The “Space Traveller” – a unique yellow gold pocket watch made by famed British watchmaker George Daniels conceived to honor his admiration for space explorers was sold for £3.6 million at a Sotheby’s Auction in London yesterday. Possibly one of the most important timepieces made in the last century, this is also now the most expensive British-made timepiece sold at any auction.

The pocketwatch displays both sidereal and mean-solar time

The British watchmaker was fascinated by space travel and conceived this timepiece to be one that could be of use to an astronaut (in theory) if it was every taken to space. He started work on the pocketwatch in 1979. The watch uses a Daniels double-wheel escapement and simultaneously displays mean-solar and sidereal time and also features an annual calendar, age and phase of moon and equation of time indications.

Astronomers use sidereal time (the amount of time it takes the earth to turn on its own axis; measured by planet’s transit of a fixed star) as the standard time in their line of work. A sidereal day lasts approximately 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds.  Sidereal time was important in regular life in the 18th century because it was used as a reference to check the accuracy of timepieces.

Prague Astronomical Clock showing sidereal time

Thanks to the independent double wheel escapement that he had developed, Daniels was able to display the mean-solar and sidereal time on two separate subsidiary dials. The calculation for the Equation of Time — the difference between apparent solar time (the time as indicated on a sundial) and mean time (the average of solar time) — was displayed within a sector to the top of the dial. Daniels thus dispensed with the need to check his watch against an independent sidereal time displaying clock or watch.

The watch was named “Space Traveller” to mark the 1969 moon landing. It’s just a matter of coincidence that the co-axial escapement Daniels developed was adopted for industrial production by Omega, makers of the Speedmaster model that accompanied the NASA astronauts to the moon. While the Space Traveler was made for a client and handed over in 1982, it was later sold by Sotheby’s in 1988. Incidentally Daniels made a Space Traveller II for himself which he held on to till his death in 2011. It was sold £3,196,250 by Sotheby’s again in 2017 and held the previous record for the most expensive British watch sold at any auction.  

The movement has a Lepine calibre construction

The watch uses a gold engine-turned case with Daniels pendant and bow, It has the casemaker's mark GD, and import marks for London 1983. It is attached to a short gold graduated, double-link chain with gold and blued-steel double-ended key. The silver engine-turned dial displays a 24-hour chapter ring to the left for sidereal time and 24-hour chapter ring to the right for mean-solar time, each with seconds dial below. The annual calendar and the age and phase of the moon are also displayed within the two main dials, and the Equation of Time scale is placed at 12 o’ clock position.

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