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George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker & His Art

by Michael Clerizo

book review by Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki

Published by Thame and Hudson, NY, April 2013. ISBN 978-0-500-51636-2. 216 pages, 30 cm x 30 cm, hardbound, dustjacket. 341 illustrations, including 234 color photographs, glossary, bibliography and index. The book is available from Amazon.com and other sources at about $60. NAWCC members may borrow a copy from the NAWCC Library.

The watch must be original in design and conception and, when completed, beautiful in appearance.

-George Daniels

Hard bound front cover of book.

George Daniels (1926-2012), the Englishman who single-handedly reestablished watchmaking as a viable craft in the late 1960s, is a well-known figure among makers and aficionados of fine handcrafted watches, and both his watches and his books are admired around the world. Daniels‘ autobiography All in Good Time (1st edition 2000, slightly expanded editions 2006 and 2012) was the first book about Daniels’ life and work.  And the best book on his craft belongs to Watchmaking, Daniels’ 416-page, 777-illustration, opus magnus that describes his watchmaking techniques (1st ed., 1981, also published in French). But Clerizo’s book—well underway when Daniels passed away in October 2011—is destined to be the definitive text on Daniels because the author spent a very significant amount of time with his subject—and with Daniels‘ watches—during the last few years.

 

 

Two page spread of the Grand Complication (pages 160-161).

Clerizo’s first homage to Daniels was included in his 2009 book, Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking, which described the work of the 11 leading contemporary artisanal watchmakers in the world, devoting 20 pages to each of them. Since then, the author has gained an in-depth understanding of Daniels as an artisan, a person, and as a prophet for the rebirth of artisanal watchmaking.

 

With skill, Clerizo uses Daniels‘ voice, using either quotes from his literary output or transcriptions from numerous interviews. The book has a nearly autobiographical tone and feel. Both the personal/human side of Daniels’ life and his technical innovations and insights are presented throughout.

 

This book is destined to become a classic
within the world’s horological literature.

 

There are three chronological text sections: 1926-1959, 1960-1983, and 1975-2011, devoted to the formative, the developmental, and the mature phases of Daniels’ career, and each with b/w images illustrating themes in Daniels‘ life. Phase one is characterized by extreme poverty and struggle; phase two by systematic growth of skills, aspirations, and confidence; and phase three the invention and adoption of the coaxial escapement, the first major breakthrough invention in mechanical watch escapements in centuries.  The book ends with substantial excerpts from Daniels‘ November 1993 speech, Watchmaking in the 21st Century, delivered at the Ward Francillon Time Symposium at Harvard (but overlooks crediting the NAWCC for that extraordinary event).

Two page spread of the Grand Elsom II (pages 78-79).

The three text blocks are separated by two major blocks (of 42 and 48 pages) of over 200 gorgeous large format, color photographs, extensively captioned with technical details, that document the unique watches created by Daniels from 1969 to 1978 (14 watches)  and 1983 to 2011 (12 watches), respectively.

In some respects buying the book provides more information than seeing the physical objects, as the publication includes macro photography and partially disassembled views that go beyond what a casual view of the actual object provides. For an even more thorough understanding of the man and his oeuvre this reviewer recommends a thorough reading of his autobiography, and the other seven books (or more if you count various editions and translations) authored or coauthored by Daniels.

There is no genius without
the work of genius. You have to work.

-George Daniels

This book is destined to become a classic within the world’s horological literature. Although the large format is a bit unwieldy for reading away from a desk or table, this reader would not sacrifice size for convenience, because Daniels‘ genius can only be fully appreciated at the significant image magnification possible in a large format book.

 

I had the privilege and good fortune to meet Daniels on a few occasions, to see some of his pieces on exhibit, and to examine one of his watches. Reading a book can of course never match real-life experience, but Clerizo’s book provides the best encounter with Daniels and his work we now have. This reviewer urges you to experience this book.

Millennium watch. Yellow gold case with silver engine-turned dial.

NAWCC members may check this book out for free!

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