3 New Bond Street - Where it all began.
One of the most important addresses in the history of C.W. Dixey & Son, is 3 New Bond Street. It’s where the company began in 1777, and it was our home until 1929 when the building was redeveloped. So much of our history happened there.
Up until recently, all we had was a drawing to give us a clue to its appearance, so imagine our excitement when a photograph of this historical landmark came into our possession.
The image shows the storefront bearing the name Dixey, and proudly displayed above it, is the Royal Warrant. A spectacle sign hangs over the door.
At the time, as well as our core offering of spectacles, the company was renowned for precision instruments such as telescopes, and the image clearly shows a range of these on display in the windows.
Not only is this wonderful, faded, sepia-tinted photograph so special to us, it’s also paints an incredibly evocative picture of the time. While it’s difficult to determine the exact date of the photograph, we know it has to be before 1929.
Then, as now, New Bond Street was the most prestigious shopping street in London, famed for the finest luxury products. Across the road was the London branch of the world-famous jeweller, Faberge. Just think of the titled and famous people who must have strolled up and down this street, some of whom would have walked through the door of C.W. Dixey & Son. And of course, in the early years, they would have been offered a glass of milk as refreshment, direct from the resident cow that was tethered in the back of 3 New Bond Street!
We would love to date the photograph more precisely and we have one possible clue. If you look closely at the shop door, you will see the reflection of the photographer and his camera, which is mounted on a tripod.
The make and design of the camera should help us to determine the date more accurately. We think it places it around 1880-1910 but we’d be very grateful if any of you eagle-eyed readers can help! If you can please email us at email@example.com.
THE DARKEST HOUR, STARING GARY OLDMAN AS SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, WAS RELEASED IN THE UK IN JANUARY 2018.
It’s based on the true story of Churchill’s first few days as Prime Minister
during which the prospect of war with Nazi Germany grew ever more
To make sure Oldman looked as authentically Churchillian as possible, we borrowed one of his own frames and made him a pair of Chartwell spectacles in his size to wear in the film.
Oldman won a well-deserved Oscar for his role as one of this country’s greatest leaders (and one of C.W. Dixey & Son’s most loyal patrons).
CASE STUDY ABOUT THE RE-LAUNCH OF C.W DIXEY & SON
A case study about the re-launch of C.W Dixey & Son is now on the curriculum
for Harvard Business School marketing students around the world.
Harvard Business School is one of the most respected business education establishments in the world. The School offers MBAs and Doctorates, as well as programmes designed for experienced executives who want to accelerate their leadership potential. So it’s a great honour for C.W. Dixey & Son to be the subject of a case study written by Prof. Mike Beverland – a brand authenticity expert.
Students will discover how our M.D – Simon Palmer, took a brand with a 300 year history and re-launched it to a 21st century audience.
After covering the company’s history, the case study concentrates on the launch of the first pair of C.W. Dixey & Son frames in a generation, and the challenges it presented. It examines the elements that had to be considered when reviving the brand, such as commercial viability, marketing and branding for a contemporary audience. Prof. Beverland provides context by looking at the market and at the company’s competitors.
"When I took over the company in 2006, says Simon, "despite its rich and unique history, C.W. Dixey & Son had lost its brand awareness.
"Prof. Beverland's work is an excellent study of how to revive an established company and build a brand based on its heritage and luxury.
"We are really proud to have been chosen as a case study for a course with such a renowned business school. It’s a testimony to the quality and specialness of the C.W. Dixey story."
Are you going through the process of reviving, re-launching, and positioning a heritage brand? We’d love to hear from you if you are – please get in touch!
Two of our frames are set to make their TV debut on Sunday 28th February, starring alongside British acting elite including Sir Michael Gambon, Lindsay Duncan, Matthew McFadyn and Tara Fitzgerald.
ITV's feature length drama, 'Churchill's Secret' is set in 1953 when the prime minister, played by Sir Michael Gambon, suffered a severe stroke. His family and close aides kept his condition secret from the world. Political intrigue and personal anguish ensue as Churchill fights to make a full recovery and return to power.
C.W. Dixey & Son played a role in making sure the look and feel was as authentic as possible by supplying the production with Chartwell 01 and 02 frames. These are our two faithful replicas of the spectacles we made for Churchill in the year the film was set.
