George Daniels (1926-2011)
George Daniels, horologist, lived in 21 Thornsett Road, Anerley, for about twenty years before making his fortune as a pioneering watch specialist. A blue plaque was installed on the house in 2014.
His great invention was the co-axial escapement which made mechanical watches as accurate as electronic devices. His invention, scorned at first by the industry, was taken up by Omega watches and revolutionised the way watches were made. The invention was inspired by the observation that mechanical watches lost time when the oil inside their mechanism eventually dried out. Daniels decided that if the mechanism was finely-attuned no lubricant would be needed and the watch would work more reliably. His first attempt resulted in the loss of only one second over a year. Co-axial escapement was deemed to be the most important horological development in 250 years.
Becoming a millionaire as a result of the interest taken in his discovery, he moved away from Penge in 1982, for tax reasons, to Ramsey on the Isle of Man.
Daniels was born in Edgware in 1926, in poverty-stricken circumstances, one of eleven children. He had an unhappy childhood with a brutal, drunken father who nonetheless was a dab hand at repairing radios. Out on the streets at the age of five to escape the miserable scenes at home, he found a broken watch and was mesmerised by its interior. ‘It was like seeing the centre of the universe.’ He knew he had discovered his life’s work.
Leaving school at fourteen, he worked in a mattress factory repairing watches in his spare time, going from door to door. Later in the army, in 1945, in Suez, he repaired watches for friends and made such a lucrative living he did not need to draw army pay for two years. However, with only £50 in his pocket on being demobbed, he set up business. He attended City University and studied horology. What was a hobby became a profession.
By chance he met Sam Clutton who shared a similar interest in vintage cars. Clutton introduced him to industry personnel involved in creating high-end time-pieces. A watch Daniels made for Clutton for £1900 in 1969 sold for over £200,000 years later in the USA. He was to create 37 hand-made watches in his lifetime. Each watch took a year to complete. All sold for vast sums of money.
Daniels wrote his first book Watches in 1965. Honours included being made a fellow of the British Horological Institute and receiving the Gold Medal. He also received Gold Medals from the City of London and the Master of the Clockmakers Company.
There was a degree of personal sadness in his adult life: his marriage to Juliet Marryat in 1964 ended in divorce and he became estranged from his only child, a daughter.
He worked ceaselessly up to the age of 84. When he died in 2011 he was involved in making eight watches in a year with colleague Roger Smith. Each watch would sell upwards of £100,000. His Space Traveller’s Watch sold for £3,196,250 in 2017. He left an estate valued at £21,000,000.
From difficult and unpromising beginnings George Daniels was clearly someone who found his calling early, hung on to his dream and made it come true. Just before she died at 91, his mother apologised to him for ‘the miserable home life’.
In this video George Daniels tells the story: https://www.webofstories.com/playAll/george.daniels?sId=10679
George Daniels was awarded Doctor of Science by City University in 2007.
For further information about this pioneering inventor see the following links.
To learn about his watch collection which sold for £8 million: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-20222533
To look inside his Georgian mansion home on the Isle of Man: https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/inside-the-225-million-home-of-the-late-george-daniels
To read about the blue plaque on the Thornsett Road house: newsshopper Blue plaque unveiled in Penge at former home of revered watchmaker George Daniels/