Decoding The Importance Of Roger Smith’s Pocket Watch Number 2

Decoding The Importance Of Roger Smith’s Pocket Watch Number 2

By Neha S. Bajpai
8 Jun 2023
8 min read

Coming up for a public sale for the first time at Phillips New York Auction this week, the Pocket Watch Number 2 epitomizes English Watchmaking’s renaissance in the 21st century. Here’s everything you need to know about this timepiece estimated to sell for over USD 1 million

The story of modern English watchmaking is intrinsically linked to one man’s quest for perfection and obsession to perpetuate the traditional methods of watchmaking where all components are made entirely by hand and finished in the age-old English way – featuring frosted movement plates, jewels set in gold chatons and beautiful engine-turned dials. Roger Smith, one of the greatest independent watchmakers of our time, has made just 100 watches in his two-decade-long career but each of these pieces is a testament to his commitment to “the Daniels Method” of painstaking creation – right from designing to cutting out components to heat treating them, finishing and then to the final assembly – everything is done by Smith at his workshop in the Isle of Man.

Roger Smith, one of the greatest independent watchmakers of our times, crafted 100 watches over 20 years with "the Daniels Method" of meticulous craftsmanship Photo: Roger Smith

Given the rarity of these masterpieces and of course the romance around owning an extraordinarily finished watch, Roger Smith is a wildly coveted brand these days. In 2021, Phillips sold a Roger Smith Series 1 watch for $730,000. Reportedly, he has made only 18 Series 1 watches so far and isn’t taking orders for new pieces anymore. So when a unique 38mm white gold version of the Series 1 came up for an auction at A Collected Man last year, the piece sold for a record $800,000.

This week, Phillips is rolling out an absolutely rare opportunity for discerning collectors to bid on Roger Smith’s career-defining creation – the Pocket Watch Number 2. Besides being spectacularly beautiful, this timepiece holds an extremely important place in contemporary watch culture. “This watch epitomizes a ‘make or break’ moment for both Smith himself and subsequently for all of contemporary English watchmaking. It was with this watch that he became George Daniels’ only apprentice, anointed to continue Daniels’ legacy beyond his lifetime,” explains Paul Boutros, Head of Watches, Americas for Phillips. “The painstaking, years-long creation of Pocket Watch Number Two is a testament to one man’s absolute focus and perseverance in the pursuit of his chosen trade. It is without any doubt, one of the most important and impressive timepieces made by any contemporary independent watchmaker or brand, and consequently one of the most important watches in the world,” he says. 

This week, Phillips is rolling out an absolutely rare opportunity for discerning collectors to bid on Roger Smith’s career-defining creation – the Pocket Watch Number 2

Estimated to sell at USD 1 million plus, the Pocket Watch Number 2 is one of the only three pocket watches Smith has ever made. Made to impress George Daniels, Smith’s first timepiece was a tourbillon pocket watch with spring detent escapement and twin barrels. He worked on it for 18 months from his parents’ garage in Bolton. Made entirely by hand, the timepiece didn't get Smith the desired appreciation and apprenticeship with Daniels. So he set out to make the storied Pocket Watch Number 2. Over the next five years, Smith dedicated his heart and soul to this timepiece – making every single component from scratch, refining each and every aspect again and again, till it could no longer be made any better. The yellow gold perpetual calendar tourbillon pocket watch was enriched with a moon-phase, leap year indicator and spring detent escapement. Smith used four different types of engine-turning on the dial — barleycorn for the outer portion of the main dial, basket weave for the seconds dial displaying the moonphase, clous de Paris within the calendar dial, and a wave and trough pattern that delineates the hours and minutes sectors. The hour and second rings were straight-grained and engraved. After remaking the piece five times, Smith finally presented it to Daniels, who enquired about the creation of each component and ultimately accepted Smith as a “watchmaker”. Soon after this acknowledgement from his idol, Smith got the golden chance to help Daniels with the Millenium Series introduced to celebrate the use of co-axial escapement Omega. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Pocket Watch Number 2 is one of the only three pocket watches Smith has ever made

Interestingly, Smith didn’t look back at this pocket watch once he started working with Daniels. The timepiece was tucked away at the back of his kitchen drawer until 2004 when he decided to sell it off to support the making of Series 2. According to Phillips, this is the first time the Pocket Watch Number 2 will be offered for a public sale. The timepiece still carries the original caseback sticker applied by Smith when sold the watch almost 20 years ago.

