We received the sad news that George Daniels passed away last Friday. He was a legend in the watch industry, one of the only people who could actually build a watch completely from case and dial to plates, balance and escapement. In fact, he’s the one who invented the co-axial escapement, considered the greatest achievement in watchmaking in the last two centuries. He’s also responsible for the double wheel escapement. Honored with many awards, Daniels received the Tompion Medal and CBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list as well as is a Fellow of the British Horological Institute. Though he’s passed on to another time continuum, he work lives on, particularly in his protege Roger W. Smith, who was his apprentice for the Millenium watch and learned under the master’s tuteledge. On that note, Roger W. Smith just presented another of his creations.
From the Isle of Man Roger Smith brings us news that he’s completed a new bespoke piece, the Tourbillon Commission No 4, for a private client. To commemorate the occasion, Roger will exhibit a selection of his bespoke pieces at SalonQP, which takes place from November 10-12 at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea.
The current wristwatch (Roger also makes pocket watches) features a 42mm handmade case in 18K red gold and a seven-section dial with hand-engraved numerals and letterings. The dial presents a clean, classical face with a large sub-seconds indication occupying the 6 o’clock position, while a power reserve at 10 o’clock and a date at 3 o’clock round out the composition. Roger’s workshop shapes, carves, files and polishes the 18K red gold hands manually. He refers to himself as a “sculptor of time”.
The clean simplicity of the presentation belies the complexity ticking within. Modern implementations place the tourbillon on the front of the dial, the star of the show, but Roger keeps the “whirlwind” regulating organ from public view. Only the owner can choose when to admire the classic one-minute tourbillon construction with free-sprung balance and four platinum timing weights using George Daniels’s co-axial escapement. The one-minute rotation of the tourbillon cage directly drives the sub-dial.
If you aren’t familiar with the co-axial escapement, it represents one of the greatest leaps in watchmaking for the last couple hundred years. It works through the utilization of radial friction instead of sliding friction. This means the co-axial construction, in contrast to the Swiss lever escapement, pushes rather than slides, reducing friction and thus increasing accuracy.
Roger is more than just a disciple of George Daniels’s work; he also has a talent for technical ingenuity himself, coming up with a refinement to the Co-axial escapement. By combining the upper and lower wheels into one by adding raised teeth onto the lower wheel, the Co-axial escape wheel can now be made in one single operation, removing the potential for error by removing a pivot point.
Although Roger has worked closely with Daniels and there are certain similarities to their styles, he has developed his own hallmarks. Roger makes all dials, from pieces of solid silver that are hand turned on a rose engine and hand engraved, while all hands are sculpted from pieces of 18k gold or steel. Hallmarks on the movement include jewels in gold chatons, a raised barrel bridge and ¾ plate. They also feature the individual bluing of every screw over a flame. “In this way, the colors that I achieve are a mixture of purple and blue hues,” Smith remarks. “I enjoy the richness that this gives, especially when sitting within the gilded and frosted plates.”
Roger is one of the few craftsmen still creating watches entirely by hand. So labor intensive is the process that he and his workshop can only complete a maximum of 12 per year. If you can, go see the work of this craftsman from a bygone era. For details and ticket info, refer to SalonQP’s website.