Alfred Dunhill, Ltd. (Est. 1893- ) When Alfred Dunhill (1872-1959) developed a line of accessories he called Dunhill’s Motorities to satisfy the needs of a rapidly growing population of automobile owners, his first collection included car horns, lamps, leather overcoats, goggles, picnic sets, and timepieces. The company promoted itself as offering, “Everything But The Motor”.
That philosophy prevails for the British company’s century plus history: its wide range of luxury goods now includes ready-to-wear, custom and bespoke menswear, leather goods, accessories, excellent cigars, distinctive silver-plated, lacquered, gold cigar lighters, fragrances, and wristwatches with some built into cigar lighters.
Alfred was the second son of five children fathered by Henry Dunhill (1842–1901), – a master blindmaker who operated a saddlery business that manufactured harnesses for horses – and his wife and cousin, Jane Styles (1843–1922). Alfred was educated at a private school and by tutors in Hampstead until he was 15 when he was apprenticed to his father’s business.
In 1893, Alfred inherited the business and shortly afterward began to supply the accessories for motor cars. Previously, in 1890, he had established the Discount Motor Car Company to sell the accessories by mail order.
Alfred built his first fortune by retooling the family business into an automobile accessory manufacturer. He wrote, “I quickly discovered that there were scores of things wanted for the new mode of travel: leather coats, knee aprons, caps with special flaps to afford extra protection [and] by these means, I attracted practically the whole motoring public.” From headlights to horns to highly protective outerwear, Dunhill Motorities manufactured it.
In 1902, Alfred opened the company’s first shop in Conduit Street, Mayfair, selling clothing and accessories to chauffeurs and their employers. He entered the pipe making business in 1904 when he developed a “windshield pipe” that allowed motorists to smoke while driving.
It was in 1907 when Alfred founded a store opposite Fortnum & Mason on Duke Street. Alfred’s pipe shop quickly became the place to go for upper-class men, guardsmen, Maharajas and even The Prince of Wales who granted Dunhill its first Royal Warrant. After World War I, Dunhill expanded into New York and Paris and pioneered the production of masculine luxury goods which remains the mainstay of Dunhill’s business today. By 1939, when Alfred withdrew from the company, he was known as a pioneering entrepreneur and inventor.
Bloomberg Businessweek has suggested that Dunhill was ahead of his time by selling his products to a market of international luxury goods enthusiasts. In 1924 the company launched the Unique lighter, developed by Alfred and his brother Herbert that was the world’s first lighter that could be operated with only one hand.
Also in 1924, Dunhill published The Pipe Book, a monograph that described the history of the smoking pipe. In The New York Times review of the book, the anonymous author credited Dunhill with making pipe smoking “a gentlemanly diversion.” The book has rarely been out of print since its publication.
The early 1920s saw the wholesale and export side of the business move to Notting Hill Gate, close to the pipe and cigarette division located at Campden Hill Road.
Alfred fathered a family that shared his verve, acumen and passion for the enterprise he founded. In 1929, he passed the chairmanship of the company to his son, Alfred Henry who was largely responsible for driving Dunhill’s further expansion and diversification. Another carrier of the Dunhill torch was Mary, the founder’s daughter, who joined the board in 1944, then succeeded her brother as chairman in 1961 before becoming president of the company in 1975.
By the late 1970s, Dunhill offered a range of 3,500 luxury products in more than 20 stores around the world. The brand also expanded to offering a full range of men’s ready to wear clothing. Watches and unique timepieces have been an integral part of Dunhill’s products since its earliest years.
In 1993, Dunhill released a collection of “Centenary” watches to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the company. They were all steel and reproductions of earlier Dunhill models. Each had mechanical movements with well-finished cases and dials, and complex sapphire crystals. Their cost was about $900.
Some of these have “Dunhill” on the wheel train bridge but also display ETA on the mainplate with a caliber 2660 movement. Although ETA’s are typically well finished, the Dunhill rendition has a luxury finish with Geneva stripes on rhodium plate, and an escapement with Glucydur balance.
In the 1990s Alfred Dunhill’s store on Jermyn Street was renovated to evoke the atmosphere of a private club, complete with a marble-floored humidor and a barber’s shop.
When Dunhill set out to revitalize its brand in the early 21st Century, it introduced its luxury products to a new generation of customers. This included its first female fragrance, Desire that the company launched in 2001. Currently, the firm has more than twenty fragrances available, the most recent introduced in 2017.
Alfred Dunhill has built a series of retail locations for men around the world and called, “the Homes of Alfred Dunhill.” The environment offers a range of services including a bespoke tailoring service, barber shop, fine wine cellars, bar or restaurant, screening room, and spa. The Homes are located in Tokyo, London, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
Alfred Dunhill Limited has licensed Inter Parfums, Inc. to produce and distribute fragrances under the Dunhill brand. The ten-year, worldwide agreement replaced Dunhill’s contract with Procter & Gamble that ended in April 2013.
Before the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s, Dunhill had numerous distribution and marketing agreements with several Cuban cigar manufacturers selling exclusive and hard to find brands such as Don Cándido and Dunhill’s own Selección Suprema line. Their inventory included various sizes from many famous cigar makers such as Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta.
Dunhill became famous as the tobacconist of choice for King George VI and inveterate cigar smoker, Sir Winston Churchill. A popular legend has it that when the Dunhill store on Jermyn Street was destroyed in the London Blitz, Dunhill employees called Sir Winston at four o’ clock in the morning to assure him his private collection of cigars (which he kept in the store’s humidor) had been moved to safety.
After the Cuban Revolution, Dunhill’s relationship with the country’s cigars continued through the Castro government’s tobacco monopoly, Cubatabaco. Dunhill was given exclusive rights to three different brands: Don Cándido, its own Don Alfredo, and La Flor del Punto, plus the numerous Selección Suprema sizes.
In 1967 the tobacco branch of Alfred Dunhill Ltd was sold off to become its own separate entity. In 1981 tobacco blending of Dunhill pipe tobaccos was transferred to Murrays, of Belfast, Ireland. In 2005 it was transferred to Orlik of Denmark.
Today, original Dunhill Cuban cigars have become prized items for connoisseurs and collectors and demand high prices at auctions and from vintage merchants.
Alfred Dunhill, Ltd., is headquartered in London where it also owns and operates a leather workshop. The company is currently owned by Richemont and managed by CEO Andrew Maag.
Dunhill sponsors golf tournaments, including the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (formerly the Alfred Dunhill Cup). Alfred Dunhill has also occasionally provided various accessories for James Bond movies, a relationship that began in 1962 when the production team requested a gunmetal cigarette lighter for Sean Connery’s introduction in, “Dr. No.” They received a special edition of the company’s distinct Rollagas butane lighter first introduced in the 1950s.
For more than a century, Alfred Dunhill has added to the status of those with the means and luxury to buy its products and enjoy life to the fullest. For nearly a hundred years, Dunhill has also been creating imaginative and distinctive timepieces for its well-heeled and discerning customers around the world.