It is a simple and unfortunate fact of life that not everything we start will get finished. This is just as true for watchmakers as it is for everyone else. Indeed, not all watches that begin development or production end up being completed. We thought we’d look back on three watches – from George Daniels, Derek Pratt, and François-Paul Journe – which were put to one side, for one reason or another. While one got scrapped by the brand that originally commissioned it, the others fell victim to time itself, as the watchmakers got too old to finish them.
The unfinished movement of George Daniels, courtesy of the Science Museum.
Whilst these respected independent watchmakers wouldn’t instantly be associated with incompleteness, or imperfection, these watches give us a glimpse into the way they work and the projects which could have been. It also reminds us that watchmaking is ultimately a human enterprise, and is therefore subject to the obstacles placed by others, or the natural limitations posed by age. Whilst the Chronomètre à Résonance and the Space Traveller often get brought up and discussed, the pieces which were never completed can be just as fascinating.
The George Daniels Movement
Currently on display at the Science Museum in London, tucked away from the main attractions, is the final pocket watch movement that Daniels started working on, but never finished. Sat in a display case next to his Space Traveller II, it is a rather unassuming sight to the untrained eye. However, according to Roger Smith, the only watchmaker to train under Daniels, this incomplete movement was set to be the culmination of all his work in the field of horology up to that point.
The display case holding two completed watches by Daniels, including the Space Traveller II and his unfinished movement, courtesy of the Science Museum.
Daniels started work on this movement in 1998, the same year that Smith joined him on the island. “It took me about nine months to get fully set up and working on the Millennium project,” Smith told us, “and it was part way through this period that George started to work on this new watch.” With an extra pair of hands in the workshop that he could now trust, Daniels found he had the time to work on what would, in all likelihood, become his final watch. “I think the intention was that this was always going to be for him,” Smith told us, when we asked him what Daniels wanted to do with it, once it was complete. There was no client in mind when he started production, and he was most likely going to keep it for himself.
George Daniels with Derek Pratt and Grahame Brooks, the then UK Sales Director for Audemars Piguet, in 1986 in front of Daniels 1928 “Blower Bentley, courtesy of SJX.
The original plan, according to Smith, was to make a key-wound pocket watch that incorporated the co-axial escapement and a 15-second remontoir, becoming the second Daniels watch to hold this constant force mechanism. However, after getting part way through the construction, Daniels decided to change the winding and setting function to his signature keyless mechanism. This decision would turn out to be a rather fateful one. Converting this movement from a more traditional form of winding and setting to one that only uses the loop at the top of the case, proved too tricky and time consuming for the ageing watchmaker.
The unfinished movement, courtesy of Roger W Smith.
Smith reckons Daniels must have spent “a couple thousand hours” on this movement, just to get it to the stage it’s at now. “He worked fairly consistently on the watch for the first couple of years,” Smith told us, “not quite full time, but as the years passed, he started to slow down and ease off slightly.” One of the main obstacles he came up against was trying to convert it to a keyless winding mechanism, according to Smith. The watch was left unfinished, still missing its balance spring and wheel, along with any aesthetic components, such as the case, dial, and hands.
Daniels during his time as an advisor at Sotheby’s, wearing a ref. 3800 which he was using to test out his co-axial escapement, courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Smith revealed to us that there are plans in motion to get this movement completed and cased up into a working pocket watch. Seeing as he was there when the project was started, and the only watchmaker to work under Daniels, it seems only fitting that he would complete the project. “There is a lot of the movement there already,” Smith tells us. “We know all of the complications and so forth that he wanted in the watch, with the tourbillon, remontoir and power reserve, so we have a good idea of what the finished product should be.” Besides trying to get the keyless winding to work, getting the movement to run will be one of the major hurdles that Smith will have to overcome, when he finds the time to complete his former master’s work.
The tourbillon and remontoir systems constructed by Daniels in his unfinished movement, courtesy of Roger W Smith.
