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Learning About The Past, Present and Future of Hamilton with CEO Vivian Stauffer

Reflecting on three and a half years in charge of the brand, Vivan Stauffer talks us through some of the biggest highlights and challenges for Hamilton.

| By Robin Nooy | 10 min read |
Hamilton Khaki Field Expedition Collection

With a history spanning more than 130 years, Hamilton has an extensive archive to choose from when it comes to designing and developing new watches. But there’s far more to the brand than just rekindling past models, as the brand also looks to the future. Vivian Stauffer, CEO of the brand since July 1st 2020, aims to create a legacy that people will look back on in 40 or 50 years’ time with as much pride as people now look back at Hamilton’s past. So, with the chance to ask Mr Stauffer a few questions, we learned more about Hamilton’s past, present and future.

Hamilton Jazzmaster Performer Automatic Chronograph 42mm

Robin Nooij, MONOCHROME – Vivian, looking back at 3.5 years of being CEO for Hamilton so far, what has been the biggest takeaway or lesson for you in this tumultuous time?

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Vivian Stauffer, CEO of Hamilton: I have worked for Hamilton since 2007, and when I became CEO, I didn’t have to learn about a new brand, its history and collections, a new team or the people in the market. I have been with the brand for many years, so it wasn’t too hard to take up the leading role. My key learning, however, since I started in the middle of the pandemic, is not to be too dependent on one specific thing. It can become a real challenge when you’re dependent on a country, a population, a price point, etc. Hamilton is quite well spread around the world, so that’s a strength when facing something like COVID-19 or conflict in countries and so on. We managed to get through it quite well as a company, with no big issues.

Vivian Stauffer, the CEO of Hamilton since 1 July 2020.

The second thing I want to mention is that people can still make a difference. With the passion and dedication our people have for the brand, whatever happened outside that was linked to the brand has not affected us too much. Our industry produces an emotional product, and whenever we read bad news, we can always go back to something that brings us a positive feeling instead. It can be a walk in the park, a conversation with a friend, a watch, anything. It provides something pleasurable instead of being constantly overwhelmed with bad news. Talking about Hamilton, I also think it’s good we were able to introduce new watches during these three years, bringing positive emotions to people.

Hamilton Khaki Navy Scuba Auto 43mm Green H82525160

This year also has also had its fair share of challenges, I’m sure. What have been the biggest ones for Hamilton?

So, to be totally frank, the biggest one for Hamilton in 2023 is pricing. We have seen a rise in the cost of materials, electricity and other resources due to conflict or inflation. That is definitely having an impact on the cost of our product, on distribution, on shipping, on all different levels. The life of a product from development to production and distribution takes us about two years, so during that time, a lot can happen, and a lot has happened that has had an impact on the retail price.

That has been affecting us a great deal because it’s not our choice but rather forced upon us all from the outside. In reality, it hurts a little bit as we love to see our watches – our babies – grow, but it’s going too fast from our perspective. That’s something to cope with and we have to challenge ourselves, to be creative and introduce something new, to cut costs or change the perception of the brand. There are different options to be explored, but it’s a big challenge for sure.

The new 40mm Jazzmaster Skeleton.

There have also been some high points for Hamilton this year, for instance, with the new Jazzmaster Performer range. How is that collection performing?

I’ll go back a little further than the Jazzmaster Performer if you don’t mind. In 2022, we celebrated our 130th anniversary. We decided to concentrate on the roots of Hamilton, so we didn’t have any movie collaboration or big marketing campaigns; it was more about our product and the storytelling of the brand. I don’t want to get stuck on this ‘vintage’ aspect too much because we’re not doing exactly the same now as we did sixty years ago. We have to look forward and create the story of the future for people in 2060 to be able to look back at what we did in 2023, hopefully with pride. Looking back is good, and we have the chance to explore our strong history, but we also have to create tomorrow’s story.

The Jazzmaster is the perfect collection to do that. It’s still relatively young, and it’s more “Swiss” than others because it was created after we moved from the US to Switzerland. We didn’t push it much during 2022, so we wanted to introduce something new, something more contemporary for this year. We started with the Face-to-Face and continued with the Jazzmaster Performer and Open Heart. We felt it needed a little more character, a more sport-chic approach, which is the Jazzmaster Performer.

The launch was quite soft, but we see that it’s gaining more and more traction. With this one, we are going outside our comfort zone, so it’s exciting to see how people react to it. It has nothing to do with the Khaki collection, which is our DNA, if you will. We wanted to give a new push to the Jazzmaster collection, so we totally reworked the case design and went for a more sports-oriented look.

Hamilton Jazzmaster Performer Automatic 38mm

Then there’s the recently launched Khaki Field Expedition. Can you tell us more about that?

