The Cheltonian > Articles

Nigel Dimmer

The man with the golden cup! crack

A. Burchard meets the custodian of one of the most precious trophies in the world.

If anyone had told me that I’d meet the man who has held the Cheltenham Gold Cup in his hands more often than anyone in history I would probably not have believed them – but I have. Nigel Dimmer is the owner of the famous Martin & Co. jewellers one the corner of the Promenade. Both his family business and the Promenade probably started at the same time. Nigel is the fourth generation of purveyors of happiness in the shape of beautiful jewellery and fine watches to the people of Cheltenham and beyond. I met him in his shop which, for an ordinary weekday lunchtime, seemed quite busy. People who enter this establishment know that they will have the full attention of the staff for as long as they choose. The shop ambiance allows thought, time to choose and time to change one’s mind.

‘I thought you’d come to talk about the races and the Gold Cup,’ Nigel said. Of course I did. Lately, the papers have been running articles with headlines such as ‘Trophy man bows out’ about Nigel, the bowler hat-clad doyen of the winner’s enclosure. They also reported that Nigel Dimmer, who has wonderful memories of the Queen Mother, was a little tearful at the thought that he is retiring this year as custodian of the Festival trophies. In July this year Nigel is also retiring from the business and handing over to his nephew, Jonathan Dimmer, the fifth generation of jewellers.

Nigel Dimmer’s great-grandfather, also a jeweller, was at one time mayor of Cheltenham. Having passed on his expertise to his four sons, he installed each one of them in a jeweller’s business of his own, in Chester, Portsmouth and Cheltenham. Following in his father’s footsteps, Nigel took over in 1970.
Has much in the jewellery business changed since those grey days in the 1970s, I asked.

‘Yes, it was a rather grey world them,’ he agrees. ‘At one time pearls were going through a very low patch. Then came along Princess Diana. She wore a pearl chokers and suddenly everyone wanted one. Traditionally pearls had been worn in a long strings. Today platinum jewellery is much in demand, for weddings and other occasions. In Edwardian times there was rose gold. That is beginning to come back.’
He has also had to adapt his stock to cater for the younger generations who now prefer less fussy styles than their mothers and grandmothers.

‘In our shop we have seen one generation after another of the same families. It is the trust that people have in us which is satisfying.’

I had seen the very classy watches by all the great names in his window. What is the most expensive watch you’ve ever sold, I wanted to know.

‘It’s not about the money,’ he side-steps my question, ‘it’s about what it means to the person who receives it. At the moment, people are getting so little return from the money they invest, it seems they prefer to spend it on a beautiful Rolex, for example.’

I couldn’t agree more. One doesn’t get much pleasure from looking at a bank statement these days, whereas a beautiful watch or piece or jewellery is a wonderful thing to have.

‘A high value piece should not be seen as an investment. It should mean something.’

What changed the world of watches was the arrival of the quartz watches. Their accuracy as well as the production cost had a massive impact..

‘We have a Rolex watchmaker in the shop. He is Scottish. He is a fantastic craftsman. It’s an beautiful thing to see him work,’ Nigel says with real admiration. ‘In the early days there was such a love of making an object. There were the silver-backed hair brushes which were given to young ladies. All the bristles were threaded in by hand. Now none in England knows how to do that.’

Do you work with silversmiths in the UK or aren’t there enough of them left, I ask.

‘We work with people in Birmingham, as well as with jewellers in London. In London’s Hatton Gardens I can ask my colleagues for any item and I can get it. There is a huge amount of trust and one’s reputation is everything.’

But, as I guessed at the beginning of our conversation, the Gold Cup and the races are Nigel’s great love. He has been the custodian of the 45 perpetual trophies for many years.

The Gold Cup itself is made of 9 carat gold on an onyx base and now costs around £10,000. It is probably the most prestigious trophy in the world. It takes eight men to craft it and Martin & Co. puts it on view to the public in the shop. Anyone can touch it or take a photograph.

I ask if it doesn’t make him nervous to have such valuable items in his care.

‘In my business there is always the need for vigilance. Two years ago we were the victim of an armed raid. At 5pm three robber burst in. They broke at lot of the shop windows.’

‘What can one do. One doesn’t want to be a hero in that situation. I told them to take what they wanted. That’s when we introduced our man at the door.’

As a parting question I want to know if he has a passion above all others.

‘It’s the people, our customers and their trust.’

So, after the 31st of July, what are his plans?

He has been reported to say that he loves the Cheltenham races so much, he’d do anything, even clean the toilets, just to remain involved.
‘I have projects. I shall be doing some lectures in Cambridge on the subject of silver. I believe in passing on knowledge.’

I hope he will do so for many years. I knew there was more to Nigel Dimmer, quite a lot more.