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If the time has come and you feel like you’re ready to plunge into the luxury watch sector, kudos to you. Many would give a lot to be in your shoes.
Whilst going for the very top-end brands such as Rolex, Omega or Longines is the ultimate goal, not many could afford a brand new timepiece from one of these watchmakers. And that’s when it’s worth considering brands oscillating in the Entry-Level spectrum.
Apart from the well-recognized luxury Entry-Level watchmakers such as Tissot, there are some hidden gems waiting to get explored. Naturally, some caution needs to be taken while shopping for the less “mainstream” luxury brands. That’s especially the case if you don’t consider yourself an expert in the field. The number of companies that claim to offer exceptional quality but fail miserably to deliver on the promise is much bigger than those that indeed provide excellent value.
One of the luxury brands that’s been around forever yet isn’t on the lips of many people is Armand Nicolet. The Swiss-born company produces splendid-looking timepieces powered by the very best movements and at times costs a fraction of what you’d need to spend on other brands originating from the Alps. In this Armand Nicolet watches review, we will take an in-depth look at its background, as well as see how its quality fares against the more recognized names.
Without further ado, let’s go.
Armand Nicolet History & Background
The fact that the brand isn’t more popular might have people scratching their heads. However, that’s because it’s been on the offensive in the horological industry only since 1989 – the date considered as the reborn of Armand Nicolet. But let’s start from the beginning.
The beginnings of the Swiss watchmaker date back to as early as 1875. It was founded by, you guessed it, Armand Nicolet. He got a passion for horology from his father who was a local watchmaker. After a successful apprenticeship, he set up his own Atelier d’Horlogerie (watchmaking manufacturer in French).
Although by 1902 the company was already producing beautiful pocket watches with high-quality complications, for the most part of its long history, Armand Nicolet was the finisher of complex mechanical movements for all the top-end brands in Switzerland.
That’s not to say Armand Nicolet isn’t proud about its own releases. Some of the aforementioned pocket watches were beautifully crafted and oftentimes included refined elements such as guilloché rose gold case, enamel dial, repeating hours, quarter hours and minutes, complete calendar, or a monopusher chronograph. To this day, selected pieces are available in the Armand Nicolet museum located in Tramelan.
The brand’s founder died in 1939 but the company continued to prosper. After the death of Armand, his son Willy Nicolet took control of the company and steered it to become the largest T1 watchmaker in the country. In practice, that essentially meant being the watchmaker of the watchmakers.
Back in the day, the Swiss horological industry was divided into three main tiers – T0, T1, and T2. T0 tier was responsible for manufacturing parts, T1 assembling of parts, and T2 casing the assembled timepieces (and then selling them).
In the 1970s, sparked by the introduction of the first-ever quartz watch by Seiko, the whole horological world plunged into a major cataclysm. Known as the Quartz Crisis, the movement lasted for more than a decade. Many well-established brands couldn’t handle the global influx of battery-powered timepieces and ceased to exist. Although Armand Nicolet wasn’t spared, it did survive. That’s partially down to the fact that it was not per se an independent watchmaker but instead collaborated with other brands with which it had managed to develop long-lasting, successful partnerships.
Despite surviving the Quartz Revolution, Armand Nicolet was left with thousands of vintage mechanical movements and not a lot of brands to use them for. Luckily, a huge change of fortunes for Armand Nicolet came in 1987. That year, the brand’s owner Willy Nicolet meet Rolando Braga, an Italian watch aficionado with years of experience in the horological industry.
Braga decided to take over the company and quickly changed its strategy. From a mere assembler of movements, Armand Nicolet became an independent watchmaker that successfully adjusted to the new, quartz-dominated market norms. At the same time, with years passing and the quartz craze slowly cooling down, the brand restarted the production of mechanical timepieces. To this day, the selection of both watch types is huge and the brand continues to prosper under the Italian’s stewardship.
Are Armand Nicolet Watches Any Good? (Quality Review)
Watch companies oscillating in the luxury category often face increased criticism from experts and insiders. Considering the high cost of the purchase and the huge expectations associated with it, this is absolutely no wonder.
Despite its relatively short history (if we consider 1987 as a new beginning for the brand), Armand Nicolet quickly gained recognition in the market and is now considered a legit part of the luxury watch sector.
