It is very rare to find an English watch fitted with a Guillaume balance and only few examples are know to date.
The present watch is part of a small series which Smith destined for the Kew Observatory contests, the movement supplied by the famous Nicole Nielsen. It participated at the 1917 Kew Observatory contest where it was awarded a Class A Kew Certificate with 92.1 marks and the notion "Especially Good". Watches awarded with the renowned Kew "A" Certificate are highly precise timekeepers which were submitted to a 45 days trial at the Kew Observatory in Richmond near London (a standard Swiss chronometer test would last 15 days). The tests consisted of observing the time keeping of the watch in various positions and at various temperatures and awarding points for accuracy in these differing states
The present watch is furthermore fitted with the typical off-white dial made by Willis and massive case stamped FT for Fred Thoms. Frederick Willis was renowned for his quality dials and Fred Thoms for his exceptional cases, both supplied to the best English watchmakers for their most prestigious pieces.
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. 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, instantly recognisable and revered by collectors.
Many of their best watches were made for top retailers such as Smith & Sons, founded circa 1851, one of London's leading firms for high quality and complicated watches at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.