It may look like a Patek Philippe from the 19th century, but ‘Pocket Watch No.2′ was made between 1992 and 1997 – not by a Swiss atelier, but at the hands of Roger Smith, a Bolton lad, in his parents’ garage.
Sold in 2004 to a US collector to fund Roger Smith’s commercial venture on the Isle of Man, No.2 was sold on Saturday in New York for a cool $4.9m, smashing its (admittedly coy) ‘in excess of one-million dollars’ estimate.
It was especially coy given the leading luxury-watch auctioneers had billed No.2 as nothing short of “the cornerstone of the 21st-century English watchmaking renaissance”. Phillips weren’t wrong.
At just 22, a young lad from the northwest presented Dr George Daniels (1926–2011) – widely considered the greatest watchmaker of the 20th century, despite an output of just 27 masterpieces – with his first handmade pocket watch, in hopes of securing a coveted apprenticeship.
“Not up to scratch,” was the verdict. Daniels advised the precocious youngster to go away and start again as, in his words, a watch must look “begotten, and not made”. Smith spent the next five years perfecting his second pocket watch (securing said apprenticeship), which features a perpetual calendar and tourbillon with spring-detent escapement.
If you need to know what all that means, look no further than Daniels’ definitive work, Watchmaking, which served as Smith’s sole reference every evening, weekend, Thursday and Friday, in between three days a week on trade repairs at Ratner’s in Manchester.
The ‘Daniels Method’, whose legacy Smith perpetuates, is fundamentally impossible to industrialise. But $4.9m is more than anyone’s ever paid for a British watch, so if nothing else, there’s faith in these shores, with more promise than ever for the likes of Bremont, Garrick, Fears, Christopher Ward and others to come, on a global scale.