Competing with more recognized names such as Rolex, Breitling, and Patek Philippe, the bar has been set really high. The question that arises is: are Armand Nicolet watches able to offer similar quality to the giants of the industry?
To answer, we’ll have a detailed look at all the aspects contributing to the overall quality score of the brand. These include the level of craftsmanship, durability, and accuracy.
Without further delay, let’s go.
Design & Durability
You only get to make a first impression once. Whilst the looks count for nothing if the watch isn’t made from top-end, lasting materials, we can safely say that in the case of Armand Nicolet timepieces – one doesn’t rule out the other.
In general, Armand Nicolet has a very classic, sometimes even minimalistic design approach.
The vast majority of models are designed for people who prefer a semi-formal or formal style, although some models will perfectly match casual fashion as well. Also, there is a smaller group of models available for those who love the more sporty feel. However, looking at the overwhelming number of models, we can easily consider Armand Nicolet as a brand oscillating in the dressy watch spectrum.
Let’s talk about durability now.
Starting with the most precious and damage-prone part of any timepiece, the dial, all AN models are equipped with the best protection possible in the form of sapphire crystal glass. The material is the standard choice amongst all top-end luxury watchmakers and provides the biggest resistance against cracks and scratches. Furthermore, the glass comes with an anti-reflective coating which makes reading in any light a smooth sail. At times you might even forget the crystal is there!
Also playing an integral role in the protection of the watch are cases. When it comes to Armand Nicolet watches, you will be able to select from two of the most solid materials: stainless steel and titanium.
The type of stainless steel used with AN cases is 316. It has considerably bigger anti-corrosion properties than 314 due to the inclusion of a chemical element called molybdenum.
Timepieces using titanium cases are usually considered the more premium of the two. More often than not, they come at a bigger price. Titanium is three to four times stronger than stainless steel – ensuring a longer lifespan. It also weighs about 50% less. However, if you’re prone to scratching your watches, going with a stainless steel model is your best bet as titanium can scratch quite easily.
Due to the elegant feel of most of Armand Nicolet’s watch models, there’s visible domination of genuine leather and stainless steel bands. Other options include canvas straps, titanium bracelets, and rubber bands.
Crucially, all Armand Nicolet watches come with some sort of water resistance. As a rule of thumb, you can expect the watch to withstand depths of between 50m-100m. There’s a separate line dedicated to diving enthusiasts that includes professional diving watches with a 300m WR rating. To further aid the protection against corrosion, the watches are equipped with screw-down casebacks and crowns.
When you pay a top dollar for a luxury watch, the engine it runs on needs to be of the highest standard. I’m glad to say, calibers installed in Armand Nicolet timepieces meet the criteria.
Being a survivor of the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s, the brand simply had to add some battery-powered models to its line. However, to this day, mechanical movements are still the very core of Armand Nicolet.
Despite the visible Italian influence since 1989, all movements used in Armand Nicolet watches – whether quartz or mechanical – are manufactured and assembled in Switzerland. To meet the Swiss quality standards, they are put together by the best craftsmen from around the country and go through a rigorous inspection before going on sale.
Armand Nicolet doesn’t manufacture its own movements. Instead, they are outsourced from the very best Swiss providers such as ETA or Sellita. Both brands deliver lasting and accurate calibers that are also used by other watchmakers in the luxury sector.
As you will learn in the next part of the article dedicated to AN watch collections, the brand has something in store for both the fans of modern complications and those who value the classic mechanical approach dating back to as early as the 1950s.
All Armand Nicolet watches, as long as they’re purchased from an authorized seller, are covered by a 3-Year Warranty.
The guarantee period covers all defects related to the movement. In case of any issues caused by your own negligence, such as a cracked window or scratch on the bracelet, the timepiece won’t be considered for a free repair.
Armand Nicolet Watch Collections
Unlike many other watch brands in the Entry-Level luxury watch sector, Armand Nicolet doesn’t confuse the shoppers with an endless list of watch collections. In fact, it pretty much offers an A/B choice (at least when it comes to the movement type).
The brand divides its releases into two main lines.
The first one, named Contemporary, focuses on a more modern style and therefore offers a larger number of battery-powered timepieces.
