Sotheby’s To Auction George Daniels Spring Detent Tourbillon In London On July 6, 2017 (Updated With Result)
Though this Sotheby’s London auction, which is part four of a series celebrating the English watch, is set to contain English watches from the mid-seventeenth century all the way up to the 1970s, all eyes will certainly be on the prize in this sale: one of George Daniels’ 23 pocket watches.
“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,” said Joanne Lewis, head of Sotheby’s London Watch Department, ahead of the July 6 sale. “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.”
In his lifetime, Daniels produced only 23 pocket watches (plus one unfinished specimen), four wristwatches, a series of 56 Millennium wristwatches (including prototype) with the help of Roger Smith, two three-wheel clocks, one chronometer, and five grasshopper escapements.
Despite the small volume of output, Daniels is widely considered one of the best watchmakers in the modern era, proving beyond doubt that an individual watchmaker can make a whole watch. Daniels passed away on October 26, 2011 at the age of 85.
In late 2012, Sotheby’s auction house sold the horological remains of George Daniels’ life: 137 items left in Daniels’ collection at the time of his death in 2011. An expert in the history of horology, he also traded in very high-end vintage timepieces and was an adviser to Sotheby’s.
Sotheby’s was chosen because Daniels consulted with this particular auction house throughout much of his career. About £8 million of the proceeds from the sale of Daniels’ objects went to benefit the George Daniels Educational Trust, a charity he set up before his passing to benefit the higher education of pupils studying the disciplines of horology, engineering, medicine and building construction. Financial aid from the trust is granted to students nominated by City University London and jointly the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and The British Horological Institute.
Lot 78: George Daniels Spring Detent Tourbillon
Lot 78 in this sale is the George Daniels Spring Detent Tourbillon Watch, which he completed in 1970.
It is a yellow gold-encased pocket watch whose movement boasts twin spring barrels, a one-minute tourbillon plus a retrograde hour. The movement’s spring detent chronometer escapement is an improved version of that which was invented by Thomas Earnshaw: Daniels changed its geometry so that it would be a self-starting watch; Earnshaw’s invention needed to be shaken to kickstart it.
This watch was made for Edward Hornby, an English Conservative party politician, who took possession of it in 1971.
It has previously been sold by Sotheby’s London in June 1999 (lot 74), at which time Daniels himself wrote a note for the catalogue: “Edward Hornby began collecting watches in the 1930s. His interest centered on the origins of his purchases and their aesthetic qualities. I first met him in 1960 when he began to intensify his interest in horology. We became firm friends and, in 1970, Edward expressed a wish to add a Daniels to his collection. This tourbillon was added to the collection in 1971. It was the fourth example made and can be seen on the bench in the illustration below. When Edward Hornby sold his collection at Sotheby’s in December 1978, he kept the tourbillon and a double wheel chronometer, which he purchased in 1975. Concerned that the tourbillon could not equal his new quartz watch, he ran the two together. The test lasted 8 months before the battery went flat and he cheerfully awarded the honor to the tourbillon. Its daily variation rate at room temperature averaged 0-3 seconds per day.”
For more information, please visit www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2017/george-daniels-20th-century-innovator.
Quick Facts George Daniels Spring Detent Tourbillon Watch
Case: 62 mm, yellow gold, engine turned
Dial: silver, engine turned with blued steel hands
Movement: gold-plated, spring detent chronometer escapement, twin spring barrels, one-minute tourbillon, 36-hour power reserve
Functions: retrograde hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Remarks: accompanied by hand-written letter from George Daniels
Auction estimate: £250,000 – £350,000
Price realized (including commission): £464,750
Also published on Medium.