Towards the end of the Victorian era and for the first 30 years of the 20th Century Nicole, Nielsen & Co. crafted some of the finest and most complicated English watches ever made.
In 1839 Adolphe Nicole and Jules Capt, both talented Swiss watchmakers, set up business in London at 80B Dean Street. The firm later moved to 14 Soho Square where it remained until the company finally closed in 1934. Nicole & Capt were highly successful and won medals in many international exhibitions such as Paris in 1855 and 1867, Philadelphia in 1878 and Sydney in 1879. In 1876 Jules Capt died and in the same year his place as partner was filled by the Danish-born watchmaker Sophus Emil Nielsen and the company became Nicole, Nielsen & Co. and by 1880 the company was being run by Nielsen. They specialised in making super-complicated keyless watches often incorporating specifications such as perpetual calendar, chronograph, split seconds chronograph, repetition, temperature, equation of time and their most famous escapement; the Nicole Nielsen tourbillon. Invented by Breguet (1747-1823), the tourbillon is an escapement that revolves so that the balance pallets and escape wheel move through all the vertical positions in a given time period, usually once every minute. Delicate, expensive and fascinating to observe the tourbillon was Nicole, Nielsen's specialty. The Company designed their own tourbillon carriage that is today instantly recognisable and revered by collectors.
Many of their best watches were made for top retailers such as Frodsham, Dent and Smith & Sons. In 1885 Adolphe Nicole died and the company became Nicole Nielsen & Co. Ltd. The main shareholders were the North family and Harrison Mills Frodsham, the son and successor to the firm of Charles Frodsham. In 1899 Emil Nielsen died and in 1900 Robert Benson North took over as Managing Director and then Governing Director in 1910.
In 1914 Nicole, Nielsen & Co were commissioned to make seven extraordinary carriage clocks with grande sonnerie strike and tourbillon escapements. Legend has it that the client gave six of these clocks to his favourite girlfriends whilst keeping the seventh for himself. All seven were identical but their exceptional specification could not have been more different from contemporary English carriage clocks. Their delicate grande sonnerie strike work beneath the dial is pure watchmaking. By designing the back of the clock to be completely glazed with stylish shutters for the wind and hand-set squares Nicole, Nielsen were demonstrably keen to show off their their beautiful tourbillon carriage.
THE SEVEN NICOLE NIELSEN CARRIAGE CLOCKS
11553- The present clock.
Richard Good F.B.H.I., Two Masterpieces by Nicole Nielsen, Horological Journal, 1969, figs. 6-9.
Charles Allix & Peter Bonnert, Carriage Clocks, Antique Collectors' Club, 1974, pp. 291-294, pls. XI81, 82 & 83
Joseph Fanelli, A Century of Fine Carriage Clocks, New York, 1987, pp. 188-189.
Reinhard Meis, Das Tourbillon, Verlag, 1986, pp. 334-335, figs. 489-491
British Museum, Inv. No. P&E, 1987, 11-3.1.
Sold, Christie's, Geneva, May 8, 1979, lot 27