It is not often that one gets to handle and spend time with a watch of such horological importance. In my recent visit to the Isle of Man with Roger Smith (that you can read about here), Roger asked me if I wanted to see something special. I did not know what he had in mind, being that I thought that everything he produced at his studio was special already.
Yet, it was only when he retrieved this watch from the safe that I found out why he was grinning so much. He knew that what he had in his hand was so rare and historically important that it would send a watch nerd like me straight into horological heaven.
What was it? Well, what can I say but that I was holding in my hand, the George Daniels Co-Axial Chronograph watch, the very same one that had been part of the George Daniels Sotheby's auction that was held in November 2012. This watch attained a hammer price of 385,250 GBP, and was produced by George Daniels to demonstrate the viability of the Co-Axial escapement in wristwatch form.
So why was the watch in Roger's possession? Well, as it had been in storage for a long time prior to being sold, it had been sent in to be serviced at the studio by the lucky owner. That made sense really, as no one else in the world could conceivably be more qualified than the protege of the master himself.
First presented as part of a model in Basel in 1986, the watch has a 42mm wide 18K yellow gold case housing a four minute tourbillon with Daniels slim Co-Axial escapement and a compact chronograph mechanism.
Dial side, this watch features a power reserve indicator at 12 o'clock, a constant seconds indicator at 4 o'clock, and the chronograph indicator at 8 o'clock. The chronograph indicator is special in that there are two hands, counting minutes and seconds up to an hour. Placing the minutes and seconds together helps to make the dial less cluttered in keeping with the symmetry of the watch. The chronograph pushers are off to a less common position, the left side of the case, and the crown is mounted at the top, between the upper lugs.
Turning the watch over and looking at the display back is the view that Daniels himself had wanted to impress the Swiss watch industry with. At bottom center, we find a tourbillon, but unlike most, this one makes a complete revolution every four minutes. The Co-Axial escapement is just visible under the tourbillon carriage, itself under a polished steel bridge. A mono-metallic beryllium copper two-arm balance with gold adjusting weights completes the carriage, regulated with a free sprung over coil balance spring.
To the right of the tourbillon carriage, we find the special compact chronograph mechanism that Daniels invented, squeezed into that little space that is not normally used. The purpose of placing it there was so as to not have the chronograph mechanism covering the view of the movement, (like most chronograph modules), and to make the overall case thinner. The mechanism for the power reserve neatly balances the chronograph mechanism by being on the left of the tourbillon.
When I was operating the chronograph, I noticed that the minute counter moved leisurely into place after the seconds hand touched the zero mark. There was something quite "gentlemanly" about the way that it moved, prompting me to ask Roger if this was intentional, as the hand didn't snap to the next index like other chronographs. Roger replied that he didn't know if that was intentional, but during the service, he would look at the mechanism to find out. I personally felt that this little detail, if intentional, actually had more character and would not be surprised if Daniels had designed it this way.
It was certainly a marvelous experience looking at this watch in such great detail. As the only piece of its kind that Daniels made, it was interesting to see the fineness and the little details that it contained. The engine turned dial, complete with eccentric chapter ring and Roman numerals was just a treat to look at under a loupe. As I had mentioned in my previous article on Roger Smith, the hand crafted nature of the dial was just a marvel to behold, with its idiosyncrasies and character.
Roger himself, in undertaking the servicing of this watch, will be studying it very carefully to note the aspects of the movement that can only be discerned from actually working on it. Apparently Daniels stuffed this watch, along with a few others, into a drawer somewhere and promptly forgot about it. Roger explained to me that it was because after completing a watch, Daniels's attention would focus elsewhere, moving on to create something new.
As you can see from the photos below, the service has actually begun. (More photos in the Gallery)
All in all, I'm glad of the time I had to have a close look at this watch, as it will no doubt disappear from view into a private collection soon. Thank you Roger Smith for this opportunity and may I wish the lucky buyer an enjoyable ownership experience of this very special watch. rwsmithwatches.com