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When pressed to think of dive watches from the 1960s, your mind will often go to the known brands. Rolex, say, or their daughter brand Tudor, whose Submariner more or less sets the standard for what a dive watch is supposed to be. Or Blancpain, who arguably created the whole subgenre with their Jacques Cousteau-approved Fifty Fathoms. Then there's always Seiko, whose Reference 6105 saw service in the Vietnam War. But in terms of vintage divers, that's merely scratching the surface.
Nicolet is a brand that might not get a lot of recognition, but has a pedigree that's just as respectable as the horological heavy hitters mentioned above. Armand Nicolet opened his manufacture in the Jura Mountains in 1875. Nicolet, the son of a watchmaker, established a reputation for producing fine pocket watches with guilloché cases. After Armand's death in 1939, his son Willy succeed him as head of the atelier.
It was under Willy's leadership that the manufacture's production expanded to encompass the production of wristwatches. His divers produced in the 1960s rate among some of the most visually-appealing of the period. The technical innovation of their construction rivals even that of Rolex and Doxa.
The Skin Diver 900 that we have here dates from the mid-1960s. Aesthetically, the Skin Diver resembles divers produced by Elgin or Bulova, with a chunky 40mm case and a Bakelite bezel--here a vibrant cherry red. But its warm silver dial is a true standout, softening its looks considerably.
But the most salient feature of this piece is the Helium Release Valve, not necessarily the fact that it has one, but its location. Unlike Rolex and Doxa, who placed the Helium Release Valve in the side of the case (in their Sea Dweller and Sub 300T divers), Nicolet placed the valve in the screw-down crown. This unusual placement, ostensibly to make it easier for the wearer to use, is a truly utilitarian design feature, not to mention a technical triumph.
Inside beats an A. Schild Caliber 1748 automatic movement. The Caliber 1748 is a no-nonsense caliber that enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s before Schild ceased production in the 1970s. It features a ball-bearing rotor that's an absolute joy to hear when in action.
With attractive looks and a solid construction, the Nicolet Skin Diver 900 is a sporty alternative for the collector who desires an unusual and rarely-found diver.
Stainless steel case is approximately 40mm (excluding crown). A. Schild Caliber 1748 Automatic Movement. Circa 1960s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition, with sharp bevels on the case and no signs of over-polishing. Case does show some signs of use and wear in keeping with its age. Bakelite bezel is in excellent condition with crisp printing. Dial is likewise in very good condition with signs of age to the luminescent materials of the hour markers and hands. Nicolet crown. Nicolet case back shows some signs of wear but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes two 19mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle