Leigh Extence
Fine Antique Clocks

Adolpe Nicole - Patent Keyless Watch for E.J. Dent

Return to Catalogue Index
By the early 19th century a number of innovators where exploring ways to allow a watch to be wound without a key, therefore  taking away the need to open a case and to have to keep a key in close proximity to the watch, whilst others where adding to  this to find a way to set the hands without a key as well. Thomas Prest, a former apprentice and then workman to John  Arnold, was one of the first to apply for a patent, granted in 1820, for a movement with keyless winding, although his still  required the case to be opened to set the hands, and this was taken up by a number of well-known makers including Arnold &  Dent. But it was the invention of Adolphe Nicole of Dean Street in the County of Middlesex, watch maker, UK Patent 10,348  granted on the 14th of October 1844, that had the advantage of allowing both winding and hand setting from one stem  operated from the top of the watch, with either fusee or going-barrel movements, and alleviated the need for the case to be  opened at any time and therefore keeping the movement dust free. In 1846 Edward John Dent acquired the rights to this  patent as sole licensee and started using it on watch movements, although it is probable that Nicole continued to make the  movements on behalf of Dent. That Dent allowed others to use this system is shown by those movements signed by, amongst  others, C.F. Hancock, E. White and Nicole Neilson & Co, all having Patent engraved on the backplate.   Early forms of this system had the intermediate wheel in constant contact with the centre wheel, as seen in both examples in  this exhibition, but Dent soon realized that this meant unnecessary friction on the motion work and an alteration was made to  the engaging gear whereas the intermediate wheel was in constant contact with the going-barrel and only moved onto the  centre wheel when winding occurred. Dent’s continued to use this Nicole system until 1862.  One other addition made to these movements, when using a duplex escapement, was the use of a ‘kink’ in the hairspring  near to it’s end and which would correctly be termed an amplitude limiting device. It was found that the duplex had, when  given sudden movement, a tendency to set and so this kink would contact a vertical pin on the balance arm and alleviate the  problem.  It is quite probable that Dent’s exhibited watches with the Nicole patent at the 1851 Great Exhibition held in the Crystal  Palace, Hyde Park, as E.B. Denison, in describing the horological exhibits displayed there notes a watch of this description  being on the Dent stand; There is a very beautiful collection of carriage clocks and watches, of various kinds, by Mr Dent;  some of them exhibiting, besides the compensated balance that all first-rate watches now possess, a contrivance (different  from most others for the same purpose) for winding up and setting the hands without a key, by turning the knob in the handle  or pendant..  Two examples of movements with Adolphe Nicole’s Patent, both signed for E.J. Dent  1 A three-quarter plate fusee movement with a duplex escapement, amplitude limiting device to the hairspring, a finely  engraved cock with a split bimetallic balance, with an early form of Nicole’s keyless mechanism. The backplate is signed E.J.  Dent, Watchmaker to the Queen, London, No. 8272,Patent with, to the side of the cock, Nicole’s stamp, A.N within a  rectangle and number 705, the dial signed E.J. Dent, London, 8272 with the subsidiary seconds dial off-set at IX o’clock.  2 A smaller three-quarter plate fusee movement with a lever escapement, a finely engraved cock with a split bimetallic  balance, with an early form of Nicole’s keyless mechanism The backplate is signed E.J. Dent, Watchmaker to the Queen,  London, No. 14367, Patent now without Nicole’s stamp but with the Nicole number 1405, without a dial.