The frames became synonymous with his look, alongside his polka dot ties - and that famous cigar of course!
The image is of Churchill's desk at Chartwell, courtesy of the National Trust. Look closely and you'll see a pair of C.W. Dixey & Son spectacles.
For Fleming's eyes only
With all the excitement surrounding the new Bond movie, ‘Spectre’, we thought it would be a good time to share one of the Ian Fleming related items from our archive.
Fleming was a C.W. Dixey & Son patron and this is his sight card dated 20 November 1958. The name and address as it appears on the card is, Fleming Mr Ian, of 16 Victoria Square, S.W.1.
Perhaps the C.W.Dixey & Son employee who did the eye test was a fan because they have written, “author, ‘James Bond’ series” on the card.
To put the sight test into context, ‘Dr No’ had been published in March the year before and Fleming was most likely writing ‘Goldfinger’, which was published on March 23 1959. We’d like to think we inspired the title of the next novel, which appeared in April 1960 – ‘For your eyes only’ of course!
Says C.W. Dixey & Son MD, Simon Palmer, “We love finding these gems in the archive. Here’s Ian Fleming having his eyes tested right in the middle of writing best selling books that spawned an incredible series of films spanning six decades.”
Here’s a challenge for all you Bond fans.
Does anyone know of a mention of C.W. Dixey or any other optician in the original James Bond book
Please let us know if you can help.
A portrait of C.W. Dixey
Just as we thought our archives couldn't possibly reveal any more surprises, we've just discovered perhaps the most exciting item of all. And a fair amount of detective work has made it all the more intriguing.
Up until a few weeks ago, we had no idea what Charles Wastell Dixey looked like. As far as we were aware, there were no images of him in existence. That was about to change when Simon Palmer, our MD, met with two of Mr Dixey's descendants.
They arrived at the meeting with an oil painting of a rather distinguished, middle-aged gentleman pictured holding a pair of gold-framed spectacles.
The painting was rescued from the Dixey family home after it was bombed during World War II. It's been handed down through the generations but none of the family knew who it was.
By process of elimination, after comparing it to family photographs, we ruled out his son and grandson, leaving a very strong possibility that it is C.W. Dixey.
Charles was born in 1798 and died in 1880. The painting is of a man aged around 50 or 60. The portrait's painter, G Hughes, was active until 1858, which fits with Charles being around the age of the man in the painting at time of the sitting.
Hughes has portrayed his sitter holding a gold spectacle frame, which could of course, allude to the man's profession.
We decided to consult an expert - Neil Handley, curator of the British Optical Association Museum - about the frame.
Based on the style of the sitter's clothes, Neil believes the painting dates from around 1820, admittedly a little earlier than we would like.
"The spectacles are the 'turnpin side' type which is consistent with the 1820s," says Neil. "It was one of three or four common, but expensive, styles of spectacles of that time.
"There's no indication they are gold. They are more likely to be silver or white metal. However, gold-plated and rolled gold examples of this type certainly do survive.
"The sitter is likely to be a moderately prosperous member of the gentry but not an aristocrat. It would therefore seem possible he was a businessman."
So, although we'll never be 100% sure that the portrait is indeed C.W. Dixey himself, there is a lot of evidence to suggest it is. And it's the closest we've come to bringing him out of the shadows, and putting a face to the name.
On the C.W. Dixey & Son museum trail
Over the last four centuries, C.W. Dixey & Son has been at the forefront of invention and innovation - and not only in eyewear. In the past, the company described itself as 'an optical and mathematical instrument maker' and even a 'mathematical and philosophical instrument maker'!
Our archives detail beautifully engineered scientific instruments including telescopes, astronomical models, barometers, and sextants, fine writing instruments and of course, elegant eyewear.
Today our products and memorabilia feature in the collections of some of the world's most respected museums. Their inclusion in these prestigious institutions demonstrates the significant contribution we've made to optics, science, and design.
But from our earliest days, our products have always been about more than practicality.
One of the first optical manufacturers to blend form and style with function, we have created stunning items, including a luxurious blue enamel, pearl and gold telescope. Created in the 1780s for the Emperor of China, it's now in the collection of the Greenwich Maritime Museum, London. Another C.W. Dixey & Son enameled presentation telescope, very similar in design and quality, can be seen in the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva.
