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The appeal of mechanical watches


Devising a frame to help my back problems
George Daniels Master watchmaker
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It was about 1965... 6, that I began to get a back complaint, which is quite a common thing, and like most back complaints, it deteriorated. And it was very difficult to avoid inflaming the condition unless one just lay flat on the floor and did nothing... I couldn't do that. I took quite a lot of advice from different people as to what could be done, and the answer mainly was nothing could be done, excepting if it developed to a stage where a laminectomy would be useful. I didn't like the sound of that. I'd never heard of a successful back operation, so I wasn't going to have one, and all the time I'd been seeking this advice, they were all lifting money off me as a regular thing, you know. It was an automatic charge the moment you go near the place, although you get nothing for it except for a few words of sympathy. And in the end I was put in a plaster jacket, and that was an instant relief to the back problem. But after a few days I decided I would do without this and I took it off and I found then that I'd lost all strength in my back muscles and so obviously the plaster was not a good idea. It would be all right for a day or two, but for longer than that it wasn't going to be beneficial. Then I reasoned that the plaster worked because you had a three-point contact. It... the three points were the middle of the back, the chest and the hips, and if I could devise a frame that contacted those three points but didn't need enclosing like a plaster, then I would be much more comfortable. And so I made this thing from ¼ inch steel rods, shaped to fit, put brackets on it for the straps, and I wore it and it was an instant relief and worked tremendously well, and I lent it to one or two other people and they declared how useful it had been and taken away their discomfort. The merit of it was one could move in any direction, except bending forwards, and bending forwards is the last thing you need if you have a back problem.

And so I got again on to my friend Joe Briggs, the physician, and very anxious to exploit this, we decided to patent it, which we did, and we had two or three dozen made and they were all taken to Ipswich General Hospital where Joe Brigg's friend was consultant orthopaedic surgeon, and he had agreed to try it out on his patients for the sake of friendship with Joe. I don't think he really wanted to do it... it was an unknown quantity but he did it, and Joe and I went along with these things and I was put into a white coat the next day and given a stethoscope to make it look authentic. And the patients started to come in to be fitted with this thing and they didn't like it, and as one little fat man said to me, 'Well', he said, 'it hurts when I bend forward'. Well I said, 'Don't bend forward and it won't hurt. That's the idea of it, you see'. 'Well', he said, 'I usually get several weeks off when my back goes you know'. So he obviously wasn't interested in a cure, he just wanted his several weeks off. And that was the condition of most of the patients, you know, they weren't prepared to help themselves. And so from that point of view, it looked as if it wasn't going to be successful. However, it came to an end when the consultant was offered a glittering post in Canada and he dropped everything and went and took up his post, so that the whole experiment was dropped. We did finally get - after much correspondence - we got a letter from the Minister of Health saying that they read with great interest all about this - they obviously didn't give a damn about it - and that as it had not been devised by the medical profession it was very doubtful if it would be possible for them to make use of it. So in other words, you know, you're not one of us, shove off.

It worked very well on me and I wore it for some years, not all the time, but just when the back needed a bit of support, and it worked very well on others of my friends who used it. But even so, you know, 50 years sitting at the watchmaker's bench is bound to have an effect and I began to get arthritic pains in the back and so there was nothing for it in the end but a laminectomy. So that was done, and very successful, and I was only slightly concerned when the specialist came round the next morning and he looked at me long and penetratingly and he said, 'Can you move your toes?' 'Well yes', I said, 'I can'. 'Oh that's fine', he said. And I've never seen anyone look more relieved. So whether or not he wasn't too sure of what he was doing, or whether it was customary to know whether or not you could wiggle your toes, I don't know, but I could.

George Daniels, CBE, DSc, FBHI, FSA (19 August 1926 - 21 October 2011) was an English watchmaker most famous for creating the co-axial escapement. Daniels was one of the few modern watchmakers who could create a complete watch by hand, including the case and dial. He was a former Master of the Clockmakers' Company of London and had been awarded their Gold Medal, a rare honour, as well as the Gold Medal of the British Horological Institute, the Gold Medal of the City of London and the Kullberg Medal of the Stockholm Watchmakers’ Guild.

Listeners: Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in 1970 in Bolton, Lancashire. He began training as a watchmaker at the age of 16 at the Manchester School of Horology and in 1989 won the British Horological Institute Bronze Medal. His first hand made watch, made between 1991 and 1998, was inspired by George Daniels' book "Watchmaking" and was created while Smith was working as a self-employed watch repairer and maker. His second was made after he had shown Dr Daniels the first, and in 1998 Daniels invited him to work with him on the creation of the 'Millennium Watches', a series of hand made wrist watches using the Daniels co-axial escapement produced by Omega. Roger Smith now lives and works on the Isle of Man, and is considered the finest watchmaker of his generation.

Tags: Ipswich General Hospital, laminectomy

Duration: 6 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008