Accessible luxury is one of the most competitive segments in the watch industry. But gauging by the performance metrics of Hamilton watches, Sylvain Dolla’s role as CEO of the company since 2011 has been a success. For 2020, the brand is launching interesting new products: mechanical watches, as you would expect, but also a cool tribute to a milestone in the history of Hamilton, the world’s first digital watch aka the Hamilton Pulsar. Despite the difficult situation today, we were able to sit down with Sylvain Dolla in Biel.
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – With its rich DNA, Hamilton creates fascinating watches. What makes them different?
Sylvain Dolla, CEO of Hamilton Watches – What we try to do when we design our watches is to infuse our American spirit. We are lucky to have such a rich history. We infuse this heritage in our products. For example, this year we are launching the Hamilton PSR, a tribute to the first digital watch, the Hamilton Pulsar. In the late 1960s, we designed one of the first automatic chronographs; this is why we decided to create new Valjoux-based chronographs with silicon hairsprings and increased power reserve.
We pay attention to every detail. We want to produce watches with a strong character. We are obsessed with detail. Hamilton has always been design-centric. Take any of the watches we are launching this year, you’ll see that we are pushing our suppliers to the limit, the polishing of parts, the sunray finish on our dials…
What will be the key focus with regards to new products in the coming months?
We are presenting new movements; in particular, we’ll be using paramagnetic Nivachron hairsprings for our three-hand Hamilton H-10 and we’ll also incorporate silicon hairsprings inside our chronographs. We had a limited edition that we pre-launched with a COSC-certified silicon hairspring chronograph, and we are now rolling it out in new models with the Khaki Aviation Converter.
So, we are still investing in new mechanical movements, but also this year we are investing in this new digital module for the Hamilton PSR (Editor’s note: an innovative hybrid reflective LCD/emissive OLED display). We keep investing and have launched 16 movements in the past seven to eight years! Mechanical watches are at the core of our strategy. They represent more than 80% of our turnover. We’ll continue to invest in mechanical movements with the industrial support of ETA, naturally.
Hamilton watches are exceptional value for money. We all know that Swatch Group is a fantastic manufacturing machine, but how do you benefit from this powerhouse while developing tailor-made solutions?
We have grown strongly over the past 15 years. Being part of Swatch Group has been a key growth driver. Take the example of the PSR, we had the idea to develop this project two years ago and we were able to produce this watch and its unique display in Switzerland with our colleagues of Asulab and EM Microelectronic. This is unique. That would have been much more difficult without their support.
The same goes with this Valjoux silicon hairspring. A few years ago, we went to see ETA with a request. We wanted a Valjoux with a power reserve that can get you through a weekend with your watch still running. We took this market feedback to ETA and they developed a solution. It is great to have such good quality cooperation and such support.
But besides movements, I could talk about Universo for hands, about Rubattel for our dials, about Comadur for crystals…
The smartwatch expansion seems to come at the expense of lower-priced Swiss timepieces. What’s your take on connected technology?
We focus on mechanical movements. We design lasting products. I see the current connected watch as a commodity. Our clients want emotional products that are durable. At Hamilton, we do not close this door but if we were to go into connected watches, it would be only for fine watches that would be durable and would integrate certain connectivity.
We were talking about the brand’s unique relationship with Hollywood. Any upcoming initiatives you can mention?
We have a big initiative coming this summer. I can’t tell you much more for now although it will have something to do with a new version of Khaki BeLOWZERO. Something very special for a very special movie.
Distribution pays a pivotal role in the industry. How do you shape the brand’s presence in an omnichannel perspective?
Omnichannel is key to great customer journeys. Besides brick and mortar, I’d like to stress that we have invested strongly in e-commerce and we were one of the first watch brands to launch e-shops. We are now developing click and collect. Today we have six e-commerce sites, some 3,500 point of sales worldwide and four mono-brand boutiques. Our partnership in China with JD.com (Editor’s note: one of China’s top e-commerce sites) is extremely successful. And we are supporting our retailers to develop their own online sites.
How have you adapted your activities to the Coronavirus situation?
We are lucky to be a brand with solid vitality and strong growth over the past years. We were planning strong growth again this year and will have to revise this, we need to be agile. We are still selling well on e-commerce. Chinese shoppers are now slowly returning to shops. We know the coming weeks will be slow in Europe and naturally, we need to adapt activities there. We have to prepare for the future. Our Italian team daily operations are reduced now but they are working on their strategic plan for the next three years. Last but not least, being part of a group like Swatch is also reassuring.
More details at hamiltonwatch.com.