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Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

The very last watch ever created to bear the Daniels name. This is what we are looking at today, as we had the chance to go hands-on with this beautiful and genuinely important watch, designed by George Daniels and Roger Smith, and crafted in a limited edition of 35 pieces by the latter. The name of George Daniels will be familiar to most watch enthusiasts, but for those learning about him for the first time, let me begin with a brief introduction.

“George Daniels (1926-2011) is regarded as one of the greatest watchmakers of all time and his work has its deserved place in watchmaking history amongst the finest and most influential. One of his greatest accomplishments is known by millions around the world thanks to Omega, who feature his co-axial escapement in most of their watches (which they bought from him at a rather meager sum).” These are the words I started my article about George Daniels’ momentous publication, humbly titled Watchmaking (read about it here). You may learn more about his work in that post, so for now, let us move on to discussing this “watchmaker’s watch.”

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

In his lifetime, George Daniels created a total of 23 pocket watches and 4 wrist watches – along with a series of over 50 “Millennium Watches,” which, like this Anniversary series, were also mostly produced by Roger Smith. That still is an extremely, extremely limited production run for a lifetime’s worth of work. Admittedly, Daniels’ approach was to always try and create something very new that challenged him greatly, as opposed to create iterations of a previous achievement – which is one of the primary reasons for that very limited amount of watches that produced.

Despite minuscule production figures, the work of George Daniels can be recognized from miles away – the only thing that comes close is, of course, the work of Roger Smith, who had worked with Daniels since the late 1990s. As such, the Anniversary Watch is quintessentially Daniels; in fact, it was Daniels who approached Smith to create a commemorative series of just 35 watches, marking the 35th anniversary of his inventing the co-axial escapement, a remarkable new escapement design today found in just about all Omega mechanical watches. In 2010, after the two had collaborated on prototypes, the George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch was announced – a series of watches Daniels unfortunately did not live to see completed.

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

In essence, the George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch made for a wonderful and pristine way of carrying on his heritage, and here’s why. Staying with the front’s aesthetics for a moment longer, before turning to the movement’s technicalities, the dial is unmistakably Daniels, as the proportions, the sizes, diameters, patterns, and the layout of the different elements are all superhumanly perfect – contradicting the fact that they have all been crafted by hand, using only traditional equipment. The subtle triangular layout of the centers of the three sub-dials, the off-centered position of the main dial, the featherweight balance and lightness of the front all are trademarks of a Daniels watch – and proof of his engineering genius.

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Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

The silver dial features a variety of hand-applied guilloché patterns – a method that unquestionably results in the absolute best aesthetic qualities by lending the dial a definitive depth, a truly three-dimensional look that absorbs and reflects light in a way no stamped component could. The 18k gold chapter rings for the main dial, the sub-seconds at 4, the instantaneous date at 8, and the power reserve at 12 all feature hand-inked lettering and numerals – resulting in somewhat more blunt, albeit to fans of genuinely hand-made items, an arguably superior detail, when compared to more modern methods.

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

Daniels was a watchmaker – considered by many to be the first – who has mastered 32 from the 34 crafts which are required to manufacture a hand-made timepiece. Therefore, it is of no surprise that the dials, hands, indices, and the 40 millimeter wide yellow gold case all are components he could create – but what speaks louder than any of these achievements is, of course, the movement. In 1975, Daniels created the co-axial escapement, arguably the first new escapement design in over 200 years that could be commercialized – as done by Omega.

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

The movement in the George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch more resembles that found in a pocket watch than a wristwatch, with its gilt nickel silver movement and large, strong bridges. The quality of finishing, while unusual in the field of modern wristwatch movements, is exceptional when one considers how even in color and gradient, the gilt is across all the plates, bridges, and surfaces. What stands out from the sea of dark gold colored bridges is the large four-arm balance wheel done in beryllium-copper with a free-sprung balance spring and adjustment screws – a system very similar to what is seen with Patek Philippe’s Gyromax balance wheel, featured in, for example, Reference 5270 (hands-on here).

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

Powered by a single barrel that would likely provide over 40 hours of power reserve, the movement actually runs for a mere 36 hours after it has been fully wound, thanks to Daniels’ stop-start mechanism that disengages the mainspring after 1.5 days. The reasoning is that the last 6 or so hours of power reserve comes at a price of insufficient torque, negatively affecting timekeeping performance – a problem that concerns only the most dedicated watch manufacturers, and that even fewer make the effort to find a solution for. Thanks to the elegantly placed power reserve indicator on the dial, one can always know when the movement requires winding.

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

The co-axial escapement is a genuinely mind-bending invention – of the most challenging kind any and all watchmakers (independent or a major brand) face. The escapement of a mechanical movement is the collection of parts (together with the balance wheel) responsible for dividing the constant and seamless flow of time into equal periods. The lever escapement, invented and first used by Thomas Mudge in 1769, is the layout most modern mechanical watch movements are built around – for the primary reason that its relatively simple and manageable configuration allowed for its industrialization.

