The British horologist George Daniels is generally considered one of the most influential watchmakers of the last hundred years — even though he made fewer than 30 timepieces on his own before his death in 2011.
“It’s not a lot, but every one was different, and every one superseded the previous one in design and novelty,” said David Newman, chairman of the George Daniels Educational Trust. “He made everything in his workshop: He made the dials, he did the engraving. It would be about a year per watch, from start to finish.”
Over the next few months, two of his timepieces are to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in London.
On April 25, a white gold Daniels Millennium wristwatch — part of a series Mr. Daniels created with his apprentice, Roger Smith — will be up for sale. (If you consider the Millennium watches, Mr. Daniels’s timepiece count rises to about 90.)
The fourth watch Mr. Daniels created, a gold tourbillon chronometer, will be auctioned July 6 during “The Celebration of the English Watch Part IV: George Daniels, 20th Century Innovator”; other timepieces scheduled for the sale were made by English watchmakers who inspired Mr. Daniels, including Charles Frodsham and Thomas Alcock. (There have already been three parts of the sale of British timepieces.)
Unlike most contemporary luxury watchmakers, Mr. Daniels was largely self-trained, except for some evening classes at a technical college in London. His timepieces were made by tinkering with precise little tools and jewelry lathes in his bedroom, then, in the last few decades of his life, in a large, airy workshop at his property on the Isle of Man.
“He was sort of the father of independent horologists in the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Daryn Schnipper, a senior vice president at Sotheby’s and chairwoman of its international watch division. “In the late ’60s and ’70s, there was no such thing as an independent watchmaker.”
She also noted his achievement in developing the Co-Axial escapement in the mid-1970s. It was a period when the Swiss watch industry was threatened by the growing popularity of low-maintenance quartz timepieces. “His answer was the Co-Axial escapement, which could run for years with no oil, and is nonfriction,” she said. In 1994, Omega bought exclusive rights to the movement, introducing its first timepieces with the feature five years later.
Mr. Daniels’s affiliation with Sotheby’s isn’t new: He worked as a watch consultant for about four decades. And in 2012, the house auctioned some of his belongings, including nine watches he worked on. The most expensive one, a yellow gold chronograph pocket watch, sold for more than 1.3 million pounds ($1.6 million at current exchange rates).
The scarcity of watches by Mr. Daniels adds to their collectibility, but that’s not the only reason they aren’t frequently available. “Most people, the last thing they’ll sell is their Daniels,” Ms. Schnipper said.