“It’s like buying a part finished house,” Smith explains, “you originally think it only needs a couple small improvements, but then you have a survey done and as you start to renovate, more and more things come up and you soon realise there is a lot more to do than you originally thought.” As Daniels never drew on anything whilst creating his watches, there are no plans for Smith to work off either. A lot of what he will have to do is go back over what Daniels has already done, fine tuning it and ensuring that, after lying dormant for over a decade, it will be capable of running.
Roger Smith in the workshop on the Isle of Man where this watch was started.
Another significant part of the project that Smith will have to undertake is something he is yet to attempt in his career. “I’m going to have to learn how to engine turn a case, which is something I’ve never done before and quite an interesting watch to learn a new skill on.” Currently, the movement is owned by the Daniels Trust, and it is Smith’s belief that it will stay in its possession and go back on display once all this work has been completed; a fitting place for it, alongside possibly Daniels’ most celebrated work, the Space Traveller II, for everyone to enjoy.
Derek Pratt’s H4
Perhaps one of the most important timekeepers ever made, the original H4 by John Harrison was one of the first watches to solve the problem of calculating longitude while at sea. Needing to remain accurate within 2.3 seconds a day while crossing the Atlantic, this oversized pocket watch was fitted with a fusée and chain, a remontoir and an escapement that beat at 18,000 vph. To prove its accuracy, the Board of Longitude planned a trial to Jamaica in 1761, where it was used it to predict an earlier landfall at Madeira than the crew were expecting. The captain was so impressed that he asked to buy their next timekeeper. Since then, Harrison’s reputation has only grown.
A couple of intricate movements that Derek Pratt has produced, courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Fast forward about two centuries, and you come across another accomplished watchmaker by the name of Derek Pratt. Though he doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other independent watchmakers from the period, Pratt is entirely deserving of it. A close friend of George Daniels, he was a consumate horologist making clocks, pocket watches, and wristwatches. He was involved in reviving the Urban Jügensen & Sønner brand, developing impressive pieces such as a pocket watch with a perpetual calendar, minute repeater, moonphase, and split-second chronograph. Daniels once commented, in the British Horological Institute’s Horological Journal, that “his pocket tourbillon chronometers are exquisitely made and finished and are now in the hands of some of the most knowledgeable horologists to be found in Europe.”
Pratt in his workshop in Switzerland holding his H4 in 2005 and the completed movement mounted in its case in 2014, courtesy of Charles Frodsham & Co, London.
As you might expect, Pratt studied horological history closely, and was enamoured by the work of John Harrison. This passion led him to begin work on a replica of Harrison’s most famous piece, the H4. Possibly one of the few watchmakers alive who could have even attempted such a feat, Pratt began his work around 1997. Rather tragically, he passed away in 2009, after a battle with prostate cancer, and the pocket watch remained uncompleted. Thankfully, he had been in touch with the watchmakers at Frodshams, whom he was very close with, and had arranged to hand over the project to them when it started to become clear that he was going to be unable to finish it.
We spoke with Roger Stevenson, who is a watchmaker Frodsham, and was part of the team who managed the handover of the H4 project. “Our association with Derek went back a long way,” Stevenson told us, “he would often pop into the workshop when he was in London and was always so generous with his time. It was really painful to see Derek when he knew he wouldn’t be able to finish this watch.”
Inside the completed gear train of the H4 movement, showing its remontoir, courtesy of Charles Frodsham & Co, London.
The range of skills needed to complete a true replica of the H4 was such that one person simply couldn’t do it all on their own. This is why at the beginning of the project, Pratt spent a lot of time trying to find other skilled artisans, in order to assist him in some of the more specialised areas. The silver pair case, pierced and engraved decoration and the dial all required knowledge and equipment that Pratt either didn’t possess or didn’t have the time to learn. The origin of this project purely lay in Pratt’s enthusiasm for Harrison and his work. According to Stevenson, there was never a client in mind or a commercial objective, the goal was to simply make “another one” as Pratt liked to refer to it.
