“What would you recommend for under $5,000?” That has got to be one of the questions I get asked most often by those making their first foray into the world of mechanical timepieces. Generally speaking these first-time buyers are looking for a well-known brand name, one that inspires confidence and comfort in the mind of the purchaser, and one that their friends will all recognize, and envy. Well, thanks to Omega, I now have a new piece to add to my running list of recommendations, the Speedmaster Racing.
The newest installment of the James Bond series, SKYFALL starring Daniel Craig, is set to hit cinemas later this year and as we have come to expect from the maker of Bond’s most essential on-screen accessory, Omega has created a limited edition Seamaster Planet Ocean to celebrate.
“Each time an old man dies, it’s a library that burns” – African proverb by Ahmadou Hampathe Ba.
George Daniels built his reputation restoring and repairing the exceptional creations of Abraham Louis Breguet and, like his predecessor had a century before him, made it his life’s work to constantly search for ways to improve watchmaking. During his legendary career spanning 42 years he created 37 different watches completely by himself, excluding prototypes, with each designed as a way to test new ideas, new processes. Whilst most manufacturers focus on registering new patents and developing new materials, Daniels was more concerned with generating new ideas and then finding ways to implement them.
His most notable invention, the now well-known co-axial escapement, was simply too ahead of its time for the watchmaking industry when he first created it back in the 1970s. It’s not common knowledge but Daniels actually struck out with Rolex and Jaeger-LeCoultre first before Omega agreed to buy the new technology. It’s hard not to imagine that the fate of either of those manufactures could have been changed significantly if they had given Daniel’s escapement the credit it deserved. (Editor’s Note: Although fortunately both brands are still doing exceptionally well.)
Although Daniels left this world a highly respected, watch-making legend, his beginnings were incredibly humble.
“We were really scruffy gutter kids.”
These words from Daniels are indicative of the impoverished household in which he grew up, sharing what little possessions he had with his 8 brothers and sisters as the world struggled through the Great Depression. His first experience with watches came at the tender age of six when he discovered a watch in the house. According to Daniels he didn’t know who it belonged to, but as far as he was concerned it was fair game to open it up with a bread knife and examine its contents. Although it wasn’t functioning the movement he discovered inside still had all the potential qualities of the complexity of a watch, which he found very intriguing.
As time went on and Daniels grew older, the opportunities to work increased and as a consequence so did his level of remuneration. He had his own money now, not a lot mind you but maybe just enough to buy his first few broken watches to repair, but this was 1944 and fate had other plans for Daniels. Like every other healthy young man his age at the time, he was conscripted into the British Army.
“For the first time in my life I had a bed to myself”, said Daniels.
Unperturbed by this interruption however Daniels pursued his passion for watch-making and watch repairs, using his time as an enlisted man to start honing his skills:
After finishing his service in the armed forces Daniels made his way back into mainstream society, eager to continue the development of his horological endeavors. Of course at this stage he only saw himself as a watch repairer, the idea of becoming a world famous watch-maker too outrageous to even warrant a second thought. As time went on and he honed his skills working on a variety of different timepieces it became clear that he was in possession of an extraordinary talent, one that would enable him to transcend the world of watch repair.
“Breguet, the most celebrated watchmaker…
but not the greatest“. That’s what history tends to forget explains Daniels, “Everything necessary for the creation of a precision watch had been done. I had to surpass him ».
In 1968 the quartz movement (excuse the pun) was already well under way and makers of mechanical watches the world over were holding their heads in despair. However Daniels found inspiration in this new innovation, it gave him another reason to make his own watch: “My plan was to build a watch the could outwit the quartz watch. And when I was satisfied (with the watch I made), there was always another nutcase like me waiting to buy it “.
One of these so-called ‘nutcases’ was his friend Sam Clutton. He bought the first Daniels watch for 1200 £ in 1969. In the 90’s, the last one Daniels made sold for 200’000 £.
Of course, Daniels is known above all for his ability to make a watch from scratch – literally – including the tools themselves. Perfection was the goal he constantly aspired too, and in spite of his technical brilliance he never overlooked the importance of aesthetics in watchmaking: ”The beauty of a watch is geometric and aesthetic and about timekeeping “, he said. Of course CNC had no place in his creations, as he put it he liked to use “primitive tools. There was no point in changing them. I used lathed, files, pliers, wirecutters, screwdrivers, hammers, saws. Everything by hand. AutoCAD does not understand elegance “.
