16 February 2024

George Daniels and Roger Smith

Author: John O’Connor

As we count down the days to the British Watchmakers’ Day event on March 9th at Lindley Hall, (join our Afterparty here) we thought we’d talk about two of the most important watchmakers of the last 50 years. One of the most revered names in British watchmaking is Roger Smith, the apprentice of the late master, George Daniels. I’ve selected this pair as they endeavoured to build their watches entirely by hand, with all design, manufacturing and assembly done in one workshop. In the world of watches, there is some debate on what constitutes ‘in-house,’ but with Smith and Daniels, there can be no argument on meeting the definition, as we’ll explore today!

Roger Smith’s journey to becoming a renowned watchmaker is a testament to dedication, mentorship, and the pursuit of excellence. Smith, like most of us watch fans, had a fascination with mechanical devices and a desire to understand their inner workings. However, it wasn’t until he encountered a book authored by legendary watchmaker George Daniels that his path truly began to take shape.

The cover of the book Watchmaking, by George Daniels, the inspiration for Roger Smith to create his own watches.

In Daniels’ book, “Watchmaking,” Smith found not only a comprehensive guide to the intricacies of horology but also asource of inspiration that would set the course for his future. Drawn to the artistry and precision of watchmaking, Smith resolved to embark on a journey to master this ancient craft. He enrolled in a course on horology in Manchester, studying the bedrock of the art. Once qualified, he found employment servicing watches for Mappin and Webb, with a brief stint at Tag Heuer. Not content with servicing watches, Roger felt that pull of hand-built watchmaking, as detailed by Daniels. Before long, armed with a lathe and a draughty garage, Smith began to craft his own pocket watches. Perhaps not entirely in-house then, but entirely in-garage?

Driven by his passion and determination to succeed, Roger Smith decided to write to George, a pioneer in the world of watchmaking renowned for his mastery of traditional craftsmanship and innovative spirit. This was the man responsible for creating the ‘coaxial escapement,’ a development that Omega continue to market as a leading feature of their movements. To put Daniels’ profile in horology into perspective, this would be the equivalent of an up and coming go-kart racer with potential asking Sir Lewis Hamilton for some pointers!

The omega Master Chronometer Co-axial excapement
An Omega Movement featuring a co-axial escapement

Fortunately, recognising Smith’s earnestness and potential, Daniels took him under his wing, becoming not only a mentor but also a guiding light on his path to becoming a watchmaker.

Under Daniels’ tutelage, Smith began rigorous training, immersing himself in the timeless techniques and principles of watchmaking. With Daniels’ guidance, he honed his skills, mastering the delicate art of crafting intricate timepieces by hand. Their partnership was marked by a shared commitment to excellence and a deep respect for the heritage of horology.

a picture of george daniels and roger smith, roger wearing a white shirt and glasses peering down at georg holding watch wearing a grey jacket, both next to a watchmakers bench
Roger Smith, left, and George Daneils asessing a watch movement in George's Workshop

Combining traditional techniques with modern innovations, Smith’s first watches were pocket watches. His first took 5 full years to meet Daniels’ high standards, building and rebuilding the watch and refining it over time. To paraphrase, the accepted story is that Roger handed Daniels the watch, which he inspected with laser-focused precision. He interrogated Roger, “Who made the case for you? Where’d you get the dial? Who helped you with the tourbillon?” to which Roger replied each time in turn, “I did, I made it. All myself.” Satisfied with Smith’s response and the quality of his watch, he said, “Well Roger, you’re a watchmaker.”

In the years that followed, Smith’s reputation continued to soar as he unveiled a series of meticulously crafted timepieces, each bearing the hallmark of his uncompromising dedication to quality and precision. His work garnered accolades from collectors and connoisseurs alike, cementing his status as one of the preeminent watchmakers of his generation.

Throughout his remarkable journey, Smith remained ever grateful to George Daniels, whose guidance and mentorship had been instrumental in shaping his career. As he continued to push the boundaries of watchmaking, Smith remained true to the timeless principles instilled in him by Daniels, ensuring that his legacy would endure for generations to come.

a close up of a large pocket watch with white gold dial, roman numerals, gold hands, a power reserve and elegant small seconds display below
The first comission Roger Smith earned as a watch maker, and the third watch he built overall.

In essence, Roger Smith’s ascent to prominence as a watchmaker is a testament to the transformative power of mentorship, perseverance, and a steadfast commitment to excellence. Guided by the wisdom of George Daniels and fuelled by his own passion for horology, Smith has carved out a legacy that stands as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring watchmakers around the world.

To close, my own personal Roger Smith anecdote; A friend of mine teaches at a primary school on the Isle of Man. She knows nothing about watches, other than my own fascination with them. She told me over Christmas that a pupil in her class gave her a single Quality Street, a purple one, hurriedly wrapped with what wasn’t quite wrapping paper, as a present on the last day before the winter holidays.

“Funny, I heard he was a watchmaker, wouldn’t be like him to be late or in a rush!” she said. “Ah really? As in fixes them or something?” I reply. Her next sentence leaves me with the biggest ‘no way’ I’ve made in watches yet: “No no, he definitely makes the whole thing, he’s a bit of an eccentric, he moved over here a while back. What was his name? Something Smith…”

Get news on all our upcoming Events, Meetup and more by joining our Newsletter!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.