For the most part, when flipping through auction catalogs you're greeted by variations on themes. Sure, this season's top Submariner might be a little nicer than last season's (or not) or the dial on that Patek Philippe ref. 2526 is double-signed and paired with a stellar bracelet. Those watches are great, believe me, but sometimes I find myself searching for something new. I want something fresh to sink my teeth into. This go-around, Phillips delivered big time, offering up two watches by 20th century master George Daniels, just two lots apart from one another, in the same auction. On the more extreme end is the one and only Daniels Grand Complication Pocket Watch, which has only been seen once before at auction, and on the ever-so-slightly tamer side of things is one of just 35 Co-Axial Anniversary wristwatches. If you like independent watchmaking, crazy historical horology, or even just things you probably haven't seen before, you should be excited. Like, very excited.
Let's take a look at each one.*
Grand Complication Pocket Watch

George Daniels pocket watches are arguably the horological masterpieces of the 20th century. Personally, despite the practical constraints, I'm inclined to say that they are. Among the Daniels watches, there are two that stand out from the rest: the Space Traveller and the Grand Complication (technically three, since two Space Travellers were made). What we've got here is the latter and it's...well, grand.
When you first look at the Grand Complication, the main dial is pretty straightforward. You've got a large time display with a dramatic sub-seconds register at the bottom; an instantaneous jumping perpetual calendar that includes a retrograde date display on a silver track that swoops from eight o'clock to four o'clock; nested month and leap year indicators at 10 o'clock; a day of the week indicator at two o'clock; a moonphase at 12 o'clock; and, most unusually, a Centigrade thermometer arching across the top of the seconds sub-dial. It's all right there, easily spelled out on the stunningly finished dial with its guilloché and engine turning. Looking at the side you'll notice a repeater slide too. No big deal.
When you turn the watch over, you'll find a little window giving you a glimpse at a few more important indicators. With the keyless works facing up, you've got the equation of time at left, the annual calendar at the top, and the power reserve on the right. At the bottom, you get a glimpse of the one-minute tourbillon, which has a co-axial escapement at its heart. You might assume that all Daniels pocket watches have a co-axial escapement, but you'd be wrong. In fact, more than half of his pocket watches used detent escapements or double wheel chronometer escapements. Opening the caseback of the pocket watch gives you a better look at the gilt movement and the large tourbillon. Everything here is typically English, looking nothing like a high-end watch you find from the Vallée de Joux.
Finished in 1987, this watch was made in the signature Daniels way, which means he did absolutely everything himself. The hands, the dial, the movement components, and even the chain were all made by Daniels. The only two components he didn't make himself on the Isle of Man are the crystal and the hairspring. Not bad.
This watch was kept and worn by Daniels during his lifetime. It only came up for public sale as part of the Daniels estate collection at Sotheby's London in 2012. I was actually in the room for that sale and can safely say it's one of the more memorable horological events I've had the pleasure of attending. The Grand Complication sold for £914,850, which was over $1.4 million at the time. Phillips is not giving an estimate for the watch this time around, and I honestly have no idea where it will land. I could equally see it selling for a comparable $1.5 million or $10 million. It really depends who is in the room and who's hunting for something special.*
The George Daniels Grand Complication is lot 34 in the sale and you can see the full listing here.
Co-Axial Anniversary Wristwatch

George Daniels didn't make many watches during his career. He only completed 27 of his entirely hand-made watches, and less than a handful of those were wristwatches. Toward the end of his life, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of inventing the co-axial escapement, he teamed up with his protégé, Roger W. Smith, to make a limited series of 35 wristwatches. They were co-designed by Daniels and Smith and then made by Smith's workshop to Daniels' specifications. So, sure, this isn't technically a full-blown, 100% George Daniels watch, but as a co-production by Daniels and Smith some would consider it just as compelling (if not even more so).
The Co-Axial Anniversary watch has a 40mm yellow gold case in a traditional, reserved style. The dial is decorated with true hand-done guilloché in a mix of overlapping patterns punctuated by gold chapter rings for the hours/minutes, seconds, power reserve, and date. It looks like only a Daniels or Smith can look. The details are wonderfully executed, but with just enough slight imperfection so as to give it that wabi sabi vibe that tells you it was actually made by hand and not "made by hand." The movement is similarly fashioned, with old-school frosted finishes that recall the golden era of British watchmaking and, of course, a co-axial escapement.
Phillips has this Daniels Anniversary watch listed with an estimate of $181,000-363,000. Last time one sold at auction was at Bonhams in 2016, where it fetched approximately $293,000 (converted from Pounds Sterling, since the auction was in London). And, in fact, it was this exact piece that changed hands back then. If you're skeptical, check out the serial number engraved right onto one of the bridges – this watch is No. 24 out of a series of 35.
With prices for high-end, small-batch independent watches steadily rising over the last few years, it's hard to imagine this watch hammering close to the top of its estimate range, if not a bit above it. Remember, there are only 35 of these and the people who own them tend to be some of the more die-hard collectors around. I don't think we're going to start seeing one pop up per auction season or anything like that, so if you want one your opportunities to make ownership a reality are few and far between.*
This watch is lot 32 in the sale and you can find the full listing here.
Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: Nine is taking place this Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12, 2019. You can find the full catalog here.


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