#TBT A Dream Catch Of An Elusive Nicolet No-Pusher Chronograph
This wild find of a Nicolet no-pusher Landeron 251, one of my grail watches, has everything we collectors dream of. Actually, this time, my desires were even multiplied. Get some popcorn.
Today, you will read about a watch that I saw for sale for the last time maybe five years ago. I will remember the purchase of today’s featured Nicolet watch forever as I found it in some small auction house in the UK, listed along with four other watches. I don’t need to mention that the auctioneers had no idea what they were selling or that the pictures of the watch were so terrible that they were actually fantastic. Are you still wondering why I’m so excited? Two other watches I didn’t care enough about were worth enough to pay for the entire lot. And I still had no clue that a Rolex bracelet was waiting in this lot! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here…
Auction alert airstrike
I have tons of auction alerts. There are so many, in fact, that it’s getting unbearable. If my wife ever decides to break up with me, it won’t be because of all the watches I have. Rather, it will be because of all the unread emails I keep. Anytime she grabs my phone and sees that number, she faints. I used to be like her. But it was easier to stop reading auction alerts than cancel them or stop adding new ones. True story.
Nicolet never gets skipped
With hundreds of watch alerts, I simply do not have enough time to look into them all. What I try to do all the time is at least check the subject line. That means that I skip over many Breitling, Rolex, and You-Name-It email auction alerts coming in throughout the day. However, there are many — including Nicolet ones — that I am always vigilant about and click on fiercely, always like it’s the first auction alert I’ve ever gotten.
Fishing in the UK
When I see a Nicolet alert from eBay, I always feel like it will lead nowhere. This assumption is the result of hundreds of tangible memories. Alas, I haven’t had much luck with Nicolet alerts in the last seven years… But when I saw a Nicolet alert come in from some small UK-based auction house, again, I instantly jumped on it. What usually ends in disappointment did not in September 2022. I clicked on the link, and the image above is what I saw — a lineup of five watches. Just look at this hero shot! It’s quite amusing because it looks like someone specifically wanted to not show the watches. I quickly scanned the picture from left to right.
Honestly, I’m not sure how many collectors would recognize it, but I did instantly. I knew the watch case and design so well that I was pretty sure of what I was looking at. The crown sticking out sickly far from the case and no visible pushers flanking what seemed to be a two-register dial were the ultimate signs that I’d finally found what I’d been stalking for six years.
Shots of the year
This close-up shot taken with a flash on a black background made me feel like I was looking at a paparazzi shot of a celebrity caught in front of a night bar. The overlit shot didn’t reveal everything, but it whispered enough for my trained eye — gazillions of tiny scratches, no major damage, and, best of all, the promise of a pristine dial. I don’t make assumptions, in the very same way that I don’t have any expectations. This time, though, I had a gut feeling that this watch would be fully functional.
Well, as you can tell, I won the auction, and I instantly reached for the Nicolet no-pusher chronograph when I got the package with five watches. I instantly recognized its dial through the bubble wrap. For the side story that’s coming next week, it’s important to highlight that I unwrapped all the watches too, but immediately upon arrival, I put them all into an old watch box and forgot about them. This Nicolet simply blinded me to what else was there.
All eyes on the Nicolet
The crystal was scratched, and quite heavily at that, but there were no other deep scars. It’s fascinating to me how a watch can end up in such a condition. Day by day, it collects one scratch after another until it becomes challenging to read the dial. Despite all the scratches, I could say with certainty that the dial hiding underneath was untouched. The contrast between a heavily scarred face and a baby-fresh white-ish dial always leaves me speechless. I put my watch on a blue suede strap and wore it like that for a few weeks, kind of to honor it in my own way.
Time to heal
One Saturday morning, I did something unexpected: I took a tube of Polywatch and decided to polish the crystal. However surprising or silly this sounds, I had never polished a watch crystal before. I had never needed to. I usually take all my findings to my watchmaker, who always polishes the crystals for me on his machines. That day, though, I felt like I needed to find the Polywatch polishing set I bought quite a few years ago, and I decided to do it on my own.