H4 was officially handed over to the team at Frodsham in 2009, when Stevenson and Philip Whyte travelled to Switzerland to stay with Pratt and his wife. During their visit, they took detailed notes and discussed the project at great length with the unwell watchmaker. “Derek had done a lot of the hard work for us,” Stevenson told us. “There was possibly about half of the movement there already, and paired with drawings from Anthony Randall, who serviced the original H4, a lot of the heavy lifting had already been carried out.”
The engraving on the finished H4 replica reading “Derek pratt A.D. 2004 – Charles Frodsham & Co A.D. 2014”, courtesy of Charles Frodsham & Co, London.
There was one significant challenge still facing them, however. Many of the components still needed to be designed, with specific measurements to be determined, and there were other parts that Pratt had already machined, but which needed finishing. “There were a lot of really good photographs from the original,” Stevenson explained, “but they were all top down, so no heights could be gained from them. Our first job was getting a drawing of the completed movement done on the computer. This was done by Frodshams’ Martin Dorsch.” While the completed watch is incredibly large, it is also remarkably dense, “especially around the remontoir,” Stevenson commented. This is the area where there was very little margin for error, and why the CAD drawing from Dorsch was so vital.
The hands created by Daniela Hofer for the H4 replica, courtesy of Charles Frodsham & Co, London.
Besides all the work on the movement, which was undertaken by Stevenson and his colleague Daniela Hofer, the highly specialised task of creating the diamond pallet was also required. Pratt had already created two, but felt one of them was not good enough. Shaping and polishing diamond is no mean feat, and when the piece of diamond is smaller than the head of a matchstick, the complexity is doubled. The delicate task of creating the other pallet fell to Frodshams’ Carl Murray. After more trial and error than he had possibly hoped for, he was able to get these small, yet crucial, components perfected.
All the jewelling was done by Murray and Stevenson, who modestly described the task as “quite tricky”. “There is an extensive number of jewels in H4 which was far less common at the time. With end stones made from diamonds” – which they sourced from old jewellery – “it was quite a lot to do.” Luckily, everything that Stevenson was faced with in this construction he had come across before in his career. Rather incredibly, he had once serviced the original H4 in his 20s, although he says he only dismantled, cleaned, and reassembled it, as part of the MOD chronometer workshop team. It was a completely different challenge to, many years later, recreate it.
One of the completed diamond pallets next to a matchstick head for size comparison, courtesy of Charles Frodsham & Co, London.
Another task that Stevenson had to tackle in the five years they had to complete the watch was the construction of the remontoir. “I’d never made a remontoir before,” he admitted, but as a crucial part of the watch’s power regulation, there was no avoiding it. He first made sure the movement was running successfully without the remontoir installed and then, once he knew power was being delivered successfully through the gear train, he started to work on this regulation system, including the making of the specially shaped balance spring.
The remontoir that Stevenson constructed in the H4 replica, courtesy of Charles Frodsham & Co, London.
All these tasks had to be completed by a certain deadline as well. Indeed, the watch was due to be part of an exhibition taking place at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich in July of 2014, where it was displayed alongside all five original Harrison timekeepers. Once finished, its timing was tested and was found to be within plus or minus 2 seconds a day, more than acceptable to have won the Longitude award today. After being on display in Greenwich, it then travelled to the United States and eventually spent five months in Australia. The new owner of the Derek Pratt/ Charles Frodsham & Co replica H4 intends to make it available for exhibition and educational purposes in the future. The original H4 remains on display in the Greenwich Observatory, for all to see.
François-Paul Journe’s Vagabondage
This story is a little different to the ones we previously went over. The Vagabondage was a project taken on by Journe during his early days as independent watchmaker, before he even began his own manufacture. Sadly, it was scrapped by the brand who commissioned it, with the design being left in a drawer for close to a decade, before it was picked back up again. This is the tale of an unfinished watch, which was salvaged, years later.
A young François-Paul Journe at his workbench in Parin in 1987, courtesy of Montres Journe SA.
In 1997, François-Paul Journe was working independently, developing movements for established brands, restoring vintage watches, or creating unusual pieces for enthusiasts. He was approached by Jean Aube, a Parisian collector, who asked him to create a wandering hours watch. The result was the so-called Carpe Diem, which featured an exposed balance wheel in the centre of the dial, with a wandering hours display in the periphery. This piece soberly carries the watchmaker’s initials below the minute track.
