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George Daniels “Blue” Tourbillon Wristwatch Discovered

And sold for £1 Million.

George Daniels (1926-2011) made just a few dozen watches over his four-decade career – nearly all from scratch and by hand – but most were pocket watches, including the famous Space Traveller that sold for a record £3.62 million last year.

In fact, aside from the Millennium and Anniversary watches, which were both serially produced, Daniels only made four wristwatches. The first two wristwatches – the “Spring Case” tourbillon and the compact chronograph – were just like his pocket watches, one-off creations hand made by Daniels himself in the early 1990s.

Produced over a decade later, the other two wristwatches were designed by Daniels in 2001, but as he was then in his eighties and mostly retired, produced mostly by Roger W. Smith, his apprentice at the time and later his successor. The two are the Blue and the White, a pair of almost-identical tourbillon wristwatches in surprising, rectangular cases.

The Blue tourbillon wristwatch

Daniels’ original drawing for the Blue

As Roger tells it, Daniels gave him a sketch of the Blue, and tasked him with turning it into a watch. At the time, Roger was finishing the last of the Daniels Millennium watches – just over 50 were made – and had decided to remain on the Isle of Man, where Daniels lived and worked, in order to pursue a career as a watchmaker.

The Blue thus became the first watch he built from scratch, as his mentor Daniels had taught him. In the video below, Roger outlines how he started working for George, before going on to discuss the Blue and White tourbillon watches.

Neither the Blue nor the White has emerged publicly since they were delivered in 2007, until now. London-based independent watch dealer A Collected Man just revealed it brokered the sale of the Blue – directly from its original owner to a new home across the Atlantic – for a whopping £1.00 million, equivalent to US$1.31 million.

The “Blue” and “White”

Both the Blue and the White were built as a result of a commission placed by the first owner of the Blue, an English software entrepreneur. He had approached Daniels for a tourbillon wristwatch sometime in 2000, a request the watchmaker acceded to, but with the condition he would produce two examples in order to amortise the development cost.

By mid 2001, the outline of the project had been agreed upon, with Daniels also having lined up a buyer for the second tourbillon wristwatch, which would later be christened the White. The Blue gets its name from the blued steel baton hour markers, matched with blue steel hands; conversely, the White has white gold markers with blued steel hands.

The Blue and White pictured in Daniels’ autobiography, All in Good Time: Reflections of a Watchmaker

The under-dial view of the movement in the Blue as depicted in All in Good Time

But aesthetic differences aside, the Blue and the White are fundamentally identical, just as Daniels had envisioned, powered by the same movement featuring a one-minute tourbillon regulator – with a co-axial escapement – and a pointer-date display. Visually, neither watch looks like a typical Daniels in form, although the Daniels details are evident in the engine-turned dial.

They have an elongated, rectangular case with rounded ends that might be described as a tonneau, but is also slightly reminiscent of the Daniel Roth double-ellipse case. Described by Roger as “a real step out for [Daniels]”, the uncommon case shape was the result of Daniels wanting to build a more contemporary watch, in contrast to his earlier works, which were all conventionally round.

The Blue is succinctly described by Daniels himself, who wrote on its certificate: “One minute tourbillon wrist watch with Daniels Co Axial escapement, free sprung balance with adjustable timing screws, carriage visible in the dial aperture. Dial with guillochet [sic] ground with blued steel batons and hands, signed DANIELS LONDON. The 18k white gold case and buckle assayed in London.”

Besides the atypical case shape, the Blue is also significant in another way – it was the first and only of Daniels’ hand-made watches cased in white gold, with the rest being in traditional yellow gold (the Millenniums and Anniversaries were made in white gold, but were serially produced watches).

The hand-written certificate of the Blue

The London assay marks on the back of the Blue

The legacy

When alive, Daniels was rightly regarded as a truly great horologist; Francois-Paul Journe often cites Daniels as an inspiration. But barely a decade after this passing, Daniels has been elevated into legend, as evidenced by the steady, upward climb in the value of his watches. The Blue cost the original owner £40,000 in 2005 – a laughably small sum in hindsight – and 14 years later has sold for £1.00 million, a 25-fold increase.

All photos courtesy of A Collected Man.


 

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Breaking News: ETA Movement Sales Halted by Swiss Authorities

Starting January 1, 2020.

News last weekend that Switzerland’s competition regulator, COMCO, also widely known by its German acronym Weko, was weighing a ban on ETA movement sales to third-party brands caused a major stir in the watch industry – and a terse, lengthy response from Swatch Group, ETA’s parent and Switzerland’s biggest watchmaking conglomerate.

The move was ostensibly to allow alternatives to ETA – once Switzerland’s dominant supplier of mechanical movements – to develop. According to the Swatch Group, the ban was entirely without merit, especially given the fact that ETA was no longer the biggest supplier of movements to the industry. That title now belongs to Sellita, which supplied a million movements in 2019, compared to half the number for ETA.

Now COMCO has formalised the year-long ban in an announcement that puts in place a “temporary suspension of the supply of [ETA] mechanical movements to customers”. The ban will be in force until COMCO makes its final decision by the summer of 2020.

The ban, however, allows ETA to sell its movements to existing clients that are small- and medium-sized watch brands, defined as having less than 250 employees, which will probably be of little consolation to ETA. According to a Swatch Group spokesman quoted by Reuters, the majority of ETA’s movement sales are to companies with more than 250 employees, and as a result, ETA foresees it won’t be able to sell any movements next year.

According to the statement, the ban is founded on COMCO’s belief that if ETA was allowed to continue selling movements for one more year, it would have a negative impact on competition within the movement manufacturing industry. At the same time, brand using ETA movements would have had the ample time to diversify their movement supplies since ETA announced its decision to gradually halt movement sales to third parties over a decade ago.

COMCO director Patrick Ducrey, in a comment to Reuters, expressed scepticism that the ban would result in a movement shortage. “Is there really going to be a shortage of watch movements? I’m not sure. There’s also a grey market and brands have built inventories.”

The ban is the latest, and most drastic, development in a years-long dispute between Swatch Group and COMCO that began in 2002, when the movement maker announced it wanted to stop selling movement blanks to brands not part of Swatch Group, which owns marques like Omega, Longines and Tissot.

In an ironic twist, the ban reverses the starting positions of the two adversaries, with Swatch Group now wanting to continue the still-lucrative business of being a major movement supplier, and COMCO wanting it halted in totality.

COMCO has also published its decision in full online.

Sources: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) and Reuters


Update December 19, 2019: Article updated to note that ETA is only allowed to sell movements to small- and medium-sized brands, which is a de facto ban on sales.

Update January 7, 2019: The decision allows ETA to sell to small- and medium-sized, but only those that are existing clients.

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