Time, which he self-published in 2000, Clerizo’s work is more extensive with the inclusion of watches, written from the perhaps less biased perspective of an outsider, and definitely much better organized.
I have read Daniels’ autobiography as well as other books he has written such as Watchmaking and The Art of Breguet. He was a brilliant man, fascinating as he searched for a way to make sense of his own world, obsessed by the mechanics big and small that he loved so dearly.
His example inspired others, and because of him we enjoy the work of other great watchmakers like Roger Smith – Daniels’ only apprentice – and even François-Paul Journe, who openly states his admiration for and inspiration by the English watchmaker.
I really could go on forever about Daniels, who can rightly be considered the first independent watchmaker in history as seen from today’s perspective, but I think I’ll stop right here and tell you more about Clerizo’s fantastic book instead.
As someone who has also dabbled in books, this is the kind of tome I would have loved to have written myself; it’s one you can really sink your teeth into as a writer, with lots of detailed and painstaking, yet exciting research. As a reader, it’s pure joy with its well thought-out words, organization, and gorgeous photos.
My only gripe, if I may express it, is the same one I have with most coffee table books: it is hard to hold if you like to read in bed. However, if you’re not reading in bed, this book is gleefully present with its thick, glossy pages, beautiful photography, and detailed indexes.
I like how Clerizo divides up Daniels’ life into digestible periods, and I love how the watches get their own double page spreads of photos and descriptions, at times even including Daniels’ own hand-drawn blueprints.
Daniels worked entirely alone without computers and sometimes without electricity. It took him thousands of hours to complete a watch; he was fanatically perfectionist.
Over the course of his lifetime, he made 23 pocket watches, two wristwatches, and two small wristwatch series with Roger Smith.
And then there was the co-axial escapement, the element that made him a household name in watchmaking. However, it is little known that in 20 years of trying to sell it to a Swiss watch company he endured a lot of rejection and ridicule. Once sold, it took Omega about another six years to industrialize it. That in itself is a fascinating case history.
Daniels proved that so much could be done that many thought impossible: making a whole watch by hand; showing it was possible to become an autodidact expert in a given field; and, of course, becoming an independent watchmaker in an age when big brands rule the roost.
For this we should always remember Daniels and his achievements. And Clerizo has so beautifully given us the tools with which to remember him at any time. A book every bit as well done as one of Daniels’ own watches, it is a fine and fitting tribute to the man and his achievements.
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Illustrations: 248 illustrations, 138 in color
Price: $150 / €114 / 120 Swiss francs