Sotheby’s Masterworks Of Time Auction: George Daniels Space Traveller I Among Magnificent, Significant Collection Pieces
The recently announced Sotheby’s Masterworks of Time auction is an astounding collection of clocks, pocket watches, and watches. The catalog contains masterpieces rarely, if ever, seen in the public eye, including George Daniels’ first Space Traveller and A. Lange & Söhne’s famed “tourbillon of the century” pocket watch no. 41000 with chain and fusée and chronometer escapement, which Emil Lange showed at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900 (and which I highlighted in Why The A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite Is One Of The Most Historically Important Wristwatches).
While Sotheby’s only ever refers to the late owner of this collection as “the collector” due to client confidentiality, SJX recently revealed him to have been German billionaire Erivan Haub, heir and managing director of the Tengelmann Group, one of the widest retail entities in German-speaking Europe with close to 4,000 doors in grocery, clothing, DIY, miscellaneous retail, and more.
Haub passed away in March 2018 at the age of 85, but it is his oldest son Karl-Erivan Haub who is currently making headlines as only a month after the passing of his father the University of St. Gallen-educated CEO of Tengelmann Group disappeared during a ski tour in Zermatt and is presumed dead. One year on the family’s succession woes are being publicly debated in Germany’s largest newspapers and financial magazines.
Papa Haub was indeed a collector in the truest sense of the word: his stamp collection worth millions is just going under the hammer in a series of 30 different auctions over five years in cities as diverse as Wiesbaden, New York, Zurich, Stockholm, London, and Essen. Haub also collected art, which he kept in a dedicated museum in Washington state. But it is the magnificent horological collection that concerns us.
Sotheby’s Masterworks of Time: perhaps the most comprehensive collection of timepieces ever assembled
Haub spent 50 years amassing this collection of timepieces, which in its entirety artistically tells the story of timekeeping from the Renaissance period until today.
“Assembled with a keen eye and tremendous knowledge, this is a truly unique collection, shaped by years of searching for the best examples of their kind,” said Daryn Schnipper, chairperson of Sotheby’s international watch division. “It is a collection put together by someone who wanted to tell the story of time through watches; someone who knew his subject, trusted his eye, and had a real sense of what was groundbreaking, both in terms of technology and of artistry. If you take the scope, the variety, the depth, the innovation, the early watches, the enamels, he covered all the bases, he left no stone unturned. It’s a collection that’s unrivalled in its scope and breadth. For me, Masterworks of Time, as we’ve called it, is absolutely one of the best private collections ever formed.”
The collection contains examples of historically and technically significant pieces spanning 500 years of horology, ranging from early watches with German stackfreeds (spring-loaded cam mechanisms) to double-dialed astronomical timepieces, superb enamels, shaped watches, musical and automata pieces, tourbillons, and complicated timepieces.
The watchmakers represented read like a Who’s Who of international horological giants: A. Lange & Söhne, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Dent, Ferdinand Berthoud, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Frères Rochat, and of course the legendary Dr. George Daniels.
Sotheby’s London revealed some highlights of the sale in April 2019, at the same time announcing that the extraordinary collection of more than 800 long-unseen pieces are set to be offered in four dedicated sales at four locations – London, Geneva, New York, and Hong Kong – between July 2019 and October 2020.
Sotheby’s estimates that the collection in its entirety will realize $15-27 million.
Sotheby’s Masterworks of Time: the first George Daniels Space Traveller
The first of the four dedicated auctions takes place in London on July 2, 2019. And it will include 143 of Haub’s treasures, including the first George Daniels Space Traveller (and a few pocket watches by A. Lange & Söhne among others, though not the “tourbillon of the century,” which is slated to go under the hammer in Geneva in November 2019).
And to minimize confusion, know that Daniels – hailed as the first independent watchmaker and perhaps the most important horologist of the twentieth century – made two pocket watches called the Space Traveller.
The first Space Traveller disappeared from public after being sold in 1988; the catalog accompanying Sotheby’s George Daniels Retrospective Exhibition on July 18-23, 2006 listed it as sold to antiquarian watch dealer Bobinet in 1982 and then in a private collection in Germany (now we know which one).
Bobinet (or whoever Bobinet immediately sold the first Space Traveller to) sold the watch at Sotheby’s Geneva on November 17, 1988 for 220,000 Swiss francs, a princely sum in anyone’s book today, but even more so in the 1980s. A world record for a watch at that time, the buyer was of course Haub.
Daniels made 23 unique pocket watches during his lifetime, each of which is one of a kind because they were manufactured by his own two hands and because each one represented a new technical experiment.
The first Space Traveller was completed in 1982 with the help of calculations by Professor Henry Daniels, a mathematician and amateur watchmaker. George Daniels named this creation the Space Traveller’s Watch in reference to the 1969 moon landing.
Michael Clerizo writes in George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker and His Art, “Other than the Second World War, the wider world had rarely impinged on Daniels’s existence, so consumed was he by watches and vintage cars. But one series of events he did notice: NASA’s Apollo flights to the moon.”
Daniels crafted two watches in honor of the astronauts, including complications they might have found useful in his estimation – two because he was stricken with seller’s remorse after rather impulsively parting with the first.
Space Traveller II, which Daniels kept in his possession until he passed away in 2011, is in all probability the most famous Daniels pocket watch. It was sold at the 2012 Sotheby’s auction of Daniels’s possessions, becoming the top lot when it hammered for £1.33 million/$2.13 million, making it the most expensive George Daniels timepiece ever sold.
It re-set the record for a Daniels piece when it sold for £3,196,250 (including commission) in 2017 at another Sotheby’s auction.
The most significant differences between the first and second Space Travellers is that the latter includes Daniels’ compact chronograph, which the first one does not.
The George Daniels Space Traveller could well be the biggest highlight of the entire auction series, though I think the A. Lange & Söhne pocket watch tourbillon might give it a run for its money (I’ll come back to it in a future post). Both will certainly be fun to keep an eye on!
For more information, please visit www.sothebys.com/en/articles/masterworks-of-time-an-incomparable-watch-collection.
Quick Facts George Daniels Space Traveller I
Case: 63 mm, yellow gold, handmade by Daniels with Daniels pendant and bow, short double-link chain with gold and blued-steel double-ended key, transparent case back
Dial: silver, guilloche, handmade by Daniels
Movement: key-wound Lépine caliber, gilt brass, 32-hour power reserve, twin spring barrels, twin going trains (one each for mean and sidereal time) driving two Daniels independent double escape wheels, locking detent with 3 pallets, stainless steel four-arm balance wheel with gold adjusting weights, free-sprung overcoil balance spring
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; annual calendar, sidereal time, age of moon, moon phase, equation of time
Year of manufacture: 1982
Auction estimate: $900,000-$1.2 million/£700,000-1 million