The other collection, Original Historical Movement, is one for the true watch aficionados who appreciate the beautiful history and skill behind Swiss mechanical movements. All timepieces are powered by superbly accurate, complex Swiss mechanical calibers that have been the foundation of Armand Nicolet from the very beginning of its existence.
Below find a brief review of both collections and the style and functions they offer.
The Contemporary collection is grouped into 7 mini-lines. Naturally, they differ in terms of looks but the most important aspect that differentiates between all is the movements, and therefore the watch’s functions.
Both types have been designed exclusively with women in mind. With the inclusion of Mother of Pearl and diamonds, it beams an extremely strong feminine vibe. The Moon Phase feature tracks the current phase of the moon as you see it in the sky.
The chronograph models come with three additional sub-dials with functions for 30 and 60 minutes, as well as 60 seconds. There are four color variations available. All models, whether Moon Phase or Chronograph, are powered by the same Swiss quartz mechanism.
This line is clearly a departure from the feminine style associated with the AL3. The watches boast a strong masculine look, clearly underlined by the presence of considerably bigger, tougher-looking cases.
The collection was one of Armand Nicolet’s firsts and has been around for some time. By popular demand, it’s been lately renewed and comes with a more legible look, at the same time preserving its long history and previous success. The biggest changes from the previous JO9 version are thinner cases and the removal of the day counter on the dial.
Armand Nicolet J09-3 collection promotes three types of watch complications: Date, Chronograph & Date, and the newest release, GMT (read also: Best GMT Watches in 2021). GMT models are perfect for frequent travelers who want to keep track of time in two timezones at once. If that’s something that appeals to you, feel free to read more about how GMT watches work.
The collection consists of both automatic and quartz models.
Unlike the AL3 line that offers exclusively leather bands, J09 has something in store for different tastes. Those who love designs oscillating in the dressy spectrum will appreciate the elegance of 316L stainless steel bracelets. On the other hand, there’s also a wide selection of models for folks favoring sporty looks. These watches are available with either rubber or leather bands.
If you’re a diving enthusiast, this is the collection you’ve been looking for.
Contemporary JS9-41 focuses entirely on diving watches. At the time of writing, it features 21 splendid-looking divers. All models come with a renewed design that’s reduced in size, ensuring even bigger comfort while using underwater.
Armand Nicolet divers are divided into two groups: date and GMT. The first group is equipped with a date window positioned at 3 o’clock whilst the second, as you’ve already learned, allows you to track time in an additional timezone.
Characteristically for diving watches, all models come with unidirectional bezels that help you track elapsed time underwater. All are professional diving watches with a 300m water resistance. This attribute makes them safe companions even for professional marine activities such as saturation diving. Further aiding the water-resistance qualities are screw-down crowns and casebacks. The risk of any corrosion that could potentially damage the movement is next to zero.
Since these watches are designed to serve you well in the water, they don’t use leather straps. Instead, you can pick from the more elegant stainless steel bracelets or equally durable rubber bands.
On the movement front, all models are powered by Swiss automatic calibers.
The JS9-44 line can be described as the enlarged version of the JS9-41. Similarly, it’s focused solely on diving watches. However, most of these are considerably heavier than the previously-discussed, “renewed” diving collection.
Akin to JS9-41, it offers watches in two movement types: date and GMT. All models run on Swiss automatic movements, boast a 300m WR rating, and are equipped with unidirectional bezels. Consider going for any of these watches if you love diving but find JS9-41 models too small.
Continuing down the sports watches path, the next in the line is Contemporary JSS.
Similar to the previous two diving collections, these watches are also highly capable in terms of water use thanks to the 300m WR rating. With the availability of green, orange, and blue bezels, they definitely offer a more adventurous look than their predecessors.
The same can be said about the bands. Not only do they offer more lively colors but are also available in a wider range of materials: leather, canvas, stainless steel, and rubber.
One of the characteristics of this line is the see-through casebacks. Also known as skeletonized design, such an approach allows you to marvel at the intricate workings of the mechanical movement.
Akin to the two previous diving lines, the JSS watches are grouped into Date and GMT complications.
