The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI) is the professional organization for watch and clock makers in the USA. Every year, the AWCI holds a national convention with classes and lectures focused on horological education. At the 1990 convention George Daniels delivered a fascinating lecture to the Institute, which was recorded but unfortunately relegated to storage shortly thereafter. Luckily for all of us today, the VHS tape was recently rediscovered and digitized. Daniels lectured on the development of his watches and escapement, touching on the difficulties he encountered while trying to commercialize his invention. The lecture is accompanied by animations of escapements, shown to demonstrate the improvements that the Daniels co-axial introduced. Hearing Daniels explain his motivations and challenges is absolutely fascinating, and well worth an hour of your time to watch.
I first started making watches in 1967 because I was incensed by the hysterical adulations of the quartz watch by people who didn’t really understand its failings.
Daniels was introduced by Henry B. Fried, past president of the Horological Society of New York, past president of the New York State Watchmakers Association, and vice-president of the Horological Institute of America (a precursor to theAmerican Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute.) Daniels explained that he had learned a good deal from Fried’s books, and was delivering the lecture in Fried’s honor. Interesting to note: Daniels described Fried as the Dean of American Horology, which the New York Times also used to describe Fried in his obituary. The AWCI also recently digitized and uploaded an interview with Fried from 1992, which is definitely worth watching as well.
Daniels starts his lecture by listing qualities he believes are present in watches. “A watch has historic, intellectual, technical, aesthetic, useful and amusing qualities.” It is a common phrase that Daniels was known to use when talking or writing about his work and watches in general. As the lecture progresses, he touches on each quality, demonstrating his mastery of the subject. Daniels also explains his first motivation to make his own watches: “I first started making watches in 1967 because I was incensed by the hysterical adulations of the quartz watch by people who didn’t really understand its failings.“
Detent escapement animation
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I made these films which you are going to see by making cardboard cutouts and painting black lines around the edges and then moving them a frame at a time on lock shots, much as animated cartoons are made.“
A watch has historic, intellectual, technical, aesthetic, useful and amusing qualities.
The subject of the hairspring (also known as the balance spring) is briefly touched upon, and Daniels reveals that he used hairsprings from Hamilton (the famous American watch manufacture that was based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania). “I tried making my own springs but I wasn’t very successful and wasn’t getting the correct hysteresis into the metal. Its a very very complex business to make balance springs, so I was very pleased in the end to get some good springs from Hamilton.“
It is well-known that Daniels encountered many difficulties in trying to commercialize his co-axial escapement, before Omega finally signed on in 1999. Daniels demonstrated his escapement to various Swiss manufactures, including Omega, Rolex, Patek Philippe and Zenith, but was rejected because at first because he was showing it running in a pocket watch that he made. (Pocket watches were not in style.) So he incorporated the escapement into a wristwatch, but was again rejected because thin wristwatches were in style at the time. Finally, he made changes to the co-axial to substantially reduce its required height, and incorporated it into a thin wristwatch. Again, he was rejected, this time only with the explanation “we can’t do it.” He touches on these difficulties, and explains his wishes for the Swiss industry at the time. “It would be rather nice if it provoked them to do something, to think of some other way of going about their affairs and not just staying in business making watches for money and to hell with the development of it.“
Daniels concludes with an explanation of his complicated watches, including the famous Space Traveller watch. “When the Americans landed on the Moon, I was so impressed, so I thought what we ought to have is a watch to commemorate the landing on the Moon, a space traveler’s watch.” Daniels also explains his intentions for the Space Traveller watch by saying “I really wanted the Americans to take this to the Moon the next time.”
I spoke with Jordan Ficklin, Executive Director of the AWCI, to learn more about this video. Many years ago AWCI was quite prolific in producing videos that could be used around the country by our affiliate chapters. They were regularly mailed from our library to chapters to be viewed at their meetings. When we transitioned to DVDs many of the old VHS tapes going back to the 80s and 90s were placed in a cabinet in the library never to be seen again. Recently someone requested to buy one of these videos and upon locating it we decided it would be best to make them freely available to the public. There are more than 50 different titles on VHS hiding in cabinets and probably many more in other formats including some old slide and 8mm presentations. Over the next few months we will be digitizing and releasing those of historical significance. Ficklin also explained that included in the list of VHS tapes to be digitized is a lecture by Philippe Dufour from 1990.
Keep an eye on the AWCI’s YouTube channel for more of these amazing lectures!