Swatch Group


Hamilton: “Lack of competition can be a problem, too”

INTERVIEW

March 2024


Hamilton: “Lack of competition can be a problem, too”

Hamilton, with its American roots, has become a pillar of “accessible” Swiss watchmaking. Its Ventura is particularly in the spotlight this year. But as prices across the market are driven upwards, the brand is confronted with a weakened ecosystem in its segment and the challenges this entails, not least in distribution.

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amilton started the year on a roll. The Swatch Group brand – which has supplied countless timepieces for the big screen – is behind the Desert Watch that Gen Z favourite Timothée Chalamet wears in Dune: Part Two.

Originating in the United States and headquartered in Biel, Switzerland, Hamilton has released two limited-edition Ventura, both inspired by the on-screen wrist device. Beyond products, the brand is part of an ecosystem which has been impacted by the gradual premiumisation of the Swiss watch industry.

We sat down with CEO Vivian Stauffer.

Europa Star: Logistics are a major challenge for the Swiss watch industry and more so for high-volume brands such as Hamilton with production in the hundreds of thousands per year. How much planning does it take to ensure deadlines are met?

Vivian Stauffer: It’s a never-ending battle! There used to be a delivery time of four months for certain components. Now it’s more like nine months. We have a policy not to take back orders. Unlike the luxury segment, people aren’t prepared to wait for a CHF 1,000 watch, which means we have to place all our orders well in advance. At least a year before launch. Just as importantly, we have to properly evaluate each model’s potential. If we underestimate demand, we have no room to manoeuvre and that costs us sales.

Hamilton designed the Desert Watch for Denis Villeneuve's Dune: Part Two.
Hamilton designed the Desert Watch for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two.

Has that ever happened?

Yes, with the Khaki Field Bronze that came out in 2022. This was a new metal for Hamilton and so quantity-wise, we erred on the side of caution. Because of bottlenecks in the supply chain, it took us 18 months to meet the high level of demand. We learned a lesson. Now I prefer we have stock so we can respond to demand. It’s money in the bank.

Hamilton is introducing seven new products to its Khaki Aviation Pilot collection. In 1918 a Hamilton watch timed the US Post Office's first air mail service, between New York and Washington, D.C.
Hamilton is introducing seven new products to its Khaki Aviation Pilot collection. In 1918 a Hamilton watch timed the US Post Office’s first air mail service, between New York and Washington, D.C.

Are most of your suppliers part of Swatch Group?

Yes. This is also true for 80% of assembly. However, given our need for greater capacity, we are working again with companies outside the group. This brings challenges of its own as each process must be approved, which can take six months just for a dial.

Hamilton: “Lack of competition can be a problem, too”

Swatch Group dominates the segment for Swiss watches under CHF 3,000. I imagine this leaves the way wide open for Hamilton?

Well you’d be mistaken! As surprising as it may seem, weaker competition is a big problem for us. Competition generates interest. A retailer will only be interested in a segment when there is an ecosystem of brands operating within it. We are a wholesale brand selling through numerous partners. We have to be part of an ecosystem. We can’t ask retailers to set up an own-name boutique, unlike luxury brands. Some retailers might decide to pull out of the segment altogether, to focus on premium brands. The entire market has been pushed towards the high end, particularly with exchange rates driving everyone’s prices up. It’s a structural challenge for us and for the Swiss watch industry.

In 1957 Hamilton launched the first ever electrical watch: the Ventura. The current lineup includes six models inspired by Elvis Presley's hit single, Blue Suede Shoes.
In 1957 Hamilton launched the first ever electrical watch: the Ventura. The current lineup includes six models inspired by Elvis Presley’s hit single, Blue Suede Shoes.

Is e-commerce the solution?

Yes. We make 40% of our sales online and our five main “boutiques” worldwide are digital rather than physical. Having said that, the situation varies significantly between countries. It’s a far more popular channel in the US than in Italy, for example. This is why we have considerably more brick-and-mortar outlets in Italy – 600 – compared with a much larger market like the United States, where we have 450 physical points of sale. We can also use digital to identify where we have the strongest potential geographically. India is one key market which we have still to explore.

Hamilton: “Lack of competition can be a problem, too”

So which are your top five markets?

The United States, Italy, Japan, South Korea and China, so you can see we have an even spread between Asia, Europe and North America. Also, we have a lesser dependence on tourist spending because we target first and foremost local clienteles, including in very touristic zones. Given global inflation, leading to a rising cost of living, I think a certain number of new customers will be discovering the more affordable Swiss watches that Hamilton offers.

A button on the Ventura Bright activates glowing blue lines that mirror the dial for the Desert Watch featured in Dune: Part Two. The Ventura Edge has a matte black PVD-coated angular case while the blue digital display replicates the relief elements on the film's prop watch.
A button on the Ventura Bright activates glowing blue lines that mirror the dial for the Desert Watch featured in Dune: Part Two. The Ventura Edge has a matte black PVD-coated angular case while the blue digital display replicates the relief elements on the film’s prop watch.

What new releases can we look forward to this year?

Film is one of the areas we’re exploring. Already, 2023 was an eventful year in that respect, with the Boulton for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the watches made for The Wandering Earth 2, and the watches Oppenheimer wore in Christopher Nolan’s film. He actually scoured our archives for a period Hamilton watch that he wanted but we didn’t physically have one! Fortunately we were able to source one through our network of collectors. Ever since Dark Knight, we’ve enjoyed excellent relations with Christopher Nolan.

This year we’re bringing out two models inspired by Dune: Part Two. Director Denis Villeneuve contacted us – as the “watchmaker of filmmakers” – to imagine a futuristic device; the Desert Watch that Timothée Chalamet wears in the movie. This inspired us for two limited-edition Ventura with a luminous blue dial in reference to the Fremen’s characteristic blue eyes. And this is just the beginning, as we’ll be introducing some 70 new products this year.

Hamilton: “Lack of competition can be a problem, too”

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