This line clearly departs from the sporty approach of the three collections discussed above. Instead, it offers an extremely elegant design that will look best during formal or semi-formal outings.
Again, the line was originally released many years ago but has been recently revamped. The original concept that first inspired the creation of Contemporary M02-4 watches hasn’t changed. However, improvements have been made in terms of comfort and ergonomics.
The most noticeable change is the reduction of case sizes and the improvement of readability thanks to the presence of Arab numerals instead of indexes.
In the M02-4 collection, you can select from three movement complications: Date, Chronograph & Date, and GMT. The vast majority of these are Swiss automatic calibers.
Because of the stylish approach, the selection of bands is limited to two materials: stainless steel and leather.
Closing the list of Contemporary timepieces is a line dedicated to fans of aviation watches.
Also known as pilot timepieces, these models deliver a unique look combining round stainless steel cases with aeronautics-inspired dials created with a peculiar volcanic-sand finishing. As things stand, it’s the least numerous AN collection – it consists of just three models.
Characteristically for timepieces in the pilot category, all three models provide excellent legibility under any circumstances. This is ensured by oversized hands with strong luminescent properties and massive Arab numerals. Another standard pilot watch feature available with this line is the oversized crown and flight computer bezel markings.
The timepieces in this line are powered by Swiss automatic movement. The complication includes a date window at 6 o’clock.
MM2 watches are equipped with rugged canvas straps available in three color variations: black, blue, and sandy brown.
O.H.M (Original Historical Movement) Collection
The Original Historical Movement collection, one for the connoisseurs and aficionados, is nowhere near as numerous as the Contemporary. That doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive, though!
There are just three O.H.M lines to pick from – LB6, L16, and L15. All collections run on some of the most exquisite mechanical movements used in the brand’s history. All calibers have kept their core mechanism but have been modified to further improve the performance.
The first of the O.H.M group of watches features the original movement FHF 264 first installed in 1956. The mechanical movement is manually wound and comes with a sub-dial with a Small Seconds function.
One of the characteristics of this excellent caliber is the Adouci-nickeled finishing.
Speaking about the betterments, the classic movement has been integrated with a shock absorber. This addition results in higher accuracy, as well as a considerably longer lifespan due to stronger impact resistance. All four LB6 models use a 17-jewel mechanical movement in the form of Calibre AN0731B. The movement includes a flat hair-spring and a lever escapement, comes with a 36-hour power reserve, and beats at the frequency of 18,000 vibrations per hour.
The watches in the LB6 line use genuine leather bands, stainless steel cases, and anti-reflective sapphire crystal glass. In terms of the water resistance, it’s 10ATM / 100m.
This line is based on a manually-wound FHF 264 caliber that first saw the light in 1953. Similar to the previous O.H.M line, the movement uses a 3-hand configuration with hours, minutes, and small seconds functions.
Similar to LB6 watches, the line has been integrated with a shock absorber. On top of a see-through caseback that’s also available with the abovementioned LB6, these timepieces additionally boast a skeletonized dial. Such appearance allows you to peek at the complex workings of the movement without taking the watch off your wrist.
Underneath the balance wheel, the movement is finished with “Perlage” while the bridges are adorned with “Côtes de Genève” and gold engravings.
The exact caliber installed in L16 timekeepers is 17-jewel AN0731S. Its technical standards are exactly the same as the LB16 collection: flat hair-spring, lever escapement, 36-hour power reserve, and 18,000 VpH.
All watch models come with leather straps and stainless steel cases. Protecting against cracks and scratches is naturally sapphire crystal glass. The 100m water resistance is aided by screw-down crowns and casebacks.
Closing the list of Original Historical Movements is caliber AN0703A. It was first produced in 1967 and then modified in 2014. The L15 collection sparked the beginning of the OHM by Armand Nicolet.
Like all OHM lines, L15 watches have been integrated with a shock-absorbent system to improve precision and longevity and keep up with modern horological standards.
Although there are some similarities between the caliber used in L15 models and the one installed in the previous two collections (ie. the flat hair-spring), there are way more differences. A bigger number of jewels (25) is one worth noting, as is the higher vibration frequency (21,600) which creates an even more charming sound typical of the old-school mechanical timepieces.
