A Swiss brand with American roots, Hamilton offers affordable watches with unique personalities. Vivian Stauffer joined the company in 2007 before being promoted to CEO in 2020. We went to Biel to discuss the brand’s releases with him and Hamilton’s latest film cameo on the wrist of Indiana Jones, no less!
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – You have released many novelties already this year. What is your product focus for 2023?
Vivian Stauffer, CEO of Hamilton – We are in June and have released important novelties in the first part of the year.
Among the highlights, we wanted to introduce something new to the Jazzmaster collection. We had a major launch on March 1st with the Performer. The Jazzmaster is a modern collection for Hamilton and is not inspired by one of our past models. It was born when the brand moved from the US to Switzerland in the early 2000s. Until recently, it was mainly associated with the Open Heart version, with its special dial opening. We wanted to give it a twist with a sportier, more dynamic look: we have reworked the case and added a tachymeter to bring more character.
Then, we presented some vintage-inspired watches – for us, the idea is not just to launch a vintage watch but to reinterpret these with a modern eye. There were two highlights, the Lady Necklace and the Pan Europ. Unveiled in June, they are clearly inspired by the past, but we have given them an interesting contemporary touch.
Last, there was the Khaki Navy Frogman 41mm, an animation of an important collection we launched last year with the Frogman 46mm.
What key trends are you trying to address in the market today?
We have 6 main collections at Hamilton. We have the three Khakis (Pilot, Field, Navy), the Jazzmaster we have just talked about, the American Classic, and the Ventura, the triangular watch everybody knows.
One of the key market trends is the push towards smaller watches, and we are responding. We had been releasing 44mm or 46mm watches, but we listened to our customers and responded to their requests for a smaller diameter with the Murph 38mm. So yes, we are reducing the size of our watches, illustrated by the launch of the Frogman 41mm I just mentioned or the Khaki Field 38 of last year.
Another trend that we see at Hamilton is linked to our online activity. A significant share of our business is done online. We estimate that over 40% of our sales are done online via our stores or through our partners. The reaction of customers is immediate; it is very fast. Whenever we launch a novelty, we must ensure we have enough inventory at all points to deliver the product to the end customer. People are not ready to wait. That involves quite a lot of work on the production and supply chain.
Your history is also a major source of inspiration.
Yes, our history has always inspired us; we like to dig into what has been done in the past. We have a rich history. The fact that Hamilton was born in the US is truly unique. A part of the archives is still there, and by digging into our past, we discover amazing things. It is a true treasure trove.
To answer your question, our history is often a point of departure for new developments, but it is not our only source. As mentioned, we do not want to do one-to-one reissues of past models but rather reinterpret these with a contemporary perspective.
There are three main periods: the Art Deco period from the 1920s and 1930s; the WWII with the Khaki Field when we were supplying the army with our products; then the decades spanning from the 1950s to 1970s with numerous technical or design innovations like the first electric watch in 1957, one of the first automatic chronographs (Editor’s note, the Chrono-matic) in the late 1960s, then the first digital watch…
What is the brand’s marketing focus?
We are known as the Hollywood brand. Last year, we did not have any film initiatives. As we celebrated the 130th anniversary of the brand, we wanted to focus on the brand and its history.
This year, we had a movie promotion in China with The Wandering Earth 2. We made a prop watch for Frant Gwo, who contacted us because he is a Christopher Nolan fan. It is the first prop watch outside of Hollywood for Hamilton, so this is a milestone!
And now, there is Indiana Jones, that will be soon on screens.
The other side of Hamilton’s universe is the world of aviation. We are partners with Air Zermatt and Air-Glaciers, but we also have other initiatives that are not as well known. I’d like to mention Smartflyer here in Switzerland, which are developing hybrid/electric planes. There is also Syroco. Syroco is designing a wind-powered vehicle that can break the 80-knot speed barrier. It is not per se aviation; it’s a hybrid between a boat and a plane. Most importantly, it is about innovation and breaking barriers. We like this pioneering spirit.
Last, we appreciate outdoor activities. People are going outdoors again and enjoying nature. We really believe our Khaki collection works in this context.
Back to Indiana Jones; what’s the story behind it? How was the connection created?
We pride ourselves in never trying to impose anything. There are filmmakers, custom designers, and prop masters; it is their job, and we let them design. We give people access to our collection, to modern or vintage watches, to prop watches and we let them decide. They are the ones to create emotions.
The production team asked us for watches from the 1940s, so we provided a choice of watches, and Harrison Ford’s team picked the Boulton. And I think it fits the character perfectly.
Hamilton seems to be in pretty good shape. What are the key challenges for the brand today?
Indeed, as you say, we are “in pretty good shape”. We are expecting a record year for Hamilton. One of the biggest challenges is to adapt to the modern world. We sell 40% online, which requires new resources and different expertise. It is a very different job, and we need different people to work toward the same goal, ensuring a consistent brand image and consistent service on and offline.
Production and supply chain management is also a major challenge. We are operating in a price segment of around CHF 1,000. I firmly believe that people buying watches in this segment are not ready to wait months for a Hamilton watch. So we need to have the stock on hand. The pandemic is behind us, but the lead time for component delivery really increased; it was four months, and it is now nine months.
If you had to pick one, which Hamilton watch would you get?
Since I love aviation and pilot a plane, the watch I wear most is the X-wind. And I like the Sandstorm we launched a couple of years ago.
I was wearing the Jazzmaster Performer Auto Chrono at the beginning of the year and genuinely enjoy this watch. But maybe the one I’ll be wearing soon is something we’ll be presenting in September, so stay tuned!
For more information, please visit HamiltonWatch.com.