With the Khaki collection, we take a look back at our heritage. During the Second World War, the US military asked us if we could build watches for them, and we completely stopped producing watches for end-consumers. During this time, we built more than 1 million pieces for the US Army, and that’s linked to our Khaki Aviation, Field and Navy collections. So it’s really coming from those three branches, and it’s quite easy to activate the Khaki Aviation and Khaki Navy. For the Khaki Aviation, you can look into silicon components to combat magnetism, or for the Khaki Navy, you can incorporate a helium escape valve or rubber straps. The Khaki Field, however, is the quintessential military field watch by Hamilton. It’s basic, extremely legible and simple.

Hamilton Khaki Field Expedition Collection

We wanted to bring something new to the family, but what do you do with such a focused tool watch? We can’t touch this core product too much without offending its authenticity. It’s a proper tool watch, the ‘go-anywhere-do-anything’ watch, aimed at outdoor activities. And if it was the watch fit for American soldiers during WWII, it is fit for anyone doing just about anything. So that’s why we decided to introduce this Khaki Field Expedition, to rework the case, to offer something new in addition to the Khaki Field collection. It has a turning bezel, the lug-to-lug is a bit shorter, the crystal has an anti-reflective coating, it has a screw-down crown, etc. – all elements people have been asking for in one way or another. It’s a watch that invites people to go outside and explore new horizons – very much in the spirit of the Khaki Field.

Hamilton Khaki Field Expedition Collection

So this is very much a consumer-driven development?

Absolutely! We listen to our audience, we follow them, and we listen to their feedback. As Hamilton, we’re lucky to have a very dedicated fanbase. If you go to Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and so on, we have a close relationship with a lot of groups of consumers who are highly dedicated and understand what Hamilton is and should be. And honestly, eight times out of ten, we understand it, and they’re right. And when that happens, we tend to look at how to incorporate that feedback in new models and collections, such as the Khaki Field Expedition.

Hamilton Khaki Field Expedition Collection

Regarding that, do you see changes in the industry and consumer market in terms of how people experience or purchase watches or interact with brands? And does that affect Hamilton at all?

The thing is, when you get feedback from consumers, it’s often linked to a specific product. To take that into account for future releases takes time, as it takes us about two years to develop a new product. Right now, we’re already working on 2025, 2026 and beyond in regards to which direction we want to take the brand. But in every step, we try to put the customer first. What do they want? What are they telling us?

Hamilton Jazzmaster Performer Automatic 38mm

This is definitely a change from the past, as it happens on a larger scale but also at a faster pace. From my perspective, there’s a clash of generations happening right now, which is very interesting. At Hamilton, we have the chance to talk to both a very seasoned, older group of collectors and enthusiasts as well as a very young generation that’s new to watches and to the brand, perhaps.  How these communities experience watches is quite different, as the older generation tends to go for brick-and-mortar points of sale, whereas the younger generation has no issue doing everything online, even purchasing a watch. Right now, we have about 40% of our sales going through our e-commerce platform.

Since you mention movies, and Hamilton is considered “the watchmaker to the filmmaker” as well as being featured in some major Hollywood blockbusters, how has that impacted the brand?

It’s huge. It really is. Watches like the one used in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny really saw a spike in interest and sales. The Boulton was never really pushed, and it just happened to be picked to be featured in the movie, but people responded strongly to it. We basically have three ways of working with movie studios. The first is to provide them with a wide selection of the current collection of watches. We do not dictate what they use or what would fit a character, but they have at their disposal whatever they want. Every three to six months, we change the selection to keep it up to date with our latest releases.

Providing them with vintage watches is another option, for instance, with Oppenheimer. Christopher Nolan was very specific about which watch he wanted, and for this, we had to go through our archives or even purchase watches from collectors to supply them to the Oppenheimer production team. And finally, we can make a prop watch, like we did for Interstellar. If you take Interstellar, for us, it’s like Everest in terms of reach. We developed a prop watch without asking or knowing how it will be used; that’s their job and passion. To us, having the watch being used to save the world was a great story, and people demanded we make it available, so we did. It’s a really interesting and exciting way of working for us.

Hamilton Ventura Elvis80 Skeleton

Is there anything coming up for next year that you can share with us already?

We have a lot of things coming up, but for the beginning of the year, we will still focus on the Khaki Field Expedition. We will also release a new Pilot collection, which is another pillar collection of Hamilton. It’s important for the brand, so we want to give it another push next year with new developments. Then there’s the Ventura, our true icon watch, and for next year, we will have a special Ventura XXL Dragon with a skeletonized dial. Although I’m not able to disclose too much, there’s also another big movie watch coming in 2023, but we don’t know when exactly as there’s no release date set yet.

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2 responses

  1. Excited to see the upcoming pilot watches. I and many others feel that the field and pilot style watches are where Hamilton really shines.

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