Again, the caliber is exquisitely decorated with “Cote de Genève” finishing and ornamented by “Perlage”.
From all the OHM categories, this one presents the most minimalistic design – especially when it comes to the face. All four L15 models use simple, color-unified dials with a 3-hand configuration and a date window at 3 o’clock. The extremely elegant feel is ensured by leather bands and stainless steel or 18kt rose-gold cases.
On the waterproofing front, L15 timepieces can withstand depths of up to 50m.
Where to Buy Armand Nicolet Watches?
Although the brand isn’t as much appreciated by the replica manufacturers as the likes of Rolex or Hublot, it would be a lie to say that it’s impossible to encounter a counterfeit Armand Nicolet online. And you definitely want to avoid that.
If you’re a frequent online shopper, there are a few destinations that can be deemed “safe”.
Although in most cases the first recommended source would be a brand’s official website, here it’s not. Browsing through Armand Nicolet’s site, most of the watch models are labeled as “Out of stock“. However, the website is a good solution for those who want to buy the watch offline. In the Distribution section, you will find all authorized retailers of AN watches in your area.
When it comes to online shopping, the first obvious choice would be Amazon. The popular marketplace offers prompt shipping and hassle-free, 30-day returns. Currently, there are over 50 watch models to pick from, with prices starting at $650.
Another reputable online source offering tens of legit Armand Nicolet watches is Jomashop. It’s one of the most popular jewelry and watch stores in the United States. It offers competitive prices, easy returns, and an original manufacturer’s warranty. Currently, the cheapest AN watch is listed for $699.
Finally, if you don’t mind wearing a pre-owned timepiece, giving eBay a shot is far from the worst idea. Some of the models can be snatched even for as little as $200.
Is Armand Nicolet a Luxury Brand?
The word “luxury” is one that carries a lot of weight, especially when it comes to precious items such as wristwatches. Some brands love to overuse it – yet fail to offer anywhere near the standard expected. However, that is far from the case when it comes to Armand Nicolet watches. The brand offers exceptionally good value and definitely lives up to the luxury tag.
Although not as popular and mainstream as the likes of Rolex or Omega, some of the brands dominating the luxury sector, Armand Nicolet watches are assembled from just as quality materials. They also offer top-end calibers – whether mechanical or quartz – ensuring pinpoint accuracy and an impressive lifespan.
The aspect many folks value the most about Armand Nicolet is that the luxury tag of the brand doesn’t necessarily make these watches unreachable for those with more modest budgets. Some of the models, like the iconic diver A480AGU-BU-MA4480AA, can easily be classified as Entry-Level luxury. That makes the brand a great choice for those dipping their toes into luxury watchmaking.
Armand Nicolet Watches Review: Conclusion
If you’ve been pondering the purchase of your first Armand Nicolet timepiece, I hope that the article has shed enough light on whether the Swiss brand is the fit for you.
Summing up the Armand Nicolet review, one conclusion springs to mind: just because a brand isn’t on the lips of everyone doesn’t mean it’s in any way inferior to the better-known, aggressively-marketed competitors.
Despite barely surviving the industry-shaking Quartz Revolution, Armand Nicolet got a fresh start in 1989 under the stewardship of Rolando Braga. Since then, instead of simply helping the so-called big boys of the luxury sector with the installation of the mechanical movements, the brand focused – and rightly so – on their own line of watches. Over 2 decades later, we can safely say that the new strategy has succeeded.
Despite not being as world-renowned as the likes of Rolex or Patek Philippe, Armand Nicolet’s timepieces are constantly scoring positive reviews both from everyday wearers and experts. Considering the refined design, high durability standards, and the presence of accurate Swiss movements, it’s hardly a surprise.
Considering the luxury status, the fact that some of the models can be snatched for less than $1000 also makes Armand Nicolet a great Entry-Level option. If you’re at the stage of dipping your toes into luxury watchmaking, it’s definitely a good way to make that first step. Should you enjoy the experience with the low-priced models, you can work your way up the ladder and go for more complex releases.
Final say: whether the Armand Nicolet watches review has convinced you to go for your first model from the brand or has made you decide against it, I’m glad I could have helped you in making that decision. Feel free to share your own experience with the brand in the comment section below. Let’s interact!