Last month I attended both a private viewing of the late, great Dr George Daniels’ Horological Collection at Sotheby’s before it went under the hammer, and the preview of the documentary film The Watchmaker’s Apprentice, which traces Daniels’ career and that of his protégé, Roger W. Smith. I felt both privileged and inspired in equal measure.
Privileged, because to see so many of Daniels’ extraordinary timepieces at close quarters may never happen again. Inspired, because although we operate in different spheres of the same industry, I believe there are still huge lessons to be learnt from Daniels’ and Smith’s work that could make a difference to the way the British watch industry, and my small part of it, evolves.
Roger W. Smith, the only man Daniels considered worthy of shadowing him, continues the completely uncompromising quest for horological excellence that led Daniels to developing probably the most fundamental contribution to watchmaking of the last 200 years, the co-axial escapement. And whilst it is unlikely that any current British watchmaker (including Smith) will any time soon add something as significant to the watchmaking canon, the curiosity and invention and, frankly, the audacity that Daniels’ breakthrough required, does inspire me to continue our work with master watchmaker, Johannes Jahnke. Whilst our jumping hour and mono-pusher complications based on ETA and Unitas movements, respectively, don’t begin to compare with the completely vertical and fantastical manufactures of Daniels and Smith, they do show that it is possible, with ambition and resourcefulness, for a small British brand like ours to achieve levels of sophisticated watchmaking that even much bigger, more established Swiss owned brands would be more than proud of.
Of course, Daniels and Smith are also constant reminders of the days when watchmakers like John Harrison and George Graham kept Britain at the forefront of the art of dissecting time. I may not live long enough to see a big enough infrastructure return to this country to support the volume manufacture of high quality mechanical watches, but the fact that in modern times we’ve had two of the world’s finest watchmakers in our midst should inspire us all. There are massive barriers to be overcome first, but wouldn’t it be great if one day, the phrase ‘a watchmaker’s apprentice’, could apply to thousands of people in Britain rather than just a single individual living and working on the Isle Of Man?