To know more about the growing importance of Roger Smith in the secondary market, the incredible Pocket Watch Number 2 and its indelible influence on English watchmaking, we caught up with Paul Boutros, Head of Watches, Americas for Phillips.

Excerpts from the interview:

Let’s start with the spectacular results for Roger Smith watches at auctions recently. When did the brand start commanding record prices in the secondary market?

I think we didn’t sell too many Roger Smiths before 2021. I believe we sold the first one – a Series 2 – for around USD 150,000 in Hong Kong in 2016. Then we didn’t get another one until May 2021. It was a very, very rare, rectangular watch that many people didn't even know existed – the Roger Smith Series 1 “Theo Fennel”. It set a world record at that time, selling at CHF 541,000. It was the post COVID period when interest in watches reached levels that no one had ever imagined, especially for independent watchmakers such as F.P. Journe, De Bethune, George Daniels and Roger Smith. So the May 2021 result was a bit of a surprise, especially considering our conservative auction estimate. We had listed it at CHF 40,000 - CHF 80,000. It did more than 10 times the estimate.

That was a clear indication that there was a very strong market demand for any Roger Smith timepiece. Following that result, in November, we sold a Series 2 with a hand engraved dial – only five of these were made – for over CHF 650,000. One month later, in New York, we sold a very simple Series 1– just time-only, no power reserve indication. It was serial number one, made in 2019, and it sold at a world record price at that time of USD 730,000. We broke that record in June 2022 in New York for a Series 2 open-worked dial. That broke the previous record we set in selling for USD 840,000. So in one year, we sold four Roger Smith watches, with every single one breaking the record for the one sold previously.

A Roger Smith Series 2 was sold by Phillips for around USD 150,000 in Hong Kong in 2016 Photo: Phillips

According to you, which other independent watchmakers have recorded a similar success story at auctions?

I would definitely compare it to George Daniels and Philippe Dufour given the limited production numbers.

Besides the Pocket Watch Number 2, are there any other timepieces from Roger Smith that you would say have been equally significant in some way or another?

In my humble opinion, this is by far the most important piece and in Roger Smith's own words, it is his most important watch. By far, there is no other single Roger Smith watch with similar handmade workmanship that has come at an auction before. There's none, which required the same level of effort as this particular watch.

Are you expecting the Pocket Watch Number 2 to break another world record?

We are starting the bid at USD 1 million and at that starting bid price, it would be a world record for any Roger Smith timepiece at an auction.

Can we know more about the consignor for the Pocket Watch Number 2?

I can't share all the details because of confidentiality requirements regarding sellers' information. However, we do know that Roger Smith completed the production of this piece in 1996. He held on to the timepiece until 2004 and then sold the watch to a private collector in 2004 to raise funds. That first collector sold the watch to the current consignor. So it's being offered only by the second owner today. What I can also share is that the watch was unused by both the first and the second owner. It remained unused for nearly a decade. The protective caseback sticker that Roger applied himself on the caseback is still there.

Smith used four different types of engine-turning on the dial — barleycorn for the outer part of the main dial, basket weave for the seconds dial, clous de Paris within the calendar dial, and a wave and trough pattern for the hours and minutes sectors

What is so unmistakably British about Roger Smith’s watchmaking?

The most defining differentiation is in the aesthetics, especially of the movements. So if you look at a high end Swiss movement, say from Philippe Dufour or Patek Philippe, you'll see that they use rhodium-plated brass bridges with Côte de Genève, and very obvious anglage at the edges of the bridges and plates. They use lepine-based bridges, which follow the gear train and you can see the underlying levels of the movement. Whereas in the British style of watchmaking, the movement is created from a single brass plate that is first given a type of distinct English finish called “frosting” and then immersed in an acid bath and gilded. The finishing of the edges is straight, rather than curved. The winding mechanism is hidden, so that when the watch is opened to view the movement, the viewer only sees the most exceptional components. There's no visible anglage, the jewels are housed in chatons more so than what you see in Swiss watches.

Besides the rarity factor, what has contributed to Roger Smith’s success in the secondary market?

At the heart of Roger Smith’s watches is the co-axial escapement, which he further improved from George Daniels initial design using a single co-axial escape wheel versus a two-piece wheel, which simplified production and improved accuracy. The serious collectors focus on the quality of the escapement above all things and choose escapements that are really state-of-the-art, reflecting the best of the 20th century and improved upon in the 21st century by Roger himself. So at the very heart of the watch is an extremely high quality escapement built for maximum accuracy.