Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews

Navigating the watch segment of €500 to €1,200 is like sailing in stormy seas. To get to safe harbour at the end of the year as one of the best-selling brands is a veritable feat, especially if there is a perfect storm brewing in the form of low sales, cut-throat competition, and the emergence of smartwatches. I've known Sylvain Dolla, Hamilton’s CEO, for some years now, and he has always been extremely agreeable and open. I managed to talk to him just before Baselworld to find out his thoughts on Hamilton's sales strategy, how the brand wants to face the "connected" phenomenon, and his strategy in Hollywood.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews

aBlogtoWatch (ABTW): Just to have an idea of where Hamilton is today, which are your main markets?

Sylvain Dolla: For the last seven years, we have had fantastic growth and we are present in 70 countries. But in terms of sales, the main markets are Italy, US, Japan, Korea, and China. In Europe, Spain is very important because it is the third market for us after Italy and France. In fact, France and Spain are nearly at the same level.

ABTW: Why are you so successful in your market?

Sylvain Dolla: If you look at our main markets (Italy, Spain, France, Korea) they are the most demanding in terms of sophistication in products. And the press is the pickiest in terms of looking at details and perceived value. Japan is a trend-setting market in Asia, and Italy is probably the leader in terms of style for watches. So I'm very happy that the brand is performing well in one of the most demanding watch markets.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews

ABTW: You say that Spain demands quality and sophistication, is price a factor too?

Sylvain Dolla: Price is important everywhere, and more and more people want to buy a quality product with real history at a right price. And for that, Hamilton is perfect because it has a rich history, an authentic history. We don't invent stories, for instance, when we talk about Hollywood - it goes back to 1950; or when we talk about aviation, because it goes back to right after WWI. People are more and more conscious about brand content. Nowadays people know more and more, and when they go to a shop they know exactly what they want, and they care about authenticity. And of course they do not want to be fooled. We are the leaders of the €500-1,200 mechanical watch segment because people know there is a lot of value in the product. We are talking about dials, the way we apply indexes with satin and polished contrast... lots of details that make the product feel nice at a reasonable price. At €500 or €1,200, it is already a lot of money, even if in the watch industry it is called entry price. For normal people this is money, and if I am going to spend €1,000 on something, I am going to think twice what I spend it on, and I don't just want a name. I want something with content, with fine details. That's why we rank so high.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews

ABTW: And how do you balance your American heritage with Hamilton being a fully Swiss company?

Sylvain Dolla: Actually, for us it is great to have this dual nationality. We have an American upbringing, so to speak, and it is an inspiration for us. We have been in more than 400 movies so far, and this year we are coming up again in a movie, in Independence Day: Resurgence. We have Elvis Presley (you can see the Elvis Ventura 80 watch hands-on here). That's why our new collection is called Broadway, and we want the watch to be a permanent reminder of New York. We will never neglect the American part in favor of the Swiss part. To inspire people, our American Heritage is the key, and the Swiss part gives credibility about reliability.

ABTW: How do you get the Hollywood studios to use your watches over other brands?

Sylvain Dolla: We don't have to sell it, they already know us. We know the costume designer, the prop master.... We've been working with them since 1950. When they want watches, they come to us. When Christopher Nolan did Interstellar and he wanted one specific watch designed for the movie he knew he could contact us and we would do it in record time, a concept watch we don't even sell. You cannot delete 60 years of collaboration just like that.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews

ABTW: So, for instance, The Martian. Someone came to you and said "I want a BelowZero for Matt Damon?"

Sylvain Dolla: Actually they came and asked for a different model, and we said, "are you sure?" So we looked at the script at a very early stage and we were able to sway their decision slightly. Or some other times, as I said, we customize them for the movies.

ABTW: Would you say that one of your main competitors are the sister companies of the Swatch Group like Certina, Tissot, Mido...?

Sylvain Dolla: I wouldn't say that because without the Swatch Group we would never be where we are today. Several of the watches we present this year come from ideas that we had and took to ETA to develop. Any company would love to have access to such powerful sources of technology. What is true, however, is that the leaders of the market are companies like those you have mentioned and, yes, they are very big in our price segment.

ABTW: This year brands have not gone crazy with novelties, there are not very many newcomers on the scene...

Sylvain Dolla: Well, we are presenting 57 new references. Actually, we are bringing two strategic product launches: Khaki Navy Frogman (hands-on here) and Broadway. And then the Khaki Field has new cases and new dials.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews
Hamilton Broadway Auto Chrono watch

ABTW: Well congratulations, that is certainly not the tendency of the market these days because things are rough: costs are going up, sales are going down, January was a shock for everybody and...

Sylvain Dolla: They were excellent for Hamilton, and February was fantastic too.