That statement already implies most difficulties and challenges linked to the invention of a new escapement: the new configuration will have to be extremely reliable, easy to be manufactured and assembled with extremely tight tolerances, be easily mass-produced, plus it will, of course, have to offer tangible advantages over the traditional lever escapement to be worth the hassle (and the massive investment) related to its industrialization. The co-axial escapement is ingenious because it managed to tick all these boxes – although Daniels did have to spend a significant part of his career trying to convince at least one Swiss manufacturer to take it on (which, as we know, Omega at last did).

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch features the co-axial escapement, although one that Roger Smith modified, so that now the co-axial parts (where the two escape-wheels which were previously located on top of one another) are crafted from the same wheel. That is the part you see in the lower right corner on the image above: the escape-wheel features the more usual “boot-shaped” teeth while also having teeth raised to function as the secondary wheel that has previously been mounted on top, “co-axially.”

We could go on and on about the refined details and advantages of the co-axial escapement, but that is for another, soon-to-come post. For now, we will just say that the fact that it is difficult to see and understand this layout – let alone the exact interaction of the teeth and pallets – even from such a simplistic image goes to show the immense mental challenge inventing something as complex and refined as this would impose.

Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On Hands-On With The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch By Roger Smith Hands-On

The George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch comes in a round, 40 millimeter wide and 12.4 millimeter thick yellow gold case with a stepped bezel on the front, a “Daniels rope knurling” decorated back and a recessed push-button at the 9 o’clock position in the side, used to correct the instantaneous date display. From the inside to the outside, everything is in compliance with how Daniels deemed to be the right way of making a watch – pure, highly functional, easily legible, and timeless as a whole.

Marked 35/35, this particular George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watch – which belongs to a wonderful collection owned by Mitch K. and whom we thank for granting us the unique opportunity of seeing this piece – is the last watch ever created to bear the Daniels name, and as such, it carries a vast and extremely important heritage. Originally, the George Daniels 35th Anniversary Watches were offered for 142,000 GBP or around $220,000 – which, in the grand scheme of things, is quite reasonable when compared to the prices Daniels watches have fetched in the George Daniels auction or, when the amount and quality of work is considered; no wonder that all pieces in the series have been sold. rwsmithwatches.com

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  • antjay

    Genius  is a much abused and miss used term these days . George Daniels was a genius !  I will never be able to afford anything that he created in this lifetime , luckily I am a Buddhist , so maybe next time around .
    Do yourself a favour and follow these links .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NplYClpuP8
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSeTi93f2eU

  • joshgraves

    A multi-hundred thousand dollar watch for a reason.  Bravo!

  • If I had $220K to spend on a watch (and I have gotten in line at the right time), this would be the one without a doubt. Much as I love the masterpieces from the great houses and the independents, this watch tops then all. Truly hand made, original engineering, exquisite detailing and very limited production. If if we only live vicariously, we should all be thankful Daniels took Roger Smith on as his apprentice and the Mr. Smith has carried on the legacy of George Daniels.

  • A perfect watch by a watch perfectionist. I can’t help but flip through my copy of Watchmaking on a somewhat regular basis, and the front of the book, showing not just his timepieces, but his shop and the tools within are near staggering despite the humble appearance. It would have been the ultimate manufacture visit. Not that George ever would have been interested in that kind of flashy exposure.
    This is probably the best yellow gold watch I’ve ever seen.

  • I’m not sure if this was done on purpose or not, but a more perfect last review of the year I couldn’t imagine. I’m sure there is still time to cram in another one before the year actually closes, but if you do, I hope it is just one of sentiment from the staff and not a review of a watch. This should be the watch that closes 2014 for the blog.

  • A cool looking watch but I could not see wearing my house on my wrist.

  • Jimxxx

    The strap seems too wide for the lugs AND for the folding clasp… Shame as it he watch itself is beyond reproach.

  • SantiagoT

    SuperStrapper This.

  • SantiagoT

    SuperStrapper And this too.

  • asoulstein

    Beautiful. Only Breguet comes close in terms of guilloche/dial “wow” factor. At $220,000, not entirely unreasonable for the ultrawealthy watch collector.

  • 5803822

    Compared to the JS watch the price of this seems out of order – on top of which the  co-axial escapement seems to be a complcation that is superfluous – we have very accurate watches without it’s inclusion(and the excuse for even higher prices) – but agreed, it does look the business.

  • MatSmithJohnson

    Jimxxx No idea what is happening near the clasp, but I think the look at the lugs is due to a curved spring-bar… 

    Over time they usually make hard bends in materials like alligator (you can see the crease) as they don’t have the same ‘material memory’ as cowhide, pig or horse.

  • MatSmithJohnson

    5803822 Although beautiful, the difference between JS watch and one of these is astronomical, even based solely on the time that it takes to make one of these pieces. 

    Have a look at this video of Roger Smith finishing a set of hands and you’ll get an idea of what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDcjrIoVz-E

    And that is just the hands! Also, this watch would have been 30K less than a Patek minute repeater, which is decorated and assembled by hand, but not handmade piece by piece like this George Daniels.

