The story behind Elliot Brown RNLI watches
Since his rescue by the RNLI in the mid ’80’s, It has been an ambition of co-founder Ian Elliot to repay some of the very personal gratitude felt towards the volunteer charity so vital in saving his life and the lives of others at sea. He was windsurfing in the Solent in very strong winds when trouble struck and after a long swim with de-rigged equipment and some considerable drifting due to tide and wind, the inshore lifeboat picked him up from a low tide gravel bank off Hayling Island, a good couple of miles downwind from his launch point. Ian is what you might call a waterman, an avid surfer, windsurfer and more recently a SUP surfer and the reasons he uses to get out onto the water are some of his most creative. His rescue left a deep sense of indebtedness.
Ian has been a member of the RNLI for many years and more recently got to know some of the volunteers whilst using the RNLI’s gym facilities in Poole as part of the rehab after a knee operation. Those conversations and exposure to the charities' buildings and messages re-kindled the thought of creating a project that would pay back far beyond the relatively small annual contribution of his personal membership.
Fast forward a few years and Elliot Brown has endowed itself with the perfect credentials to start a meaningful conversation with the RNLI. Elliot Brown watches are widely regarded as the ‘go-to’ watch for blue light services and military operators, they’re built up to a standard that makes them totally fit for purpose and the story resonated with the values of the RNLI.
The similarities in ethos between the two organisations are many, a history centred around the water, exhaustive testing and evaluation, coastal references across the collections, geographic location on the water in Poole, watches that have survived round the world yacht race journeys, rowed multiple oceans, summited Everest and built to the same exacting standards as the equipment used by the lifesaving charity.
Back in his days as Animal co-founder, he was instrumental in launching what became a highly regarded collaboration to raise money for surfers Against Sewage and that thought was re-kindled during exposure to the volunteers at the RNLI gym. “Several years ago we began speaking with the RNLI, the meeting of minds was obvious and the collaboration recently gained the green light.”
The design of the watches presented a tough challenge. We’re not fans of slapping a logo onto something and making it the subject of a rather shallow marketing campaign. No… our ambition was to create two watches that would not only do the relationship justice but to create objects so beautifully considered that they’d become long term reference points.
The conversations flowed with idea sessions held across the departments and with station visits, the pot of ideas and historical references grew and grew. We were determined to find the real nuggets that would tell a story via subtle ‘if you know, you know’ details - the sort of details you often don’t notice on first glance. That notion went partly out the window when we witnessed how proud volunteer crew members are when wearing their RNLI crew clothing emblazoned with the iconic flag mark. Their body language seemed to change when pulling on their crew clothing, apparently turning an ordinary person into someone with an air that immediately appears prouder, broader shouldered, more confident and competent. “It was tangible, you could feel it, it was infectious and compelling.” Ian mentioned after one meeting that if he lived close enough to a station to apply, it would be a no-brainer to become a volunteer, so evident was the sense of camaraderie in belonging to such an incredibly well orchestrated volunteer charity. The sophistication of the training, the drills, the launch procedures, the maintenance regime and governance is so deeply impressive and rewarding to witness and so worthy of our support and yours. For these reasons, placement of the flag mark on the dial turned from a tenuous thought to being absolutely essential. It was the only option.
However we’re not ones to take the easy option. Our brains seem to have a kind of default setting that won’t allow us to rest until a design is properly resolved so we continued to search for the gem of an idea, the if you know you know kind of detail. It came with the news from a long standing engineer employee that all offshore lifeboats since the early man powered vessels carry blue and white boat hooks on their port and starboard sides. The coloured hooks hark back to the earliest days of the service, when lifeboats were powered by oar and sail, with blue oars on the starboard side and white on the port side so that people could tell which way around the double ended lifeboat was rowing.
It’s such a simple but historical reference that gave us the idea of using discreet blue and white indexes outside every hour baton on the dial - they’re very subtle but if you know, you know.
The dial colour could only be blue and we felt the use of the deepest oceanic blue was not only appropriate but would imbue the watch with a nautical essence which when combined with extra bold indexes and hands would provide perfectly clear visibility in all conditions - essential for any watch with an emergency service as it’s point of reference.
The red seconds hand marries perfectly with the RNLI’s flag mark - pulling it all together nicely.
We must have worked through 20-30 designs for the case back, whose detailing we could easily be accused of obsessing over because whilst it’s a part of the watch few people see, knowing it’s been executed beautifully adds so much to sense of pride in ownership. Flags, words, oars, vessel outlines, waves and combinations of all of the above were explored. We searched and searched through the archives and the detail we felt had the greatest appeal was the very first RNLI logo mark in the form of an anchor with rope wrapped around it. It has the kind of nautical simplicity yet strong historic relevance, and we were able to bring it to life beautifully by deeply stamping it into the stainless steel case back. The original rope and anchor logo didn’t exist as an electronic file, so with great care and diligence, the RNLI’s design team set about re-drawing the original especially for this project. In perfect keeping with the historic rope and anchor is the traditional ‘copper plate’ font style deeply engraved with the letters RNLI under the anchor. We created a polished circular reference frame around the anchor with the words of Sir William Hillary, the RNLI’s founder which read: WITH COURAGE NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. Words as true and poignant today as they have always been.
WIth our in-built durability combined with these subtle design cues, it feels like we’ve given this project the kind of esprit de corps it deserves to create two beautiful timeless watches. Doing the right thing means a lot and we hope you’ll support us in our mission to raise a significant amount for this most deserving of charities.