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George Daniels

​George Daniels

​All in Good Time: cataloguing the archives of George Daniels, watchmaker

During his lifetime George Daniels, watchmaker (1926-2011) was considered by many to be the best horologist in the world. He was famous for creating the Co-axial escapement used by Omega in their highest-grade watches since 1999, described as the most important commercial development in watch escapements in 250 years since the invention of the lever escapement by Thomas Mudge in 1754. George Daniels bequeathed his archives to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers which deposited them in 2012. Andrew King, horologist and cataloguer of technical records in the Daniels archive, explores Daniels life and work, and explains his involvement in making the collection accessible.

Background

Daniels was born in Edgware in 1926. He recalled being fascinated by watches as a child. Finding a cheap wristwatch in the street at the age of 5, he later wrote: “I managed to get it open and I was intrigued with the workings…it was like seeing the centre of the universe. I knew that’s what I wanted to do; I wanted to spend the rest of my time with watches.” After serving in the Second World War, Daniels studied horology at night classes and began work restoring and repairing watches, eventually setting up his own business. He became one of the few modern watchmakers who could create a complete watch by hand, including the case and dial.

Daniels served as Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and was awarded their Gold Medal as well as the Gold Medal of the British Horological Institute, the Gold Medal of the City of London, and the Kullberg Medal of the Stockholm Watchmakers’ Guild. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours List.

Daniels wrote a number of seminal works on watchmaking. An expert on the French watchmaker Breguet, he spent many years concentrating on the repair and restoration of his watches, and published ‘The Art of Breguet’ in 1975. His other books include ‘Watches’, Cecil Clutton and George Daniels (1965); ‘English and American Watches’ (1967); ‘Clocks & Watches in the Collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers’, Cecil Clutton and George Daniels (1975); ‘Watchmaking’ (1981); ‘The Practical Watch Escapement’ (1994); and an autobiography, ‘All in Good Time - Reflections of a Watchmaker’ (2000).

Cataloguing the archive

The records were bequeathed by George Daniels to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers which deposited them in 2012. The records shed light on the development of Daniels’ Co-axial escapement in watch design and his international contribution to horology. Andrew King, horologist and cataloguer of technical records in Daniels’ archive, explains his involvement in making the collection accessible:

‘The archive of George Daniels documents his major contribution to horology and includes his working papers and drawings, research notes and images for his published books, correspondence, photographs and audio-visual material. As a fellow horologist and personal friend of George Daniels, I was invited to contribute to the cataloguing process working under the guidance of Richard Wiltshire, Senior Archivist at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). The archive arrived in files and boxes, my role to sort, identify, categorise and finally catalogue, technical series of correspondence, drawings, photographs and negatives, and audio-visual material.

Working one day a week it took me just over a year to complete this work. I had a lot to learn by way of house rules and the particular procedures set by LMA. This, for me, was very much a working partnership with Richard. An Excel spreadsheet was created for cataloguing and I enjoyed writing description scope details for each file keeping to no more than three lines to summarise content. Many of the files were so interesting to me that I could have easily written half a page, but for once in my life I conceded.

Most of the correspondence dated from 1976 to 2011 (series reference LMA/4636/A/04). The core of the letters concern the development of George Daniels’ invention of the Co-axial escapement and the years spent negotiating with Swiss manufacturers to accept it. Daniels’ Co-axial escapement is a modification of the lever escapement which saw virtual elimination of the sliding friction during action. Eventually it was ETA/Omega who took up the challenge and there is a wealth of letters and faxes (many with drawings) whilst the design and manufacturing issues were solved over a five-year period. The final outcome was the launch in 1999 of Omega’s finest watches incorporating Daniels’ Co-axial escapement.

Andrew King cataloguing the George Daniels archive

​Andrew King working on the archive

When Daniels made a watch there was never 'a set of drawings'. He would have a concept in his mind and certain areas of a watch would have to be drawn in respect to the working geometry and the geography within the spaces allocated in the overall design. The drawings are either in pencil or pen and ink: Daniels never used a computer for this work. He was an accomplished draughtsman capable of highly detailed isometric drawings as can be seen, for instance in his book, ‘The Art of Breguet’ (1975). Most of these original drawings are in the archive alongside more than 700 drawings by David Penney for Daniels’ fundamental work, ‘Watchmaking’ (1981) (see series reference LMA/4636/B/01 for manuscripts and drawings for publications by Daniels).

