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Doing battle with a gramophone spring


Making an exploding clock
George Daniels Master watchmaker
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In my school days at the age of about 12, I was very keen on horology and the difficulty was to find clocks and watches to work on and learn from, and jumble sales were a good source of clocks. I mean for a few pence literally you could get a clock that nobody wanted because they couldn't afford to have it repaired or even find anyone to repair it, so that was very useful. And then again, I discovered that there were an enormous number of empty houses in London. You never see an empty house now, but in those days you could reckon that certainly one in every 10 houses was empty and nobody bothered to lock them up. These people just moved out and left them. They were renting these houses you see, they didn't care about it, they just upped sticks and left. And so I would go into these houses and search around and I would find clocks and watches, gramophones... mechanical gramophones.

And so I gathered all these and took them back home and could work on them, and one day I found this American clock hanging on the wall. It was about two feet tall, hanging against the wall with a cart leaf winding spring at the bottom.  And, I believe, they are now regarded as quite valuable American antiques, but to me in those days it was just another American clock and it looked pretty cheap compared with European things. Quality is the thing, you know, you soon learn if you associate with watches and small mechanics. Well, I was very pleased with the clock and it took it home and repaired it. The spring was broken and so I managed to heat up the end and bend it round and join it in again.  And whenever I had anything interesting and useful, my father would take it away from me and keep it for himself. And he took my clock and he banged a nail in the wall and hung the clock up so that I couldn't reach it. And we were all having tea one day, standing round our table having tea, and the clock exploded. A spring broke, blew the clock all over the room. So there you are you see, that's what you get for stealing another man's clock.

George Daniels, CBE, DSc, FBHI, FSA (19 August 1926 - 21 October 2011) was an English watchmaker most famous for creating the co-axial escapement. Daniels was one of the few modern watchmakers who could create a complete watch by hand, including the case and dial. He was a former Master of the Clockmakers' Company of London and had been awarded their Gold Medal, a rare honour, as well as the Gold Medal of the British Horological Institute, the Gold Medal of the City of London and the Kullberg Medal of the Stockholm Watchmakers’ Guild.

Listeners: Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in 1970 in Bolton, Lancashire. He began training as a watchmaker at the age of 16 at the Manchester School of Horology and in 1989 won the British Horological Institute Bronze Medal. His first hand made watch, made between 1991 and 1998, was inspired by George Daniels' book "Watchmaking" and was created while Smith was working as a self-employed watch repairer and maker. His second was made after he had shown Dr Daniels the first, and in 1998 Daniels invited him to work with him on the creation of the 'Millennium Watches', a series of hand made wrist watches using the Daniels co-axial escapement produced by Omega. Roger Smith now lives and works on the Isle of Man, and is considered the finest watchmaker of his generation.

Tags: London

Duration: 2 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008