“I outdid Breguet”
When Omega bought his co-axial escapement, Daniels showed the world that his invention was as simple as it was necessary: “My idea was that the co-axial had to keep better time than any other mechanical escapement or quartz watch, and it does. The co-axial utilizes the last of the remaining unused principles in the impulsion of the escapement. Watchmakers may have to work five hundred years to find a better escapement“.
There is one thing for sure, Mr Daniels: even in 500 years, we will remember your work, your passion, your devotion and your invaluable contribution to the watch world.
Thank you Sir.
Original story by Olivier Müller – Quotes from the excellent book of Michael Clerizo, “Masters of contemporary watchmaking” that you can order here.
It has been all over the web these past few days: much-loved watch designer Gerald Genta sadly passed away on August 16th aged 80. There is no need to recall here how he contributed to the design of some of the most iconic watches of this past third of a century, from the Royal Oak of Audemars Piguet, to the Nautilus de Patek Philippe, through to the Ingenieur of IWC and Omega’s Constellation.
Humble and modest witnesses of the inexorable flow of the watchmaking life, many journalists dedicated some articles to this amazing man and his contribution. And there was no doubt that your brands, which owes him an incredible part of your current business, would give him a vibrant farewell and last goodbye.
But you did not.
As this article is published (things may change), none of you decided that Genta’s death was worth a few words. Not a single press release, not a single word on your homepage, nothing. Yes, Lebron James’ first visit to China as an ambassador is newsworthy, but surely so is this? The watchmaking industry lost one of its greatest designers, a man whom without many of you would not be where you are today if he had not stepped into your office one day, and yet it seems it’s just business as usual.
To be honest this was somewhat disappointing if not a bit shocking for us here at The Watch Lounge, with our very modest contribution to the world of watchmaking and its related news. We have always been strong believers in the strength of human creation, will and vision and constantly seek to re-enforce how important the people behind the watches are, like here or here. And whilst we think this especially important for small brands that do not have the same marketing capacities as their larger counterparts, we think it is even more important to show you that ‘references’ in a catalogue first started life as simple sketches.
Dear Manufacturers, you continue to enchant us with your mind-blowing creations each and every day, and we thank you for that. But the complete lack of ‘in memoriam’ words for Gerald Genta from you is a real shame…
We will always remember what this great man has contributed, but will you?
It seems the count-down to the London 2012 Olympics has already begun, with Omega unveiling the elegant Seamaster 1948 Co-Axial “London 2012″ Limited Edition a year to the day before the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in London. This understated timepiece is a reinterpretation of the brand’s first ever automatic Seamaster and commemorates Omega’s status as Official Timekeeper for the 25th time. According to the brand achieving this milestone has been made even more significant by the fact that the very first Omega Seamaster was launched in 1948, which coincidentally was also the last time London hosted the Olympic Games.
An Understated Celebration
Unlike previous Olympic models Omega has unveiled, the Seamaster 1948 is far more subdued with nothing on the dial (such as brightly colored Olympic rings) to suggest it is in any way a special edition watch. Whilst this may be disappointing for some hardcore collectors, I think this significantly broadens the appeal of what is already a very attractive timepiece.
Presented in 39 mm polished and brushed stainless steel case with a polished bezel and lugs, the crown is embossed with a vintage Ω logo. The opaline silver dial with a small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock also features an applied white gold vintage Omega logo and name as well as white gold Arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and hour markers at the other positions. Bringing just a touch of color to the face is the blue steel small seconds hand.
On the reverse side of the watch we find the only indicator of the watch’s connection with the London Olympics, a yellow gold medallion embossed with the London 2012 Olympic Games logo affixed in the caseback. Beating beneath this golden façade is an Omega caliber 2202, an officially-certified chronometer equipped with a Co-Axial escapement on three-levels and free sprung-balance.
The special limited-edition Seamaster is presented on a black leather strap with a vintage polished stainless steel buckle and will be limited to 1,948 pieces.
The Final Word
A classic watch done well for the modern day, this reinterpretation of Omega’s iconic Seamaster captures all of the watch’s vintage appeal without going overboard on its Olympic “heritage” – which is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I think Omega does a fantastic job as the official timekeeper however this piece’s association with the Olympics is of little relevance to me. I would buy it simply because it is very well made and looks great.