This past week at Sotheby’s in London, we witnessed an unprecedented new trajectory in the journey of Dr George Daniels’s masterpiece, the Space Traveller watch.28 September, 2017
By reaching £3,196,250 this wonderful work, without doubt one of George’s finest and most elaborate creations, became the highest-selling English timepiece to ever change hands.
George Daniels is considered the greatest horologist of the last 250 years and so it follows that the Space Traveller is therefore considered, in some circles, to be the greatest watch of the modern era.
By doubling in value in just five years (since its last sale in 2012), in bidding which lasted just 10 minutes, the Space Traveller is a pocket-watch which is truly living up to its horological imperative and reaching the stars!
One of two examples created by George in the early 1980s this, the more ambitious of the two features an independent double-wheel escapement with a chronograph, solar and sidereal time displays, and an exhibition case-back that exposes its complex inner workings.
The Space Traveller is quite simply the reason I make watches. It has a very personal meaning to me but George’s work takes time to fully understand; and to understand his work, you need to understand George… and to understand George, you need to understand the long and fascinating history of English horology.
There are many celebrated watches in the world, but very few of these can boast to have been designed and made by the hand of one man. It is this genius which makes the Space Traveller so uniquely valuable; And this singular purpose is what made the Space Traveller so inspiring for me as an apprentice watchmaker and which I now perpetuate as ‘The Daniel’s Method’.
By contrast, most celebrated watches have been designed and made by teams of people, and most of these pieces follow the same modus, which is to take a simple watch and add a few complications, then add a few more, and a few more… ad nauseam!
Unlike the majority of watchmakers, George didn’t get distracted by the false premise of complicating complications! His whole ethos was to create technical brilliance expressed as aesthetic simplicity and he achieved this by ignoring absolutely everything that had gone before him.
This single-minded ethos is exemplified by this watch. It is a staggering, utterly breath-taking horological achievement and so it is no surprise to me that the Space Traveller’s value is ascending on a vertical trajectory.
The Millennium watch
While the price achieved by the ‘star’ of the show grabbed headlines all over the world, there was an equally unprecedented achievement by one of the ‘support’ acts, namely the sale of a Millennium wristwatch for £200,000.
It has taken a while, but the importance of the Millennium wristwatches within the field of mechanical timekeeping is now finally being appreciated.
Once again, it is a watch which has a deep personal meaning for me. While the Space Traveller was the inspiration for my career, it was the Millennium which was the realisation of it, concluding my seven-year quest to join George Daniels at the watchmaker’s bench.
Its key feature is its escapement - the co-axial which, in the Millennium’s iteration, represents its most significant step forward, with its industrialisation by Omega.
For an escapement to become industrialised, it must meet two simple requirements. The first is that it must maintain a good and stable rate of timekeeping and the second is that it must be practical.
Practicality is the one attribute which George always advocated. Although, in recent years, we have seen a plethora of new escapements appearing, these sadly fail this key test. As a result they will never be industrialised which, in turn, means that they will only ever be curiosities within horology and not the game-changer that the co-axial has proven to be.
Even if they are regarded as exercises in horological design I am reminded of William Morris… “Nothing useless can be truly beautiful!”
The Millennium watch therefore represents an important moment in mechanical watchmaking and its significance and rarity are combining to encourage its own stratospheric rise in value in recent years.
For my reflections on the Space Traveller and the Millennium watch you can watch this video which I recorded for Sotheby’s here.