Celebrating the Co-Axial Escapement
Dr. George Daniels is recognised as one of the greatest watchmakers of the 20th century. In 1981, he received an MBE for his services to horology, along with a CBE in 2010 – the first watchmaker ever to receive such an honour. During his lifetime, Daniels was one of the few people who built complete watches by hand, from his workshop on the Isle of Man, at a rate of around one watch per year.
One of his most noteworthy contributions to watchmaking was the invention of the Co-Axial Escapement, designed to improve a mechanism’s long-term performance by radically changing the nature of its inner workings. The Co-Axial was the first practical invention since the lever escapement, created by Thomas Mudge in 1755, thus representing an important advancement in the dynamics of the watch. By re-designing the function of the components during impulse, the Co-Axial Escapement operates without sliding friction. As a consequence, unlike a conventional watch, the rate is unaffected by the viscosity of lubricants, which can vary constantly with temperature, humidity, and age.
Launched in 1998, the Millennium series came about as a way to celebrate the acceptance of the Daniels Co-Axial Escapement by the Swiss watch industry, a lifelong ambition of the watchmaker. They were made using the first Omega ébauches to contain the Co-Axial, which were heavily modified by George Daniels and Roger W. Smith, over the course of three years. Working in isolation for most of his career, Daniels had taken Smith on as an apprentice, after the promising watchmaker built two pocket watches entirely by hand over the course of several years, with the aim of proving his worth to Daniels. It is understood that 47 yellow gold and 8 white gold Millenniums were produced.
This white gold George Daniels Millennium comes to us from the original owner, Mr Norman, who was a close friend of the watchmaker. With a long-standing passion for flying, Norman started display flying for a living in 1982, initially in a high performance Zlin 50 aircraft. He specialised in aerobatic flights, performing dizzying manoeuvres for entertainment, at events such as the Monaco Grand Prix or Royal Air Force Battle of Britain display. Having completed over 4,000 hours of flying, he then established a team which specialised in wingwalking, a practice which involves performing acrobatics on the top of a flying airplane.
Norman and Daniels met in the early 1980s, developing a friendship over their shared passion for cars, aeroplanes and mechanics. Living close to each other, they frequently went to one of the local pubs together and Daniels would occasionally visit Norman’s house for dinner. Over the years, Norman would jokingly ask Daniels when he was planning on making a wristwatch, as the watchmaker was focusing on his pocket watches at the time. When the Millennium project came about, Daniels showed Norman the first piece he produced and told him that he wanted to make him one. This was typical of Daniels, who was notorious for choosing those he intended to make watches for, rather than the other way round. As Roger W. Smith recalls,
“George had quite a personal approach to watchmaking, so he’d usually just inform people that he was planning on making a watch for them. That’s just the way he did things.”
Upon hearing the price, Norman told him that he couldn’t afford to buy one. However, the pair met several times over the course of the year and Daniels kept telling Norman that he wanted him to have one of his watches. Reiterating that he couldn’t afford it, Daniels told him not to worry. He would be given a special price and was also able to supply him with some spare parts for one of his precious cars. Norman asked for the watch to be made in white gold, preferring the more understated nature of the metal. He also asked Daniels not to engrave his initials on the back of the watch, as he had done with the other Millenniums. Without letting him know, Daniels surprised the pilot with an engraving on the caseback which read “AVIATOR 99”, a more subtle reference to who the watch was made for.
Having also requested a more understated calf leather strap, rather than an alligator one, Daniels would often joke about how difficult and meticulous Norman was throughout the process. In a copy of his book Watchmaking, which he gifted alongside this Millennium, an inscription from the watchmaker alludes to the watch having been “made for you with much inconvenience to your detailed requirements.” As a sign of the close friendship and humorous relationship between the two men, Norman gifted Daniels a watch in return: a quartz Utterly Butterly watch with a Velcro strap, made by one of the sponsors of Norman’s aviation team. It is understood to currently be on display in Roger Smith’s new workshop on the Isle of Man.
A White Gold Millennium
Only 8 white gold Millenniums were produced, according to David Newman, the Chairman of The George Daniels Trust. The first white gold piece was exported outside of the United Kingdom, whilst this example was the second to be delivered. Daniels’ order book confirms that of the eight white gold millennium watches, three were made with yellow gold chapter rings and yellow gold hands, and five where made with silver chapter rings and blued steel hands.
Sized at 37mm, the 18-carat white gold case features straight lugs and a rounded, stepped bezel. The caseback is engraved with “AVIATOR 99”, as well as bearing the traditional and maker's own hallmarks. The case has sapphire glass on the front and back. In one of his letters to Norman, Daniels refers to the white gold case as “beautiful, without being ostentatious.”
The silver dial is hand engine-turned, combining three different patterns to create legibility and add depth to design. It features an outer-chapter ring with hand-engraved, black minute markers. A trench separates it from a second brushed chapter ring, displaying black Roman numeral hour-markers, in the watchmaker’s classic style. The centre of the dial occupies yet another, deeper section, with a hand-turned, basket-work pattern. A cartouche at eight o'clock and five o’clock references “DANIELS” and “LONDON” in black engraving.
The blued steel hands offer an appealing contrast against the crisp white dial, also helping with the overall legibility. Commenting on the watch, David Newman pointed out that “George’s preference was always the blued steel hands. In fact, for his own white gold Millennium, he chose to use blued steel hands.”
The self-winding movement is finished in the English style, with gilded plates and blued screws. Equipped with arguably the greatest British contribution to watchmaking, the Co-Axial escapement, the movement is assured of outstanding time-keeping and long-term reliability. Performance is maintained by the 18-carat gold guilloché winding weight, contained within a highly decorated outer plate.
Coming to us directly from the original owner, this George Daniels Millennium comes with an impressive array of paperwork and accompanying materials. This includes the original, hand-written invoice from December 1999, a letter from Daniels from September 1999, promotional images for the Millennium, manuals and box. It also comes with a copy of Watchmaking by George Daniels, which has been dedicated and signed by the watchmaker.
The watch comes on one of our grey grained leather Tokyo straps, as well as its original white gold buckle. It also comes with an unsigned black calf strap, which Norman requested when the watch was first delivered.