It’s time to remember Sunderland’s own Father Time

Sunderland-born watchmaker George Daniels - hailed as a genius of the watchmaking world - pictured at work on his beloved time pieces.
Sunderland-born watchmaker George Daniels - hailed as a genius of the watchmaking world - pictured at work on his beloved time pieces.
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A Wearsider who rose from Dickensian poverty to become the one of the finest watchmakers of the modern era is the focus of an appeal for a memorial.

George Daniels won fame after inventing a mechanism which revolutionised time-keeping - described as the most important horological development for 250 years.

A film showcasing the inspirational story of Sunderland-born George Daniels, featuring footage of George and narration by John Rhys-Davies, has just been released on DVD by DAM Productions Isle of Man.

A film showcasing the inspirational story of Sunderland-born George Daniels, featuring footage of George and narration by John Rhys-Davies, has just been released on DVD by DAM Productions Isle of Man.

But despite receiving a CBE from the Queen, as well as a Gold Medal from the Clockmakers’ Company of London, George’s links to Wearside are almost forgotten.

“I would like to see at least some recognition for George in the city; perhaps a plaque or memorial,” said James Doyle, a keen amateur horologist from Fulwell.

“I know he only spent a brief time here, but George was one of the most pioneering watchmakers in centuries - a son of Sunderland we can be extremely proud of.”

George’s start in life was tough. His mother, pregnant and unwed, fled London for Sunderland during the Great Depression; giving birth to George in August 1926.

She later returned to the capital, where she married his carpenter father, but George’s childhood was one of poverty. Indeed, his father proved a violent drunk and the couple’s 11 children had little food or love.

“We were very poor,” George later recalled. “We had bread and dripping for breakfast, bread and jam for tea and we ate our meals standing up at the table. We only owned one chair.”

As a youngster George tried to spend as much time out of the house as possible and, at the age of five, he became fascinated by watches after finding a cheap wristwatch in the street.

“I managed to get it open and I was intrigued with the workings. It was like seeing the centre of the universe. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my time with watches,” he said.

Forced to seek work at 14, George spent his days working in a mattress factory and his nights reading about watches - even making extra cash by repairs the clocks of neighbours.

His skills also served in him well in the army, especially after he was posted to the Middle East during the Second World - for he earned enough money mending soldiers’ watches not to draw pay.

On leaving the services, he spent his £50 gratuity on tools and secured a job as a watch repairer. Night class studies saw him become a Fellow of the British Horological Institute.

“George opened his first shop in 1960 and, after studying the works of noted 19th century watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, became a leading expert,” said James.

“He then created his first pocket watch in 1968, selling it for £2,000. Five years later he bought in back for £8,000 and, in 2012, it sold at an auction in America for $285,000.”

George created 37 signature timepieces for selected clients in his lifetime; each taking more than 2,500 hours to hand craft - and costing tens of thousands of pounds.

But it was his 1970s invention of the coaxial escapement, a mechanism which virtually eliminated the need for lubrication in mechanical watches, that brought him global fame in the watch world.

“It helped improve the accuracy of time-keeping and was unparalleled in 250 years of watchmaking. George was an extremely accomplished watchmaker,” said James.

“But it would be another 20 years until Omega, owned by the Swatch Group, introduced the mechanism in 1999. It has been used in their highest-grade watches ever since.”

George continued to make watches into old age and in 2006, to mark his 80th birthday, a retrospective exhibition of his work was hosted by Sotheby’s.

In 2010 he was awarded a CBE for services to horology, but passed away the following year. In 2012 a Space Traveller’s watch made by George sold at auction for £1,329,250.

“Anyone who knows anything about watches will know George’s name, which is why I would like to see his life and work recognised in his home city of Sunderland,” said James.