  • Feller87

    I think the interesting thing is that most people who are ‘interested’ in watches wont understand why this one in particular is so amazing, only those who are obsessively purist will truly understand, those who have experienced complications, functions etc and are now back on track to achieve perfection on the wrist which is personified by this watch.

    I also cant understand the 220K price tag but in the opposite direction!! being that as soon as the watch production run is completed they will (at the very least) double in value, they should have priced them at 500K 

    truly saving the best for last, has my vote for best blog post of the year.

    Thanks David

  • thornwood36

    This for me is the Mona Lisa of the horology world, and its British through and through.. It is simply beautiful from every angle. When my numbers come up Mr Smith is my first order.

  • iamcalledryan

    It’s perfection, but always with the humanity of being fully hand made.

  • iamcalledryan

    The co-axial is neither superfluous nor is it about accuracy, it eliminates the need for lubrication and is therefore about performance/longevity – still a very valuable innovation employed by Omega currently.

  • iamcalledryan

    GD, the godfather of modern British fine watchmaking. I am taking delivery of his book, Watchmaking, this weekend!

  • Bothellcowboy

    This is the best, nicest srticle I’ve read on ABTW. I went to Smith’s website afterward and read Smith’s eulogy to Daniels, which gave a wonderful glimpse of their relationship – and of Daniels’ patience! Great reading to end 2014. Thanks!

  • Bothellcowboy

    Nice photos, too, David.

  • Fraser Petrick

    When a medieval journeyman sculptor, one of hundreds working on a cathedral, was asked why he paid so much attention to detail for a particular carving no one could see he replied, “But God will see it.” The Daniels watch, though very few people will ever see it, is a testament to the saying “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” 35 owners ought to feel honoured. Beautiful, beautiful  watch.

  • Fraser Petrick I completely agree. And to amplify, my father used to say, be proud enough of your work that you will be happy to sign you name to it. That is the onus of eponymous branding. You are staking your reputation personally via your product.

  • Evitzee

    According to ABTW these sorts of watches will soon become obsolete and immaterial because of the Apple watch.  What dolt would pay this kind of money for a true hand made watch when he can have the slick new battery powered Apple watch?

  • 5803822 The JS watch starts out with an ETA/Unitas movement. The Daniels watch watch off with sheets of metal. The JS is nice, but not in the same category at all. Not really a fair comparison to my mind.

  • Evitzee I’m not sure ABTW ever claimed the Apple Watch will kill watches such as these. But it will put pressure on the under $500 quartz market for sure.

  • iamcalledryan

    Notice the slip of the chisel on the “X” of co-axial on the back – I’ll buy this for scrap if they are offering 😉

  • Time2Go

    The guilloché patterns on the dial are extraordinary.  Truly a thing of beauty, before even looking under the covers.

    And another genuinely passionate piece on ABTW.  Bravo!  Looking forward to your follow-up article on the co-axial escapement.

  • Ulysses31

    I appreciate the workmanship, the hand-finishing of everything, the labour and the love that has gone into this timepiece.  I do not, however, like the style of this particular watch.  That’s just because of my own personal tastes.  It’s easy to be overly effusive with all things George Daniels-related.

  • bichondaddy

    I usually don’t envy people…but there are 35 people in the world I really envy!  This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful watches I have ever seen! The design, craftsmanship, and the sheer artistry that went into this watch is just amazing!  Thank you David for such a wonderful article and amazing pictures!.

  • Ulysses31 Actually, this would not be my favorite style of dial either if it was from anyone else. But I have gotten to where I associate this watch with its distinctive look with Geo Daniels so much that, for me anyway, this unique look is the perfect signature looks that says “Daniels”. On any other brand of watch, I’d pass.

  • Fraser Petrick

    Is that the Isle of Man symbol inside the watch?

  • Fraser Petrick Sure looks like it. Good eyes Fraser.

  • iamcalledryan

    Yes that is where the workshop is

  • David Bredan

    Bothellcowboy Thank you so much for your kind comments, I’m thrilled to hear you consider this article the best so far, as we all are working on raising the bar with every article! I can’t take credit for the images, as they were taken by Ariel:)

  • David Bredan

    SuperStrapper Thanks so much for your kind comment – and support throughout the year! It was, in fact, on purpose, as we had hoped this would make for a powerful, appropriate (and truly watch-nerdy) closing of the year. I’m thrilled you found it work that way!

  • smckittr

    This is a beautiful piece and I would love to have one.

    Just out of curiosity, you say that George Daniels mastered 32 of the 34 crafts required to make a watch. What are these crafts? I’m assuming that the full list would be a matter of opinion, but is there one that is widely accepted?

  • cjjohnst738

    I am sorry but I think that the numbers 2 and 3 are NOT particularly good..The consistency of the hand lettering in my opinion is somewhat lacking in size and shape or form consistency.

  • cjjohnst738

    iamcalledryan No ,I am afraid it is really NOT perfection.Beautiful but NOT perfection.

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