Of course scientific instruments have to function with precision to perform the task they've been manufactured to do. Which is why our finely engineered instruments were trusted by great explorers, including Dr Wilson of the Scott Antarctic Expedition, and the 1921 British Everest reconnaissance expedition.
Various scientific instruments designed by the company, such as compasses, sextants and microscopes can be seen at:
• The Museum of History of Science, Oxford,
• Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
• The Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Cambridge, and
• The National Museum of Scotland.
The Royal Collection in London, holds several C.W. Dixey & Son items used by royal households over the years, including a barometer.
However, we are best known for our eyewear, and innovation in this field, together with creative designs, materials, and optics, feature prominently throughout our history. You can see how our designs have evolved over the years at London's Science Museum who hold a good collection of our frames.
Elsewhere, the British Museum, London has a collection of historical C.W. Dixey & Son trade cards like the one shown here.
The highs and lows of two centuries in business
With such a long history, it's inevitable that we've had our fair share of lows as well as highs. Thankfully there haven't been many but at the time, each one dealt a devastating blow to the company.
The first came in the 1820s when a Mr Grice - assistant to our founder, William Fraser- used the New Bond Street premises as an illegal drinking and gambling den.
The business went into decline but thankfully it was bought by Charles Wastel Dixey and his uncle, who set about restoring its good name and fortunes. Over the next hundred years the family created one of London's most renowned and highly regarded companies whose patrons included the royal family.
The next disaster struck in 1940 during the London Blitz when the New Bond Street property - our home for 163 years - was destroyed along with much of the archive.
But we bounced back and continued to attract high-profile clients including actors, writers, and our loyal patron Sir Winston Churchill. The company was granted a coat of arms in 1977 - the same year as our 200th anniversary.
We had survived two world wars and several recessions, but sadly, dishonesty, and competition from mass production, almost bankrupted us in the 1990s and we had to significantly scale down operations.
However, the discovery of three lost Royal Warrants in 2009inspired us to recreate the company archive. It revealed a rich creative legacy and two centuries of service to emperors, royalty, and leaders.
This treasure trove of information, intriguing history, and importantly, the designs, inspired us to revive C.W. Dixey and Son and our ethos of quality and exclusivity.
As we head towards our 240th anniversary in 2017, we are very grateful our lows have been few and that we've bounced back stronger after each adversity.
Following our first short film released in March, we've made a second one, this time for EliteTraveler.com.
Our MD, Simon Palmer, covers more of our fascinating history and reveals there have been some low points as well as many highs. They include an unscrupulous assistant, wartime destruction, and competition from mass production.
Among the exquisite items in our archive, which Simon uses to illustrate our story, is a stunning gold, pearl and enamel telescope. It was created by C.W. Dixey & Son in the 1790s as a gift from the British government to Emperor Qianlong of China. Today, this magnificent telescope is in the safekeeping of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
As well as unfolding our rich history as the eyewear maker of choice for influential, discerning and powerful patrons, Simon takes us behind the intriguing symbolism of our coat of arms. Granted to celebrate our 200th anniversary it's packed with wonderful references to eyes and sight.
Take a look and see if you can work them out before watching the film.
Beautifully filmed by 7 Storey Media, our new video perfectly captures the essence of CW Dixey & Son.
It's a fascinating insight into our unrivalled heritage by our MD, Simon Palmer who talks about our inspirations and our design process.
Simon shows stunning items from our archive - the starting point for our Edinburgh and London based designers. Dating back to 1780, it's a rich treasure trove of original designs, colour, ideas, and stories.
Among the items shown in the video are two wonderfully engineered folding frames dating back to the early 20th century, exquisite examples of the innovation and craftsmanship for which CW Dixey & Son is renowned.
You'll also see letters from eminent patrons such as the writer, Ian Fleming and Sir Winston Churchill, substantiating the exclusivity of our company.
In fact, our current collection, Chartwell, takes its inspiration from Churchill's frames, right down to the two dots on the arms at the temple, and is named after his much loved Kent home. The dots were a special request from Churchill - Simon reveals their significance in the film.
"Optician Awards: Winner 2014 Frame of the Year"
"Linley: A Celebration of British Design, Craftsmanship, Engineering and Innovation. "The carefully selected brands forming the exhibition are all renowned for the design and creation of fine objects".
"C.W. Dixey & Son's classic designs are an exemplar of good taste."
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