The pocket watch that launched Roger Smith’s career, a world-renowned watchmaker in the island, is to be auctioned this weekend.
For the past few months, the watch has been touring the world visiting London, Los Angeles, Geneva, Hong Kong and is currently in New York ahead of the auction.
The story of Roger Smith’s second pocket watch is intrinsic to that of the famed Sulby watch-maker.
Frequently referred to as one of the world’s top watchmakers, Roger, who was born in Bolton, moved to the island to work with the late George Daniels.
George, an English horologist, was the first watch-maker to achieve sufficient mastery of 32 of the 34 skills and techniques necessary to create a watch entirely by hand.
He also created the coaxial escapement which theoretically removed the need to add a lubricant. This has been used by Omega in most of their collections since 1999.
As a student, at the age of 19 Roger first met George at the Manchester School of Horology, where George had been invited to give a talk to the students. Roger said: ‘I had never heard of George Daniels, somebody had said that he made watches by hand, I didn’t believe it because to me watches were always made by industry and it seemed like an impossible feat to make a watch by hand.
‘When George Daniels arrived, he walked in wearing this three-piece pinstripe suit. He walked around the students and asked questions about the work we were doing, he arrived at my bench and I asked him what was on his pocket watch chain. Out came his pocket watch which is called space traveller, it is probably his most famous pocket watch, it sold a few years ago for £4.5 million.
‘It just blew me away, and I remember this hot and cold feeling down my back and just thinking I have just met a genius.’
He added: ‘I then went to work in the trade as a repairer, and I was there for about a year and a half, and was beginning to get bored.
‘I wanted to go into watchmaking so I wrote to George, who was here on the Isle of Man at the time, and I asked if he would apprentice me.
‘He said no, but he invited me over, showed me around the workshop, and he said, “if you want to make a watch, go away and make it, I can’t teach you”.’
Roger followed the advice of George, which was to make a pocket watch by himself.
At the age of 22 he presented the watch to George in the hope of securing a coveted apprenticeship.
George said that it looked hand-made not created, and so advised Roger to go back and start it again.
Roger spent the next five and a half years perfecting his second pocket watch, which he re-built four times.
The watch featured a perpetual calendar and tourbillon with spring-detent escapement (a mechanism to counter the effects of gravity and to increase accuracy).
He returned and presented the pocket watch to George, where he famously said ‘You are now a watchmaker’.
This is when George agreed to take Roger on as his only apprentice.
It is this second pocket watch that will be up for auction this weekend.
Roger had kept that watch in his kitchen drawer for years, but it was when he needed to raise some money for his business in 2004 when he sold it, which he says really helped with the first stages of his business.
Roger moved to the island to join George in 1998, and worked on Daniels’ designs.
Roger said: ‘George was a brilliant teacher, he had a formidable reputation, but when I was in the workshop with him, he was very precise and calm in the way he spoke and wrote.’
When George died in 2011, he passed on his workshop to Roger. Although Roger has since moved workshops, he has a room dedicated to the equipment, drawings and books left to him by George.
Under his own name, Roger Smith has made 130 watches since 2001.
He said: ‘It is tiny numbers, but I think what is unique is that you have the raw material which enters one end of the building, and the completed watch leaves the other end of the building. That is unique in the world of watchmaking, as far as I know there is no other watch-maker that makes everything.’
Roger’s process is so detailed that his workshop makes approximately 15 watches a year, and he now has 15 watchmakers.
He said: ‘When you are asking other people to make those watches, that is when everything needs to be tied down to several microns, there may be 250 components in a watch. Each component has to be designed, drawn out,, tested, prototyped, toleranced, and then we can start the manufacturing process.’
The workshop consists of four main areas.
It starts with a room where Roger comes up with the designs, this is the same room that is home to the items passed down to him from George.
In the next room there is heavy machinery which the watch-makers use to cut the metal for the tiny components of the watches.
The pieces of metal are so small, that one watch-maker said that if they drop it on the floor it would be easier to just make another one.
The next room is where the watch-makers finish each component.
Roger said: ‘In this room, the watchmakers will take the components, and start the finishing processes of each component, each component has to be touched and finished so it is brought to a level of quality that is accepted for the watches.’
The final room is where the watch-makers assemble the components and build the watches.
Typically it can take around a year for a watch to be made from start to finish.
There is currently a seven year waiting list, from when a client orders the watch, to when they can expect for it to be finished.
Paul Boutros, Phillips’ head of watches, who are running the upcoming auction, said: ‘The painstaking, years-long creation of Pocket Watch Number Two is a testament to one man’s absolute focus and perseverance in the pursuit of his chosen trade.
‘It is without any doubt, one of the most important and impressive timepieces made by any contemporary independent watchmaker or brand, and consequently one of the most important watches in the world.
‘We look forward to sharing this remarkable and storied timepiece with our community around the globe.’
Roger said: ‘ It is fair to say that everything that has happened for me is thanks to Pocket Watch Number Two.
‘So, as you can imagine, I will be following this auction with the keenest eye and my hopes that it continues its onward history making with a noteworthy collector.’