I wasn’t overly familiar with the full story of the man my family refer to as ‘Uncle Monty’ until I embarked on the design for our Commodore diving watch. I knew of him, of course, but had no idea how interesting he was until I investigated his story.
He is my great, great uncle, Admiral Sir Montague Browning, who enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the Royal Navy, despite losing a hand and gaining a mechanical hook after an accident on board the ‘Inflexible’. However, more of that in a moment. After commanding cruiser & battle squadrons during the Great War, ‘Hooky’, as he became known, cut a formidable figure. Having also held the rank of Commodore earlier on in his career, he and his hook continued to defy the odds by later heading up the Allied Naval Armistice Commission and becoming Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom in 1939, before retiring in 1945.
I was curious as to how he lost his hand and various family stories gradually emerged. In my favourite version, he was showing the King around the ‘Inflexible’ and, showing off a tad, spun the wheel, accidentally catching his hand in it. He adopted the British stiff upper lip and staggered through the rest of the tour pretending nothing untoward had happened. It had, of course, and he lost the hand and gained his hook.
The other character inspiring the design of the Commodore watch is my grandfather, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick “Boy” Browning. In addition to having a distinguished military career, he was also an avid sailor and it was, when sailing his boat in the Fowey estuary, that he first spotted his future wife, Daphne du Maurier.
He later became Commodore of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club and, on stepping down in 1962, was given the honour of becoming its first Admiral. His love of sailing was shared by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh for whom he served as Comptroller and Treasurer to the Household of Princess Elizabeth from 1947.
To both of these great men, I dedicate the Du Maurier Commodore.
I first saw Maxim de Winter in Hitchcock’s Oscar winning adaptation of my grandmother’s most celebrated novel, “Rebecca”. Portrayed by Laurence Olivier, this Maxim was dashingly handsome, impeccably groomed and sophisticated. I was impressed by his suavity &, if I’m to be honest, have always fancied myself as aspiring to be a little bit like him. Or maybe my sartorial aspirations were more Laurence Olivier, who knows? Regardless, between the Maxim on the page & the Maxim of the silver screen, it made an indelible impression.
This all probably goes some way to explaining why I chose Maxim as the inspiration for the first men’s watch in our Du Maurier collection
Such was the norm for a gentleman in the 1930’s that a well-heeled character like Maxim would only have possessed two watches at most: a day watch and an evening, dress watch. This was an important factor in the design and I focused on creating a timepiece that was highly versatile, suiting all occasions and aspects of our everyday lives.
The design also needed to reflect the classic, vintage styling of the 30s but hold its own in the present day. Words such as classic, sophisticated, elegant were ever present during the design process and the final result, I hope, embodies all of this and more.
The first limited edition Maxim has long since sold out and I have reworked the design for this second generation model, giving the small second hand a cleaner look. Before embarking on the redesign, however, I re-read ‘Rebecca’ and realised that, now in my 40s, my take on the iconic Maxim is also constantly evolving. That, however, is the beauty of this design process and I can’t help but wonder if Laurence Olivier may have chosen to wear a Maxim watch!
Even as the idea for Du Maurier Watches was in its infancy, Ned and I agreed unanimously that the first two watches we designed must be the ‘Maxim’ and the ‘Rebecca’. We both had strong ideas of what they should look like and strong opinions about the characters colouring our thoughts.
As an English literature student, Rebecca was my first introduction to Daphne du Maurier and I read the book from cover to cover practically without break. Whilst intending to continue exploring the novels, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t read any of her other books until I met Ned 6 years later. Obviously wanting to impress him, I then read the lot. Rebecca, though, remains my firm favourite with its fierce and glamorous namesake haunting the reader at every turn.
The watch had to be bold and luxurious yet elegant. There was no question that gold should feature, preferably rose gold and definitely diamonds. Women’s watches of the 1930s were very small and mainly designed for evening wear so this design became more about our impressions of what we could imagine Rebecca wearing, combined with what women today would like to wear.This has sometimes created brisk debate but this design is, of necessity, very subjective.
On one memorable occasion Ned took our finished prototype off to show to a rather influential individual in the hopes of gaining some favourable press. Upon seeing our Rebecca she declared that we were absolutely wrong and who did Ned think he was to design such a watch?! Ned, very politely, explained that he was Daphne du Maurier’s grandson and this was simply his take on the character of Rebecca. It was a pivotal moment and the meeting went well after that, although we still didn’t get the coverage!
The Rebecca of my imaginings remains central to the design of this watch. I can see her in my mind’s eye in that famous scene, so disastrously replicated by her successor, coming down those stairs at Mandalay to greet her guests, with her cloud of dark hair, in that fabulous white dress, wearing this watch.
When asked about the watch his grandmother wore, Ned could only remember her wearing her husband’s old watch. We know she owned a very beautiful & feminine evening watch but, day to day, the prevailing memory is of a rather lovely, classic man’s watch.
This memory sits comfortably with her overall style which was rather androgynous yet always elegant. Images of her strolling on the lawns at Menabilly and Kilmarth are well known, as are those of the windswept author looking out on her beloved Cornish beaches.
For us, designing the Daphne Signature was a fairly smooth process to begin with, given the source of its inspiration. It was, however, a lot harder to complete. Given that it is such a classic design without any overabundance of fussy features, the final version took well over a year. I’ve lost count of the number of changes & adjustments before we finally put the prototype into production. This was then tweaked & pulled about a number of times before we were satisfied that we had our finished watch.
It seemed the perfect homage to Daphne du Maurier to include her engraved signature on the case back of the first 300 limited editions. This is also how the watch’s name the ‘Daphne Signature’ came about.
This watch has become a signature piece for us too with its classic simplicity and vintage feel. The wide choice of strap colours really make it come into its own for each individual, which is so important for such a personal item. I wear & love all of the colours but, writing this, I’ve been speculating on which colour the great lady herself may have chosen to wear. I think red & Ned suspects blue but, regardless, we are both sure she would have loved the watch itself and been delighted that she and her works had inspired these timepieces.