A version of this appeared on the RedBar Group’s global website in June 2023.
“I thought it might be larger,” says Dr Roger Smith OBE, as he holds Pocket Watch No.2, the watch he presented to Dr George Daniels over twenty-five years ago. We’re sitting in a room off Phillips’ London auction space, where items from the New York Watch Auction EIGHT (which will take place on June 10 and 11) are on display. It’s the first extended period of time he’s had to spend with it, having sold Pocket Watch No.2 to a collector in 2004.
Smith had set out to create something that would reflect the ideals of the Daniels Method (i.e. the philosophy set out in Watchmaking, and the idea of making a watch entirely by hand) and after five years of determination, dead ends, multiple revisions and hard work, he deemed Pocket Watch No.2 to be complete. “It was all-consuming,” he says, looking slightly pained, “I had nobody to talk to, or bounce ideas off. It as a very lonely experience.”
The result is, probably, the most important watch Smith has made to date; a Sliding Doors moment, when, having presented his first, rejected, pocket watch to Daniels in 1992, he decided to go home and work on something better. “I really wanted to challenge myself, to go further and make an even more complicated watch,” he says, turning it over in his hands; something that would show Daniels that he could be a watchmaker.
Pocket Watch No.2, Dr Roger Smith OBE, 1997
Famously (and perhaps apocryphally), Daniels said that a watch should imply appear from thin air, i.e. not have any sign of the watchmaker, with the exception of the realisation of their aesthetic. “I really thought that there was only one way to build watches,” Smith continues, “and Watchmaking was my guide.”
The watch differed from that first attempt, and included a one-minute tourbillon with spring detent escapement, perpetual four-year calendar and moonphase. The 18 karat gold from the first watch was melted down and reused to house this new movement inside a larger 66.5mm case. The silver dial, with its polished off-set hour ring and minute track, large sub-seconds, and multiple guilloché patterns looks somewhat timeless, evoking the backline illustrations in Watchmaking, as well as the dials of Breguet (or, perhaps, Jump). Smith’s signature, sculptured hands adorn the dial, balanced against the black-inked roman numerals, and a small cartouche sits below the moon phase, displaying the maker’s name.
The movement, with its two-thirds plate and large, straight tourbillon bridge evokes a period of English watchmaking at the end of the ninetieth century, when Nicole, Nelson & Co were making high-class, complicated pocket watches. This is, perhaps, unsurprising, given Smith was working for antiquarian horologist David Penney during some of this period. The tourbillon bridge and screws are black polished, while the plates are frosted in the classic English style.
Two raised barrels sit above the spring detent escapement and four-armed balance wheel – now seen in Smith’s wristwatches as the Quadrajust. One of the barrels is highly decorated in a traditional scroll pattern (reminiscent of watches sold by Charles Frodsham and others), while the second barrel bears the maker’s name: R. W. Smith, Bolton. As a whole, it’s a remarkably restrained design, and reflects Smith’s later aesthetic, a personal style that Daniels was keen that he develop.
The movement of Pocket Watch No.2, signed R. W. Smith, Bolton.
As noted previously, it’s a large watch: 65.5mm in diameter. Interestingly, the case has a five-piece hinge (rather than the three-piece hinges described by Daniels in Watchmaking). “I wanted to go one better,” Smith says, with a smile. The push pieces to adjust the four-year perpetual calendar, date and moon phase are also visible.
The five-part 18 karat gold hinge, case and push pieces of Pocket Watch No.2
This watch has, rather unusually, lead three lives. First and most importantly, it was the watch that persuaded Daniels to apprentice Roger Smith in early 1998, and to ask him to assist with the first series of Omega watch movements that had been produced with Daniels’ co-axial escapement. Smith was to be Daniels’ only apprentice, and worked with him until his death in October 2011.
The watch’s second life was to provide a springboard for Smith’s personal watchmaking development; the watch was sold to a private collector in 2004, to fund the development of the Series 2 wristwatches: “I wanted to build a completely different wristwatch, designed in-house.” Given the time between the watch’s making and its sale, I ask Smith what happened to it during the intervening years: “I didn’t even think about it,” he says. “It just sat in a kitchen drawer.”
Roger Smith’s watchmaking workshop on the Isle of Man has grown since then, and now employs ten watchmakers at the bench and two further engineers. The same principles he employed in making Pocket Watch No.2 continue to be applied today; that same approach to development, refinement and passion for watchmaking. It’s this passion that he says he tries to instil in each of his watchmakers, as well as an environment where they can share ideas (something that was lacking while Smith was making Pocket Watch No.2).
And now the watch is being sold again, by Phillips, in New York, but first goes on a global tour, via Los Angeles, Geneva and Hong Kong. Their press release estimates the watch’s sale price at in excess of $1m. When asked what he might change or alter about the watch, given the chance, he smiles. “I wouldn’t change anything,” he says. “It’s served its purpose.”
“There’s nothing more attractive than a good watch: it’s historic; intellectual; technical; aesthetic; amusing; useful. You couldn’t beat it.”George Daniels, 2011