Derek Pratt, one of the world’s leading watchmakers, has passed away following a long illness. Derek was a watchmaker’s watchmaker and a true scientist of horology. He was often cited as among the greatest living watchmakers, his name mentioned in the same breath as George Daniels, Philippe Dufour, and other modern legends. Derek is also acknowledged as an important influence by many of today’s younger horological stars.
Derek was born in Orpington, Kent, in England in 1938. Between 1955 and 1959, he attended the National College of Horology in London. Following his formal education, Derek served as an apprentice at Smith & Sons. In 1965 he moved to Switzerland. During the 1970s, Derek met Peter Baumberger, the owner of Urban Jürgensen & Sønner, and he began to receive commissions. Over time, the relationship grew into a full collaboration.
As a watchmaker, Derek not only designed and made movements, but he also occasionally dials, cases and crowns. In 1981 Derek built a Tourbillon à Remontoir for Urban Jürgensen. This was the first timepiece in which the remontoir assembly was integrated into the rotating tourbillon. In 2008 this unique pocket watch, which also featured twin barrels, jumping dead beat seconds and power reserve, sold at a Christie’s auction in Geneva for SFr.315,000. You can read more about this timepiece at the Christie’s web site.
Derek was fascinated by the idea of developing an escapement that required no lubrication. In 1997, the year of Breguet’s 250th birthday, Pratt was inspired to pursue the concept that Breguet called échappement naturel, or escapement without lubrication. Breguet was not able to realize his dream, but Pratt pursued the idea, and in 1997 he debuted a pocket watch tourbillon with an innovative double-remontoir escapement that delivers impulses in two directions and requires no lubrication.
During his career, Derek earned several prestigious awards, including:
- 1992: Silver medal of the British Horological Institute
- 1999: Gaia Prize of the MIH in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland for distinguished merits in the developments achieved in the field of watchmaking
- 2005: Tompion Goldmedal of the Worshipful Clockmakers Company’s society.
Derek’s latest masterpiece – an oval pocket watch for Urban Jürgensen with flying tourbillon, detent escapement, power reserve and Réaumur – represents an homage to some of the most important watchmakers of all time, including Breguet, Arnold and Professor Helwig. The assembly of this unique watch took more than ten years (pictured below).
WatchTime is indebted to Derek’s friend Dr. Helmut Crott for providing background information and the images below. In the words of Dr. Crott “Everyone, who knew Derek Pratt will not only miss him for his expertise in watches, but also and especially for his kind and helpful way. Chronometers are made by people for people!”
Derek Pratt at the bench
Derek’s oval pocket watch for Urban Jürgensen