Pretending I knew how to do it, I applied Polywatch to the crystal and started to polish it with the included cloth. It took me about 10–15 minutes in maybe five or six rounds. As it turns out, the harder you press the fabric against the crystal, the more effective it is. My thumb was on fire after I finished the job, but so was my excitement when I first saw the dial through a clear crystal.
The same but different
Comparing the no-pusher Nicolet to the Claudex that I scored about six months earlier, the latter comes off as a much cleaner and more elegant watch. But it is Nicolet that is to thank for this design with its unexpected introduction in 1955. The sub-dials are way smaller, and the entire watch feels this way, primarily due to two additional tracks on the outer edge. The blue tachymetric scale is pretty standard, but the other 1–20 telemetric track printed in red is the one that attracts the eyes. It’s not that typical, but it is very specific to Nicolet. Notice the length of the central chronograph seconds hand, which just passes through it.
The applied Nicolet Watch logo, triangular indexes, and individualistic font for the 12 and 6 numerals are details that everyone will appreciate. I’ll also add the long-arrow hand for the minute counter and the very characteristic N-signed “hat” crown, which is the same as the one on the Claudex watch. What you can’t find on the Claudex is the majestic “crowned N” symbol engraved on the Nicolet’s case back. By the way, if you haven’t read my story on the Claudex watch carrying the same Landeron 251 movement, now is the time to read it.
Just a brief recap. The Nicolet’s Landeron 251 was built on the Landeron 248 movement. A slight turn of the crown counterclockwise sets the central chronograph seconds hand running. With a light turn clockwise, it stops the chronograph. Now comes the difference with the Claudex watch, which doesn’t allow you to resume timing, only reset. If you do another counterclockwise turn on the Nicolet, the chronograph continues running from where you last stopped it. Both watches should work how the Nicolet does, so I need to send my Claudex to my watchmaker for a quick check.
I can’t express how excited I am about this watch. It’s absolutely genuine. It’s such a stellar example of out-of-the-box thinking, breaking stereotypes, and letting creative spirit fly. And you know what the best part is? It actually works! I get questions about how delicate it is. I understand those concerns. Until I got one, I could not even remotely imagine how the mechanics would work under the fingers.
The experience is different but comparable to operating the finest chronograph calibers. Stopping, resetting, and re-engaging the chronograph feel perfectly crisp, short, and precise. I have to say, I expected a wobbly operation with 50/50 accuracy. That would be enough to enjoy one of the most brilliant chronograph inventions ever. But the actual functionality and reliability of the movement are breathtaking. No wonder Richard Habring got inspired by it and Sébastien Chaulmontet featured it in his book on the most excellent chronographs.
“It also took me several years to find my first Nicolet, unfortunately, a gold-plated one. Then I found a few of them and kept two as they remain definitively rare,” says Sébastien, adding a little story for us. “I once found a Transmarine Landeron 251 missing the crown and the activating star. I asked my friend Richard Habring to repair it and produce the missing parts, which he very skillfully did. That’s how the idea of the Crown Operating System (COS) emerged and led to our common patent.“
As it usually happens, after years of nothing, you see multiple watches resurfacing. Since I was almost conned six years ago, I hadn’t seen a solid example. I scored my Claudex in April of last year, and not even six months later, I found my Nicolet. And I could not believe my eyes to see another in NOS condition with the original stickers listed within a few weeks. I was watching the auction, but the €2,200 price before auction fees kept me out. Well, in the last six months, there have been no others listed. I’m curious what will happen when the next one pops up. When that happens, you’d better be ready.
I can barely express the amusement I get when wearing my Nicolet no-pusher chronograph. As you might know, I have a lot of quirky pieces, but this one holds a special place in my heart. It’s not some crazy quartz watch with a flashlight attached to it. Rather, it’s a classy chronograph design with a significant difference. I promise that there aren’t any “Red Submariner” or “Ed White” watches (even if I still want one badly!) that would give you such a feeling of wearing something truly unique. Happy hunting!
PS: Stay tuned for next week’s #TBT to find out what else I found in the package.