Talking Watches: With Roger Smith

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Today we’re delighted to have with us one of the most respected figures in all of watchmaking: Mr. Roger Smith. Among his myriad accomplishments, he worked for many years with Dr. George Daniels, the inventor of the co-axial escapement. Roger continues Dr. Daniels’ work today from his own atelier on the Isle of Man, where he makes about 10 watches per year to his own exacting standards. His goal, as he tells it, is to create a modern watch, but hand-made, and using traditional watchmaking methods, which advances the art and science of mechanical horology rather than relying on solutions discovered in the past. In his view, watchmaking is at its most interesting when, rather than depending on known quantities (such as the lever escapement), it probes its own boundaries, always seeking real improvements in precision and reliability as well – as you’ll hear.

Six watches from Roger Smith’s personal collection.

<p>An Omega Speedmaster Professional "Ed White" with the legendary caliber 321.</p>

An Omega Speedmaster Professional "Ed White" with the legendary caliber 321.

<p>An ultra-high frequency quartz wristwatch marine chronometer, made in the mid-1970s by Omega.</p>

An ultra-high frequency quartz wristwatch marine chronometer, made in the mid-1970s by Omega.

Patek Philippe Movement Fitted With A George Daniels Co-Axial Escapement

A Patek Philippe 17 ligne pocket watch movement, fitted with a co-axial escapement.

One of the most interesting pocket watch movements we’ve ever seen is this one: the base movement was made by Patek Philippe, and it was fitted at Patek with a version of Dr. Daniels’ co-axial escapement in the mid-1980s. Patek of course eventually declined to develop the co-axial escapement and put it into production, but this remains a fascinating example of a watch from the very long road to the eventual industrialization of the escapement by Omega.

Early Omega Prototypes With Co-Axial Escapements

Here we have two prototype ETA movements (caliber 2892) fitted with co-axial escapements for evaluation purposes in 1994. These watches were worn by Roger Smith and Dr. Daniels as part of the program for evaluating and industrializing the co-axial escapement and were key in identifying possible issues – and as well, says Roger, in clarifying the degree to which the escapement really demands the highest precision in manufacturing and setting up.

1948 Jaeger-LeCoultre Mark XI That Belonged To George Daniels

A constant theme through the watches brought to our office by Roger is precision, and if that precision is wedded to reliability and durability, so much the better. This Mark XI once belonged to Dr. Daniels, who wore it for many years thanks to its unpretentious, very high-quality construction in both the case and movement. The Mark XI watches were made by various manufacturers to British Ministry of Defense specifications (the 12 makers of Mark XI watches are sometimes called the "Dirty Dozen" by collectors) and thanks to their purity of design, integrity of purpose, and quality of construction, they’ve become highly prized.

Omega Marine Chronometer

The Omega Marine Chronometer was first introduced in 1974 and it was part of a period of extensive and intense experimentation at Omega, in creating very high frequency and extremely high precision quartz watches. Ordinary quartz watches have crystals that vibrate 32,768 times per second (a frequency first established as a standard by Girard-Perregaux, in the 1970s) but the caliber 1500 series of movements developed for this watch had crystals that vibrated 2,359,356 per second, making them accurate to about one second per month. Advances in temperature compensation and other technologies have made it possible today to have a quartz watch accurate to five to 10 seconds per year with a standard 32,768 frequency, but in its day this was the most advanced wristwatch in the world. 

Omega Speedmaster ‘Ed White’

This "Ed White" Speedmaster is another of Roger’s favorites, and again, it’s not only the great history of the watch, but also the wonderful quality of the movement that makes it so special. The caliber 321 is a column-wheel-controlled, lateral-clutch chronograph with an overcoil balance spring and, like many of Omega’s greatest movements of the mid-20th century, it is, as Roger describes it, both extremely reliable and very much a watchmaker-friendly movement to service, capable of giving excellent performance decade after decade.

Rolex Explorer I

Roger’s own daily wear watch is this unassuming Rolex Explorer. As you can imagine, someone with his background and experience sees a watch like this through a different lens than most of the rest of us, and in our conversation he gives us his views on whether Rolex deserves the reputation that it has in some quarters for precision and reliability. As you’ll see, he has a great deal to say both in the context of his Explorer, and the other watches he’s brought with him, on what he feels really makes for a praiseworthy watch. 

Thanks to Roger for joining us. To find out more about his work, visit him online at


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