Watchuseek Blog

Monday, October 24, 2011

Master watchmaker George Daniels dies

Dr. George Daniels, Horologist, 1926 - 2011

Master watchmaker  and horologist Dr. George Daniels died on October 21st at his home in England.  He was 85 years old.

George Daniels, who crafted 37 superb haute horology watches entirely by himself, was the inventor of the co-axial escapement, which was eventually purchased by Omega.

His impact on horology is of huge significance and he mentored another of the greatest watchmakers of the modern era, English watchmaker Roger Smith.

Master watchmaker

George Daniels is the only watchmaker to receive the CBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list in 2010, and is the only watchmaker ever to receive the honour of ‘Master Watchmaker, for services to Horology’.

Daniels was one of the few modern watchmakers who could create a watch entirely by hand, including the case and dial. He was a former Master of the Clockmakers' Company of London and had been awarded their Gold Medal, a rare honour.

Born into a poor family in London just two years before the Great Depression, Daniels overcame great odds to become one of the most renowned and respected watchmakers of the past century. Daniels already had an interest in watchmaking when he entered the British army in 1944, a talent which proved useful as he was able to undertake watch repairs for army friends.

On leaving the army in 1947 with a gratuity of £50, which he spent on tools, he managed to get a job as a watch repairer.

Leading Breguet expert

By studying horology at night classes, he became a Fellow of the British Horological Institute. Gradually he became known by some of the top watch dealers and collectors, of his day including Sam Clutton who got him interested in the great French watchmaker Breguet.

Daniels was intrigued by Breguet, so much so that he concentrated on the repair and restoration of his watches for many years. Daniels authored the best known book on the subject in 1969, which was first published in 1975. By the 1960s, Daniels was considered the leading expert on Breguet.

Inventor of Co-axial escapement

After much experimenting, he patented a type of watch escapement called the co-axial escapement, which takes away the necessity to oil the escapement, and has reduced friction to a very low level (since oil produces problems due to thickening). The co-axial escapement has been used by Omega in their highest grade watches since 1999.

In addition to making 37 watches completely by hand, he also made a series of 50 wristwatches with his protégé Roger W. Smith, starting with the Omega basic movement.

Watchmaking, which Daniels wrote and was published in 1981, is considered one of the best books on making watches.

Pushed boundaries of horology

Throughout Dr. Daniels lifetime, he was responsible for creating a collection of watches that have pushed the boundaries of mechanical timekeeping to levels hitherto unseen in English horology for more than 250 years. In designing each of his watches, Dr. Daniels’ motivation for creating his timepieces has always been horological advancement. He was in effect the Steve Jobs of horology.

There are several interesting stories that George Daniels tells about his life and times involved with making watches. In the clip below he recalls the time his mentor Sam Clutton encouraged him to co-author a book on watches.

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