A unique watch inscribed with Carpe Diem on the dial by Journe in 1997, prior to establishing his own brand, courtesy of Montres Journe SA.
It is believed that Cartier expressed an interest in developing a similar watch, to be housed within their historic Tortue case. The timing suggests that this would have formed part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris, which was due to begin the year after Journe completed the project for Aube. The aim of the Collection Privée was to recreate some of Cartier’s iconic designs from the past, whilst combining them with high quality mechanical movements, from tourbillons to perpetual calendars. A jump hour watch, developed by none other than François-Paul Journe, would have been the perfect fit. It just so happened that the watchmaker also developed a monopusher chronograph for the French jeweller, whilst working for THA Ébauche, a movement manufacture he co-founded, which would go on to employ talented watchmakers such as Denis Flageollet and Vianney Halter.
The original use of a Tortue case by Cartier and the Vagabondage I, showing a similar sillouhette, courtesy of Antiquorum.
Unfortunately, it is believed Cartier lost interest and abandoned the project, soon after the first prototype was completed. As a result, Journe had no choice but to leave the movement in a drawer, to collect dust. This is a common experience for many watchmakers, who are well accustomed to abandoning some of their pieces at the prototype stage, when faced with reticent brands or unconvinced clients.
Luckily, this wandering hours idea wasn’t forever lost. Ahead of their 30th anniversary charity auction, Antiquorum approached Journe, asking him to create a special watch to be auctioned off for charity. This was the opportunity that Journe had been waiting for. The watchmaker was only given six months to complete project. Constrained by this tight deadline, he would need to dig deep into his repository of abandoned ideas. As Journe himself recounts, “it was then that I felt that this was the right time to bring my watch with the vagabond hours out from my drawer and give it to the world. Thus, was born the Vagabondage.”
The original three Vagabondage watches produced for the charity auction, courtesy of Antiquorum.
He made three pieces for the auction, in rose, white and yellow gold. The latter two are particularly rare, understood to be the only two watches to leave his manufacture in those metals. The three watches were intended to commemorate all three decades that Antiquorum had been in operation, at a time when they were the foremost watch auction house in the world. After all of them sold for significantly above their estimate, Journe must’ve been convinced of their commercial viability, which led him to releasing the Vagabondage I a few years later.
F.P. Journe Vagabondage I.
Interestingly enough, Journe never put his name on the dial of the Vagabondage pieces, be it those he created for Antiquorum or those he released under his own eponymous brand. Part of the explanation for this comes to us from Pierre Halimi, a close friend of Journe’s and the General Manager for the brand in North America. According to Halimi, the watchmaker created the Vagabondage for fun. He did not feel that the watch truly bore his mark, so chose not to display his name on the dial. In fact, he refers to the Vagabondage series as a “bastard”, according to Halimi, because it combines some of his aesthetic cues with those of Cartier.
Details on the Vagabondage I.
In a way, these pieces were an act of quiet revenge towards the French jeweller, which had sabotaged the project years prior. Those close to Journe have often shared his frustration from his time creating movements for others, where the work of independents such as himself was not recognised, with the brands taking most of the credit for these creations. In this case, an abandoned project benefitted from a glorious rebirth.
There are stories of unfinished masterpieces in nearly all crafts, from paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci to the incomplete writing of Franz Kafka that were published after his death. These works have fascinated us for years, as they show the process which creatives go through before they present their complete vision.
These three watches represent the broad spectrum of journeys that a watch can go on, from when it is first envisioned to when it becomes a ticking timepiece. Creating a watch of a certain quality and standard from scratch can take a long time. Even for those who have supposedly mastered the art, it is never a simple process, and all sorts of obstacles can come up. For François-Paul Journe, it was the reticence of an established brand which led him to abandon his project for a wandering hours watch, before bringing it back, years later. For George Daniels and Derek Pratt, it was the one thing that they’d been obsessed with for their whole life which they eventually came up against – time itself.