The ‘Important Watches: Part I’ sale was led by a pair of wristwatches designed by the late, great British horologist George Daniels.
The first, a bespoke white gold timepiece from the Millennium series made by Daniels for protégé Roger W Smith, was bought for 2,177,500 CHF ($2,422,142 / £1,970,811), double the 1 million CHF estimate. The second, a Co-Axial Anniversary watch in yellow gold made by Smith under Daniels’ tutelage, went for a final bid of 736,600 CHF ($819,357 / £666,682), surpassing the estimate of at least 500,000 CHF.
Both watches were bought by an ultra-high-net-worth collector from the UAE, who attended the 4 November auction in person. The collector’s identity has not been revealed.
An historically important watch auction
The Daniels double-act was described by Mikael Wallhagen, head of watches at Sotheby’s Geneva, as ‘perhaps the most important pairing of wristwatches ever to come to auction’. The watches had previously been held in the same personal collection.
Commenting on the significance of the sale, Wallhagen said: ‘The watches signalled the shape of our sale, full of rare and unconventional references both from established and independent brands, which found very motivated bidders, keen to add originality to their collection.
‘Chief among them was the winner of the bidding battle fought over the now record-breaking Millennium watch, who also bought the Anniversary watch right afterwards, thus purchasing a substantial piece of horological history.’
Another highlight of the sale was the Patek Philippe reference 4117/1G, a white gold and diamond set bracelet watch, featuring a blue butterfly wing dial, which sold for 76,200 CHF ($84,761 / £69,000).
The UAE collector was one of nine bidders in contention for the record-breaking Millennium lot. Five collectors bid over the telephone, two online and two, including the eventual buyer, were in the room. The gripping contest lasted for five minutes, with the final two minutes consisting of a face-off between one telephone bidder and the eventual buyer.
Following the success, the UAE collector joined the auction for the next and final sale of the evening: the Anniversary watch. After a tense five-and-a-half minute, the bidder once again emerged victorious.
From George Daniels to Roger W Smith: the passing of the torch
Dr George Daniels, who died in 2011 having made 32 timepieces entirely on his own, is seen by many as the godfather of today’s independent watchmaking scene. His legendary collaboration with Roger W Smith began in the late 1990s, when he invited the young watchmaker to work on the Millennium series.
The Millennium series watch
The 60-watch series, produced between 1998 and 2001, ended with the creation of the bespoke white gold model auctioned by Sotheby’s Geneva. It was created by Daniels for Smith, who had asked for his own timepiece in lieu of a bonus.
Completed outside of regular production, Daniels’ watch was the last in the Millennium series and one of only seven white gold models. It is the only George Daniels watch to ever be double-signed and is the first to bear the Roger W Smith brand name.
It was Smith’s personal watch until 2008, when it was sold in order to support his watchmaking company, Roger W Smith ltd.
The Co-Axial Anniversary watch
In 2010, Daniels and Smith worked together on what would become their final collaboration. The Co-Axial Anniversary series – comprising 35 watches to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Daniels’ creation of the co-axial escapement – was entrusted by Daniels entirely to Smith.
The watch sold at auction was the first in the series – one of 35 yellow gold models. It marks the first and only time a timepiece signed by Daniels was not created by the man himself. It was also the first time a Daniels timepiece featured a variant of his celebrated co-axial escapement: Smith’s single wheel take on Daniels’ double-wheeled original. The model also featured a new British calibre which Smith designed for the series.
The watch auction rooted in personal history
Reflecting on the watch auction, Roger Smith added: ‘These two watches hold so many memories and represent so much of my early career and my relationship with George Daniels, the mentor who was, and continues to be, such an inspiration to me.
‘They are the perfect bookending to my story with George, with one, the Millennium, representing the very first watch model I produced under his exacting tutelage when I was still a little green; and the other, over ten years later, the very first watch from the Co-Axial Anniversary series.
‘I designed and created this watch on my own for George, under his watchful eye and approval throughout the process – a statement of my own growth and skills, like the completion of my apprenticeship with him. And to know that there is only one George Daniels timepiece ever double signed by him, my name is on it and it’s the first wristwatch model I ever created, makes this Millennium watch even more special.’