And the first place I proposed writing for was the Wall Street Journal. They accepted and that's gone on now for more than 20 years. I was also very, very fortunate in that somehow or another, exploring the internet, I came across independent watchmakers that I knew nothing about. I came across George Daniels and found out there was this great, in fact, the greatest ever independent watchmaker, living almost in the same country I was in at the time - he was on the Isle of Man and I was in London, but he was indeed a London boy. And I was able to make contact with him and it turned out to be a very easy and productive relationship between he and I. So, my whole relationship with independent watchmakers began that way. And the first article I ever wrote for the Wall Street Journal about watches was about George Daniels, Philippe Dufour and Svend Andersen.
Alistair: It must have been quite daunting to get straight into a correspondence with George?
Michael: Something I think Roger Smith would agree on was that George, when he wanted to be, was a brilliant teacher. He could explain very complicated technical concepts in very simple, straightforward language, very simple declarative sentences. He was infinitely patient with me, throughout the more than a decade that I knew him before he died. He was funny. He was informative. He was always patient. He always made the time for me. And he formed my opinions about watches. And in some ways, I consider myself a ‘Danielista’. We have fashionistas. Well, I'm a Danielista. Because I was taught about watches by George Daniels. And I was taught to look for elegance, simplicity and superb functionality in watches. And, to this day that’s how I look at a watch; whether it lacks elegance, it's too angular or the dial is far too busy and I can 't easily tell the time. And I find that 's George's influence on me.
Alistair: In a way that’s a ‘master-apprentice’ relationship, because you were writing about watches, but George was informing your viewpoint…
Michael: Oh, he completely formed my opinions. And when he died, I happened to have a conversation with Will Andrews who knew George very well and went on to become a famous, highly regarded museum curator in the US. Will said; “Just think of all the questions we're going to have a hard time getting answers to ”; because with anything to do with watches, you could call up George and say, “George, what about this?” And he knew right away. There was nothing he couldn't answer.
Alistair: Perhaps, because he'd had to master each and every watchmaking craft, his level of understanding was always going to be deeper than anyone else.
Michael: Well, yes, you're exactly right. Because George never approached any topic in a superficial manner. He dove to the depths and stayed there until he knew everything he wanted to know, which would probably be everything there was to know about the project, and then he came back up for air. And when he did, he was incredibly knowledgeable. The same thing is true about car engines, as it was about watches, and about a number of other topics that he became interested in such as French furniture…or the French language for that matter!
Alistair: What is it about mechanical watches that you appreciate?
Michael: We are, as a species, very mechanically minded, partly because one of the reasons we survived as a species is, we learned to manipulate tools. And this gave us a huge advantage over previous human species and over the rest of the animal kingdom. And it gave us the ability to at least partially influence our environment. So, I think we are hardwired by evolution to appreciate craft. And an example of craft, one of the few left in the world today, is the mechanical watch. Not only do people appreciate it, but there's also an urge to create them.
I once said to George; “What about the theory that art is useless?” And he said to me; “Well, in the Renaissance a lot of people couldn't read. So, the only way they could learn about religious stories was from paintings and frescoes. Art had a purpose. Michelangelo's art had a purpose. So of course, you can make something useful like a watch, it has a purpose. But it's still a work of art.” And the other thing is, I think you develop an affection for an object. You strap on your wrist, and you can wear it for decades. There's almost nothing you can say that about these days. Phones run out after two years. Computers after maybe five. But with watches, you develop an affection for them and the stories connected to them. I mentioned that my father left me a Vacheron. Well, I'm wearing it right now.
Alistair: An opportune moment for a wrist check…