There are hundreds of photographs in the collection. These include those taken by Daniels for ‘The Art of Breguet’ with one of his treasured Leica cameras as well as many images of other Breguet clocks and watches including other historic horologia, some from the collection of the Worshipful of Company of Clockmakers. There is a considerable photographic record of Daniels’ own work, pocket and wrist watches as well as clocks, and also photographs of horological exhibitions and events. These include events at the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, the livery company to which Daniels was elected freeman in 1967, and master in 1980 (collection series reference LMA/4636/C).

The collection also includes 8 and 16mm films (series reference LMA/4636/D/04) which are now digitised through funding authorised by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. There is the London Weekend Television’s ‘Aquarius’ documentary series on Daniels life (1976), and two films, interviews by Seth G. Attwood of The Time Museum, Rochford, Illinois, United States of America: the first a discussion of the work of Abraham Louis Breguet, French watchmaker for whom Daniels was a world authority (reference code LMA/4636/D/04/001); and the second film depicting Daniels discussing watchmaking and his working philosophy (LMA/4636/D/04/002). There are also films of Daniels at home and of his demonstrations in the workshop and the Co-axial escapement.’

Collection summary

In summary, the collection dates from 1951 to 2013. The earliest document is a volume of Daniels' lecture notes (LMA/4636/A/01/01/001) taken whilst studying at evening courses at Northampton Polytechnic, St John Street, Islington 1951-2 (now City University London). In addition the archive contains: correspondence files, horological exhibition catalogues and papers (series reference LMA/4636/A/04); manuscript and printed technical drawings, calculations and sketches showing the development of the Co-axial escapement with Omega and ETA of Switzerland with related patents (series references LMA/4636/A/03 and 04); photographs of Daniels' own watches (series reference LMA/4636/A/05); and Daniels' ledgers containing notes, diagrams and costings on his restoration work, historical watches and his own watches (series reference LMA/4636/A/08).

George Daniels negatives

​Sleeving negatives

There are Daniels' author files with draft manuscripts and research notes for his published books on watch and clockmaking, with photographs of watches used as images and copy business records of Breguet of Paris, France (series reference LMA/4636/B/01); photographs of historical watches and clocks (series references LMA/4636/B/03 and 04), events and studio portraits of Daniels (LMA/4636/D/03); his papers, photographs and video relating to Worshipful Company of Clockmakers (series reference LMA/4636/C); certificates awarded to Daniels (series reference LMA/4636/D/01); collected articles on his life's works and achievements series reference LMA/4636/D/02).

There are also films and video cassettes (series references LMA/4636/D/04 and 05) including talks given by Daniels with his feature in 'Aquarius' produced by London Weekend Television (1976). The archive also includes records of George Daniels Educational Trust (LMA/4636/E), namely Chairman's files on sales and bequests of Daniels' horological collection.

Access

The records are invaluable to researchers interested not only in Daniels’ own work, but also in historical watch and clock makers, and the tracing of watches, chronometers and clocks.

The Daniel’s archive is now available for public access and can be found on the LMA Catalogue by searching reference LMA/4636. The records are managed by LMA and stored at Guildhall Library as part of Worshipful Company of Clockmakers’ wider deposited collections. They are available to consult at Guildhall Library by researchers with a valid Library Card, which requires acceptable proof of identity, without prior appointment. Most documents can be produced within 20 minutes of request.

Films and videos are stored at LMA and available to consult by prior appointment contacting LMA Enquiries team at ask.lma@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

Related collections

LMA also manages the records of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers which are stored and accessed at Guildhall Library (collection reference code CLC/L/CD). George Daniels' horological library is deposited at Guildhall Library and bequeathed horological artefacts are held by the Science Museum as part of the Clockmakers’ Museum. Daniels’ papers relating to Bentley Car memorabilia including photographs, correspondence and engineering drawings were donated to The W O Bentley Memorial Foundation, Wroxton, Oxfordshire in 2012. The Vintage Sports Car Club holds photographs, videos, DVDs of vintage cars and motoring events. Daniels’ personal papers were retained by the Daniels Family and David Newman, Chairman of the George Daniels Educational Trust.

Summary

The George Daniels archive documents one of the foremost watchmakers in the history of British horology. George Daniels remained a highly innovative and inventive craftsman with a deep understanding of the incorporation of art in his work. He is also the inspiration behind the renaissance of high grade watchmaking today, something he envisaged, nurtured and strove for over so many years. Roger Smith, Daniels’ protégé, continues Daniels’ work while his legacy benefits the careers of younger generations through the work of the George Daniels Educational Trust.

LMA would like to thank Andrew King, the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, and the George Daniels Educational Trust.

For further information on George Daniels visit this website.

Published:
28 July 2015
Last Modified:
04 October 2018

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