ABTW: Well, congratulations again! But do you think brands will follow that path of being more cautious, of taking things more slowly?

Sylvain Dolla: Let me say first that if I look at Hamilton in the US and Japan, I have to say that the market is not bad at all. But coming back to your question, I think the day you stop being creative you die. If you only think about sales when you are developing your product, you will not last longer than a few years. If we start to restrict ourselves because there is a tough market situation, it would be a terrible mistake. For instance, this year we launched not one, but two limited editions, well out of the average Hamilton price range: one at €3,700 and the other at €5,000 - a solid-gold watch! We sell a gold watch every, I don't know, 10 years, because it is not our core business at all.

What I mean to say is that we need to continue being creative. It doesn't mean launching too many watches. We took the decision to launch between 50 and 60 references per year and not more. Because even when times are good, retailers do not have unlimited space. So it would be crazy to double that quantity. You have to be realistic in terms of size, not of the environment.

  • SuperStrapper

    His homies just call him Sylva Dolla.

    • DanW94

      LOL! Good one…

    • LapYoda

      Beat me to the joke!

    • spiceballs

      The original “silver dolla”?

  • Jerry Davis

    Gotta admit, love the Hamilton line of watches.

  • LapYoda

    It seems like a missed opportunity to me that there isn’t a Hamilton on Broadway Hamilton Broadway, with Lin-Manuel Miranda as brand ambassador.

  • word-merchant

    So who would win in a watch fight between Hamilton, Invicta, Janis Trading, Shinola and Protos?

    • Sheez Gagoo

      It should be a fight between Tiffany and Hamilton.

    • Invicta – in the same way that a monster truck would ruin a Ferrari in a demolition derby.

      • Boogur T. Wang

        Remove Invicta from that mix and I would go with Hamilton based on their longevity, market savvy and marketing placement

  • Philip Beresford

    I wish Hamilton were available here in Australia. It seems like a missed opportunity to me… Australia is a country known for loving sport watches, and Hamilton makes some great sport watches – so why not sell them here? It makes no sense.

  • Boogur T. Wang

    Very good interview Señor. Tejedor.

  • Mr. James Duffy

    Hey, did he happen hint at a 36mm Intra-matic with a sweep hand in the near future? If so email him back for me and tell him I would buy one. Better yet, call him. Time zones be damned. There’s a sale to be made. Can you do that for me? Tell him some random dude under the alias Mr. James Duffy on the Internet is serious about it. Thanks in advance. Seriously, that is one product I would fasttrack were I in his employ.

    • egznyc

      Would you prefer the black or the silver dialed variant? Do you want a seconds hand in a contrasting color? Just wondering. And I take it you are quite happy with the non-applied indices. I’d go for the 38mm in silver, without the sweep hand. It’s a great watch. Oh wait; I already did. 😉

      • Mr. James Duffy

        Ha! Yes, I am happy with non-applied indicies and I think they lend much to the vintage/retro aesthetic of the Intra-matic. I like the black hands on the radial-brushed silver dial of the current model but it is 38mm that wears like a 40mm diameter watch. The black dial version feels more like 38mm but it still wears big. If there was a 36mm model with a sweep hand, the same black hands and hour markers on the silver dial would be amazing. Alternatively, gold or bronze hands and indicators on a polished black dial would be nice to see, too! Round out the lineup with an enamel white dial with gun metal hands and indicators and keep the price the same and I guarantee Hamilton will be the affordable darling at Baselworld 2017. (Guarantee for rhetorical emphasis only. Not actual guarantee.)

  • ??????

    Hamilton is a strange brand for me. I always liked what they do, but never found perfect watch for my taste in their line. Each model is rather cool, but misses something for me.

  • egznyc

    Hamilton is good value for the money. They have some vert interesting options out there, that I find quite appealing. They also have their share of either boring or somehow not-quite-right models, too, but it’s easy to ignore what one doesn’t enjoy and focus on the more interesting ones. Thanks for the interview.

  • Hamilton watches are unique and very much a part of the American legacy. They are featured in movies, as well. Despite all their press, however, they’re also affordable.

  • Larry Holmack

    I’ve been saving up to buy that 46 mm Hamilton Below Zero 1000 Automatic….just need to sell a couple more paintings. Sold one of my landscapes that is still hanging in a local exhibit…now if I can just get a couple more sold…I’ll have enough to get one. I MUST have that all black version…it’s just so damn cool looking. I’d better get back to painting I guess!!!

  • Ilya Rozenfeld

    All,

    I found the watch I like below, but although on dial it says Swiss Made, in description Country of Origin : China. I’m confused as to where the watches are made, manufactured and assembled. Also reading Wiki link below under current Swiss law, the use of “Swiss Made” is legal as long as 50% of parts are made in Switzerland, but where is it assembled and how may parts are China made? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_made