The Edward Hornby Collection of Rare and Important Watches

By Breguet Blog
October 19th, 2019


EDWARD HORNBY was a preeminent collector of rare and important pocket watches in the post-WWII era. A descendant of the 19th century industrialist and politician, William Henry Hornby, Edward was a friend of Cecil ‘Sam’ Clutton CBE, who subsequently introduced him to George Daniels.

Hornby was a keen collector of fine art and horology, driven by a passion for aesthetics over and above the purely mechanical aspects of watchmaking. George Daniels recounts in his autobiography, All in Good Time: Reflections of a Watchmaker: “He took only a passing interest in the mechanism, but was always very interested to experience something new. He was much taken with the quartz watch and had several examples.”

It so happened that Edward Hornby struck up a friendship with George Daniels and by 1970, expressed a desire for one of the master’s own pocket watches. The story is best told in Daniels’ own words, written for Sotheby’s London, 22nd June 1999, when the “Hornby Daniels”1 was auctioned as lot 74 for the first time:

“Edward Hornby began collecting watches in the 1930s. His interest centred on the origins of his purchases and their aesthetic qualities. I first met him in 1960 when he began to intensify his interest in horology. We became firm friends and, in 1970, Edward expressed a wish to add a ‘Daniels’ to his collection. This tourbillon was added to the collection in 1971. It was the fourth example made and can be seen on the bench in the illustration below. When Edward Hornby sold his collection at Sotheby’s in December 1978, he kept the tourbillon and a double wheel chronometer which he purchased in 1975. Concerned that the tourbillon could not equal his new quartz watch, he ran the two together. The test lasted 8 months before the battery went flat and he cheerfully awarded the honour to the tourbillon. Its daily variation rate at room temperature averaged 0-3 seconds per day.”

In 1978, Hornby consigned his collection to Sotheby’s. The auction catalogue was accompanied by a foreword from George Daniels wherein he described the sale as “a rare opportunity to acquire some fine and interesting watches of types that have not been available for purchase for many years.”

The auction was quite the success story and, from a total of 80 lots, only five lots were “withdrawn, passed, or unsold.” The Hornby Collection represented forty years of collecting and contained some magnificent highlights, including twelve pocket watches by Breguet (lots 69-80). Other highlights included pocket watches by John Arnold, Jaquet Droz and Daniel Quare, details of which have been reproduced from the 1978 catalogue in page order herein below.

Additionally, the estimates are shown for each lot as well as the hammer price, which was subject to a 10% premium. The auction was held in the Royal Watercolour Society Galleries, London.

All images are from The Hornby Collection, Sotheby’s 1978. Fair use for educational and research purposes only.

Lot 17 Estimate £6000/8000, Hammer Price £6500
Lot 19 Estimate £8000/10000, Hammer Price This lot was withdrawn, passed, or unsold
Lot 20 Estimate £6000/8000, Hammer Price £5000
Lot 23 Estimate £4000/5000, Hammer Price £8800
Lot 25 Estimate £6000/8000, Hammer Price £12000
Lot 26 Estimate £4000/6000, Hammer Price £11500
Lot 59 Estimate £15000/20000, Hammer Price £15200
Lot 60 Estimate £2000/3000, Hammer Price £3700
Lot 61 Estimate £15000/20000, Hammer Price £26500
Lot 62 Estimate £15000/20000, Hammer Price £26000
Lot 66 Estimate £10000/12000, Hammer Price £17500
Lot 67 Estimate £10000/20000, Hammer Price £12000
Lot 69 Estimate £2000/3000, Hammer Price £8000
Lot 70 Estimate £4000/5000, Hammer Price £6500
Lot 71 Estimate £1500/2500, Hammer Price £2300
Lot 72 Estimate £5000/6000, Hammer Price £8000
Lot 73 Estimate £3000/4000, Hammer Price £5500
Lot 74 Estimate £3000/4000, Hammer Price £7000
Lot 75 Estimate £3500/4500, Hammer Price £14500
Lot 76 Estimate £4000/6000, Hammer Price £6000
Lot 77 Estimate £3500/4500, Hammer Price £13500
Lot 78 Estimate £5000/6000, Hammer Price £6000
Lot 79 Estimate £5000/7000, Hammer Price £15000
Lot 80 Estimate £20000/25000, Hammer Price £57000

Notes

1 As a matter of interest, the commissioned pocket watch was an early series (no. 4) gold, twin-barrel, one-minute, spring-detent chronometer tourbillon with retrograde hour hand; signed Geo. Daniels, London, e.m.h., hallmarked 18ct gold accompanied by a handwritten letter dated 1970, with case maker’s mark GD for “George Daniels”.

Bibliography

SOTHEBY’S, Catalogue of The Edward Hornby Collection of Rare and Important Watches, Day of Sale Friday, 1st December, 1978, at 11 o’clock precisely in the Royal Watercolour Society Galleries, London: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co. (1978). Illustrated catalogue in colour with a foreword by George Daniels. The catalogue lists twelve pocket watches by Breguet.

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