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The auction was quite the success story and, from a total of 80 lots, only five lots were “withdrawn, passed, or unsold.”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.
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”.
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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