ollowing on from its 130th anniversary in 2022, which Hamilton celebrated with a host of new releases, 2023 promises to be a particularly innovative year for the American-born Swiss brand, with several major launches on the way after last year’s additions to existing product families.
Sales-wise, the brand has done better than average in a complex segment - quality Swiss watches at affordable prices – that has seen volume decline in recent years. A firm foothold in e-commerce, set to further expand this year, will help it stay ahead of the curve. CEO Vivian Stauffer looks back at 2022 and talks about plans for the future.
- Vivian Stauffer, CEO of Hamilton
Europa Star: Tell us about the big launches from Hamilton in 2022.
Vivian Stauffer: Well it was a special year – our 130th anniversary - so there were a lot of new releases! Hamilton was established on December 14, 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Rather than a single commemorative watch, we decided to launch a special piece in each of our key product families. For example, the Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph, inspired by the chronographs issued to British RAF pilots in the 1970s, the Railroad Pocket Watch – possibly the most “commemorative” of all, limited to 917 pieces in reference to Hamilton’s original location at 917 Columbia Avenue in Lancaster –, the new Khaki Navy Frogman and, rounding out the year, the Khaki Field Murph 38 mm, which garnered a lot of positive attention. The new year has also got off to a strong start with the PSR MTX, made for the Matrix Resurrections movie.
- Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Chronograph
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Hamilton’s history is partly in the United States and partly in Switzerland. Was the 130th anniversary an opportunity to make the public more aware of the brand’s heritage?
Yes, although there’s still a lot we can do in this department. Hamilton’s roots are profoundly American, which clearly differentiates us on the Swiss watch scene. We like to draw on this dual heritage: “American Spirit, Swiss Precision”, as we call it. Hamilton also has strong ties to the motion picture industry, which helps. Each year we present the Hamilton Behind the Camera Awards. Making watches specifically as props for the big screen encourages innovation, too.
- Railroad Pocket Watch
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What conclusion can you draw for 2022?
We outperformed our segment. Figures published by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) for 2022 show that the CHF 200-500 export price segment contracted by 17%, whereas we are well above that trend. This is thanks to the many new releases I mentioned earlier, but also thanks to strong e-commerce. We opened four new e-commerce platforms in 2022, bringing the total to thirteen. We’re reaching more and more markets through online sales.
There have been significant backlogs in component supplies. How have you dealt with this?
Production times have doubled and we have to adapt to that. Wait times are levelling off but are still substantially longer than before Covid-19. Now we have to schedule volumes a year in advance and if we underestimate requirements it means waiting an additional eight months for certain parts - knowing that in our price range, customers perhaps aren’t as willing to wait as they would be in the Fine Watch segment. Pretty much all our component orders for this year have been placed and we’re working on product development for 2024. Being part of Swatch Group helps, as 80% of our components are manufactured within the group. In fact the movement is the only component whose wait time hasn’t changed.
- Khaki Field Murph 38 mm
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What are your main objectives for 2023?
We put major launches on hold last year so we could focus on the commemorative watches. This year we’ll be introducing new product families.
You mentioned e-commerce. Can you tell us more about Hamilton’s distribution strategy for the coming years?
We have 25 subsidiaries worldwide but only 13 e-commerce platforms, hence we’ll be opening new markets to online sales. If you include our partners’ e-commerce sites, around 40% of our production is sold online. One strategic challenge, and something I’m working hard for, is to maintain accessible prices, meaning under CHF 1,000 for the automatic models and under CHF 2,000 for the chronographs. It’s a tough call given that component prices are increasing across the board. The only way to offset a rise in component costs is to increase volume. We want to maintain a healthy balance between physical and digital sales, and make it easier for the 3,500 or so points of sale worldwide that carry Hamilton to join our e-commerce platform – including those that don’t currently sell online.
- Ventura Bright
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Which market has the most untapped potential?
Anywhere we’re not yet present, especially for online sales. Of course we make the most sales in major markets such as the US and China, but if we could achieve the same penetration in all our markets as we have in Japan, Italy or South Korea, I’d be more than satisfied!
What about certified pre-owned?
We get inspiration from our vintage models and it’s a market we follow, but becoming directly involved isn’t a priority. We’re in the process of gathering information about the brand, which has relocated several times in the course of its history. These are important resources before we can consider the pre-owned market more widely.