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George Daniels Space Travellers Watch Sells for Record $4.3m

Most expensive English watch ever…

Lest there was any lingering doubt, George Daniels horological legacy continues to be affirmed by global collectors.  Direct from George Daniels’ Personal Collection, the late English watchmaker’s piece de resistance sold yesterday at Sotheby’s in London for £3.20m, or about US$4.3m (incl. buyer’s fees).  Evidencing the importance of Daniels and his lasting impact on the field of horology, values fetched for George Daniels watches have risen steadily since his death in 2011 with the Space Travellers setting a new high bar for the Daniels legacy.  The piece is accompanied by a George Daniels presentation case, and is widely recognized as one of Daniels’ finest.  Daniels protege Roger Smith (now an esteemed watchmaker in his own right and the one who has arguable taken up Daniels’ mantle) fondly recalls the watch as follows:

This piece holds special memories for me for this was more often than not George’s dress watch of choice at events and was the watch that he wore during his visit to the then Manchester School of Horology where I studied. It was the sight of this watch which steered me from the repair of watches to their making. The watch was made in circa 1982 and very quickly achieved its iconic status for its stunning aesthetic appeal and fascinating movement.

In 2012 I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to refresh the piece which resulted in a complete strip down of the mechanism. It was whilst working on the piece that my view of George changed dramatically, for the mechanism was like no other that I have seen before, or since.

The level of creativity throughout is out of this world, and you can see how George circumvented a potential design issue with simplistic brilliance. One of the stand-out features for me are the two escape wheels, which drive the common balance. This is George’s unique double-wheeled escapement but with this piece the Sidereal train has an escape wheel of fourteen teeth, whereas the Solar train has just thirteen. The geometric difficulties that this feature creates are mind boggling and I am sure the very idea would have stopped most makers in their tracks. For George however, it was simply another challenge that had to be overcome.

Another interesting feature is the chronograph mechanism which allows the user to switch between recording solar or sidereal seconds. In order to achieve this the maker developed a clutch system which was the genesis for his unique compact chronograph mechanism which would feature in two further watches. 

This watch was the culmination of thirteen years of making highly original one-off pieces and went on to be the catalyst for many future developments.

In 1974 George Daniels invented the independent double-wheel escapement; the movement was to captivate collectors with its visual appeal of symmetrical trains.   George Daniels was on a trip to Zurich where he met an important collector for dinner.  The collector nudged him and said ‘what do you have in your pocket’, so he took out his watch, a gold Daniels pocket watch with independent double-wheel escapement. The collector said he had to have the watch and asked him to sell it to him. Daniels said it was not for sale but the collector persisted. Thinking this was an enormous compliment as the collector had not even asked the price, Daniels sold him the watch. Immediately regretting his decision, Daniels decided to make another watch which would be an improvement on the first both in terms of complication and accuracy. Having not fully exploited the first watch, the second watch would have separate calculations for each train, it was therefore possible to indicate both mean-solar and sidereal time.

George Daniels used to say to people, ‘when you are on your package tour to Mars you need a watch like this, and when using the telephone for long distance calls you could switch the chronograph into sidereal time to cut your bills by 3.555 minutes per day’.

Originally the watch had been referred to as the “Daniels squared” (Daniels2) because of the assistance he received from Professor Henry Daniels, but George Daniels did not think this was good enough, so re-named it the ‘Space Travellers’’ watch in honor of the American landing on the moon which was the greatest space exploratory journey of the century.

George Daniels actually made two Space Travellers’ watches. The first, originally sold by Bobinet in 1982, was subsequently sold at Sotheby’s Geneva to a private collector, on 17th November 1988. The present watch, the Second Space Traveller, is the most complex of the two watches, having the addition of the chronograph function. Viewing the two movements side by side, one is immediately struck by the added complexity of the chronograph work visible to the backplate of the Space Traveller II. The central bridge work on the Traveller II is noticeably slimmer than Traveller I, this is in order to incorporate II’s chronograph work. It is also interesting to note that the case back of the Space Traveller II is fully glazed – as Roger Smith has observed, this was Daniels’ dress watch of choice, especially at events. Of course everyone was always keen to see what watch George Daniels was wearing – the design of this watch meant that, not only could the viewer marvel at the beauty of its dial, but they could be equally mesmerized by the complexity and wonder of the movement, clearly visible through the exhibition case back.

Daniels Sidereal time

In the 18thcentury, to check the accuracy of your watch, you had to have a precision clock which was set by a star. This watch, by means of having solar and sidereal time, could make the calculation for you, the difference being 3.555 minutes per day.  To try and improve the calculation of the train which allowed for an error of 0.8 seconds per year, George Daniels contacted a friend at Cambridge University to ask if they knew of a mathematician interested in watches. He received a response almost immediately and extraordinarily enough the mathematicians name was Professor Daniels.  The professor was able to calculate a better ratio of 0.28 seconds per day, which George Daniels was very happy with.

(full lot det’s)


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This article was first published by PerpetuelleGeorge Daniels Space Travellers Watch Sells for Record $4.3m

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