Today, the 23rd March 2021, marks Donald Campbell's 100th birthday. We're humbled to mark this momentous day with the release of an official collaboration with the Campbell Family Heritage Estate - the limited edition Eyre.
Donald Campbell is not someone that any of us here at Marloe Watch Company knew on a personal level. We have no family ties, no personal accounts of any interactions with him, and none of us bore witness to his remarkable feats of speed. Yet we, as a company, find ourselves inextricably linked to him, his family and his spirit. So much so, that we have come to feel like we know him, just a little - perhaps as someone might know a senior colleague of theirs, or a mysterious neighbour with a really cool car. We wanted to know more. Gordon, in particular, has formed a bond with Donald which transcends time and place; through speaking with his family, reading first-hand accounts of his life and researching his feats, he has uncovered the human behind the celebrity.
The development of this unusual connection has taken years; from the naming of our Coniston range to where we are now, with a number of watches inspired by Donald, his father Sir Malcolm, their speed machines and their endeavours in between. It is with the utmost pride and respect that today, we will release two new watches; the first official collaborations with the Campbell Family Heritage Trust.
It all started where most of our designs start; with the contemplation of bodies of water, and the stories and characters that run deep within their currents. We ran a competition inviting members of our community to name our next collection, and ‘Coniston’ was the landslide victor. The third largest lake in the Lake District, Coniston Water is renowned as a beauty spot, but also as the setting for the Campbell family’s water speed records.
Oliver and Gordon began to delve into the extraordinary exploits of Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell, both on land and water, and the Coniston collection was born; the Bluebird sitting proudly at the centre of the range, inspired by Donald’s boat, the Bluebird K7.
The Coniston Speed Edition followed, inspired by Sir Malcolm’s powerboat, the Blue Bird K3. Both watches sold out and are proudly worn on the wrists of individuals around the world; something which caught us slightly off-guard. While we would like to think that it’s just a really nice-looking watch, we know the Coniston means more than that to many. What is it about this collection that captivates so many across the globe? Or rather, what is it about the Campbells?
In the case of Sir Malcolm, the most obvious answer is that he was the embodiment of the Roaring Twenties. The First World War had ended in victory, prosperity and peace had returned, and jazz clubs and cocktail bars flourished in the cities. Women had finally been given the vote; hemlines were rising and spirits were too. Sir Malcolm set his first land speed record in 1924, in an era where pursuing such frivolous and dangerous goals had become not only acceptable but a form of escapism after the hardship, the trauma and the survival mentality that came with living through WWI. This was a time for fun, for glamour, for growth and opulence. Sir Malcolm’s bright blue, roaring, futuristic machines and death defying attitude won hearts and minds across the globe. It’s not difficult to see how this man, his machines and his legacy resonate with so many; it was all very cool.
It’s a different tale for Sir Malcolm’s son, Donald. Since childhood, Donald had known his father as a celebrated behemoth within the world of speed; the one, the only, the man everyone wanted to know. Donald himself was an engineer, but had never undertaken extreme sporting feats such as the pursuit of World Records. When his father died, Donald took on a new role; he became determined to not only honour but to one-up his father’s prowess. Donald began his speed record attempts in the summer of 1949. Great Britain was, once again, in the fairly immediate aftermath of a World War. This time, however, Britain’s economic situation was desperate and rationing and governmental controls were still in place. It was the time of ‘Welfare and Austerity’, and World Speed Record attempts weren’t in line with this.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Donald and his team - including his late father’s chief engineer, Leo Villa - set about setting their own records with indomitable vigour and purpose.
Donald’s motivation was entirely of his own making; he wanted to live up to the memory of his father, and to carve his own place in the history books. While fame and fortune waxed and waned, sponsors came and left, and mother nature taunted him with impossible conditions, he showed an unrelenting focus on achieving new records. Generally remembered as a cheerful and positive man, he freely admitted that he was - quite rightly - often terrified during his record attempts. He was badly injured in a crash in 1960, and it took 3 years before he was back at the wheel attempting to break a record, this time on Lake Eyre in South Australia. He did it; the record was his, added to his already impressive collection. But he didn’t stop there. Unable to rest after each was achieved, he was driven onwards; in his eyes, his sole purpose was to go as fast as possible, even if it meant courting death. He had nothing to prove to anyone living; and the one person whose approval he sought was gone, unable to relieve him of the compulsion to push the limits of human endeavour.
Donald was a superstitious man. It is reported that, on the evening before his death, while playing cards with some of his team, he drew an ace of spades followed by a queen of spades. He pointed out to his friends that Mary Queen of Scots had drawn the same two cards the night before she was beheaded. He said that he feared he would “get the chop”. The next day, Donald lost his life in a high-speed crash on Coniston water. Those that knew Donald personally have often recounted how he sometimes appeared resigned to this fate; he knew there was a high chance that one day, things would go wrong, and that there may be the ultimate price to pay. Undeterred, he carried on to the very end, pushing boundaries and smashing through barriers. It is that spirit that captivated Gordon, leading to the design of the Eyre that we present to you today. It is that unwavering, focused, infallible desire to achieve what no man has before which captured the hearts and minds of many.
It would be Donald’s 100th birthday today. We didn’t know him, but we feel we do now - and we hope you like the Eyre. It’s our ode to a great spirit, and a man who achieved what he set out to do; he left behind a legacy that even Sir Malcolm would be proud of.
'I think it’s a sad day when a man loses the enthusiasm of a schoolboy.’ - Donald Campbell