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Hamilton: “We’re making the most of the vintage trend”

STRATEGY

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December 2019


Hamilton: “We're making the most of the vintage trend”

While smartwatches are visible absolutely everywhere in the United States, Hamilton, that most American of Swiss watchmakers, is experiencing a strong resurgence of popularity in the country, especially among younger generations. The brand is reaping the benefits of a long-term strategy from which it has not deviated, based on affordable, vintage-inspired mechanical watchmaking and pioneering e-commerce, while making the most of the industrial support of the Swatch Group.

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ver the past year, Europa Star has established a new presence in the United States, making it possible for us to better cover this key market (read our major report from March 2019 here). America is once again becoming the number one destination for Swiss watch exports in the world, surpassing Hong Kong, which remains in the grip of geopolitical uncertainty. At the same time, there is a strong resurgence of interest in vintage-style mechanical watches in the country, even though the Apple Watch and Fitbit are visible everywhere (during a recent field survey we counted at least one of these models in every row of a Washington-Detroit flight!).

There is a strong resurgence of interest in vintage-style mechanical watches in the USA, even though the Apple Watch and Fitbit are visible everywhere.

For Hamilton, a Swiss brand with American roots (now owned by the Swatch Group, it was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1892), the stars are aligning. With a strong presence in the cinema, over the past ten years it has implemented a strategy based around affordable mechanical watchmaking, in a niche between 500 and 1,500 dollars, inspired by models from its rich American past, including Elvis Presley’s Ventura and the Khaki Field. It has also relied heavily on online sales, which are exploding in the country. Today, the United States has once again become its number one market, neck and neck with Japan and Italy.

Sylvain Dolla has been the CEO of Hamilton since 2011. Prior to that, he began his career in the telecommunications industry, working for companies in Paris, London and Dubai. In 2004, he became Head of High Tech & Access at Swatch and managed the launch of various projects such as the “Swatch Paparazzi” in partnership with Microsoft.
Sylvain Dolla has been the CEO of Hamilton since 2011. Prior to that, he began his career in the telecommunications industry, working for companies in Paris, London and Dubai. In 2004, he became Head of High Tech & Access at Swatch and managed the launch of various projects such as the “Swatch Paparazzi” in partnership with Microsoft.

Direct-to-consumer at 30% growth

“Reinterpretation inspired by the past is something we have always done,” says Sylvain Dolla, CEO of Hamilton. “Today, it is in the spirit of the times, but we’re doing no more and no less than before. We are benefiting from the trend of a return to the roots of design, especially among younger generations. For example, the Khaki Field collection works very well as a graduation gift in the United States. The Boulton’s relaunch in the United States also looks promising.”

The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical line is a reinterpretation of the W10 produced for the Royal Air Force in the 1970s. Having supplied the U.S. Armed Forces in the 1940s, Hamilton provided watches to the British Army during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. One of the most popular watches was the W10, produced between 1973 and 1976.
The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical line is a reinterpretation of the W10 produced for the Royal Air Force in the 1970s. Having supplied the U.S. Armed Forces in the 1940s, Hamilton provided watches to the British Army during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. One of the most popular watches was the W10, produced between 1973 and 1976.

For nearly a decade, Hamilton has not deviated from its course, which begins with visibility through the world of cinema. Its first collaboration with Hollywood was back in 1932. Today, Hamilton is very active on the silver screen – this year, we saw the Ventura in the new Men in Black movie, and the Khaki Field Chrono in the Jack Ryan series, as well as the launch of a public version of the Murph seen in Interstellar. Hamilton is also active behind the scenes, through collaborations with costume guilds, awards for cameramen and film schools.

“Reinterpretation inspired by the past is something we have always done,” says Sylvain Dolla, CEO of Hamilton. “Today, it is in the spirit of the times, but we’re doing no more and no less than before."

“We gained a lot of market share in 2019 in the United States,” explains Sylvain Dolla. “The strategic mix of cinema, the American spirit, mechanical movement, affordable price and vintage trend is a winning combination. The digital direct-to-consumer channel is already 30% up from last year. In addition, our major partners are performing well online.”

Not on the price surge bandwagon

Nevertheless, the brand still achieves 80% of its sales in brick-and-mortar stores. Ten years ago, Hamilton boasted twice the number of points of sale in the United States, but it achieved only half of its current turnover. The CEO says: “The fundamental work was to refocus on 360 high-performance points of sale, whether independent watchmakers or regional chains, as well as to develop our online platform.”

For next year, Sylvain Dolla has announced a “new, very contemporary and modern pilot line.” And at the same time, a “limited edition of a revolutionary piece of watchmaking history.”

The brand also benefits from its price stability, at a time when the Swiss mechanical industry has taken an “elevator to the stratosphere” since the beginning of the millennium. “The average price has only moved one franc this year, to 900 francs. A move up the range would frighten me: the range between 500 and 1,500 francs offers great potential, precisely because there are very few brands nowadays that offer mechanics at this price. Quartz is secondary, it represents about 20% of our volume.” With ETA as a support within the group, Hamilton has invested heavily in developing mechanical calibres, and has introduced silicon balance springs for its chronographs and NivachronTM for three-handed movements.

1969 was the year of the first automatic chronograph movement. The Caliber 11 inspired the designs of dozens of sporty models from 1969 onwards. The Hamilton Chrono-Matic 50 was launched In celebration of the 50th anniversary of this milestone.
1969 was the year of the first automatic chronograph movement. The Caliber 11 inspired the designs of dozens of sporty models from 1969 onwards. The Hamilton Chrono-Matic 50 was launched In celebration of the 50th anniversary of this milestone.

For next year, Sylvain Dolla has announced a “new, very contemporary and modern pilot line.” And at the same time, a “limited edition of a revolutionary piece of watchmaking history.” For him, it is vital to work on both axes in parallel: “We have to be careful, because we see a lot of vintage being overused today. Recent brands that make vintage, it doesn’t make sense. We are not following the trend.”

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