Pre-Baselworld Q&A with Sylvain Dolla, CEO of Hamilton
Earlier this year, I was in Toronto to go trough all the Hamilton novelties that will be presented in just a few days at Baselworld. You can find that story here. During this event, I had the pleasure to meet Sylvain Dolla, CEO of Hamilton International and I jumped on this occasion to ask a few questions about 2014, which was an important year for Hamilton and his plans for the future.
Our meeting took place just a few days after the Swiss Central Bank raised havoc on international markets with their announcement to stop holding down the value of the Swiss franc. With our Canadian dollar continuing its slide down, my first question was about Hamilton’s response to these developments. His answer was reassuring, Hamilton is adapting and recommending retail and wholesale prices but only partially — around 6% — as the brand wants to maintain the continual growth in Canada with a strong and competitive pricing level.
Once this question was out of our way, I was curios to hear his take on the past year.
WP: What was special for you in 2014?
Sylvain Dolla: It was an extraordinary year, a new record year for Hamilton, not just in terms of sales but also in terms of reception of the new models. We have launched four new movements; it was a big investment for us but it paid back. People really appreciate the different look that we have because of these new movements.
We also had unexpected success on some of the models, for example the one I have on my wrist, the Pan Europ which is a recreation of a 1970’s model. We were shot in capacity for seven months because we completely underestimated it on our side.
It was also a year when we repositioned our brand in stores. For example here in Canada, ten years ago in the stores we had a small display, right now we have half of our distribution done in a shop-in-shop and more and more we’re extending our presence in the stores.
For me it was also the year when we were working with Christopher Nolan and his team to create a prop watch that actually had a role in the movie (Interstellar). It was not a commercial relationship; we developed the watch for them.
It was a great source of inspiration for us to work with prop masters and custom designers; they would challenge us, because they work in a different timeframe than we are. When we develop a watch, we take the time, for 12 to 18 months we work every single detail, but when you work with a prop master, they call you to tell you that in six weeks they need the watch. We had one moth and half to develop Christopher Nolan’s wish and Richard Crammer, the prop master. It is very challenging in terms of deadline, but our product development team is always excited when it’s a movie that approaches us.
Interstellar is great movie and not just because we worked together, but it is a movie I can watch over and over again. Christopher Nolan is a genius and Matthew McConaughey is a remarkable actor and those two minutes in the spaceship when he cries looking at his daughter, I was directly touched to the guts. It’s a great movie about a father daughter relationship and the two emotional moments in the movie are around the watch.
It was also a good year for Nicolas Ivanoff, because the last two races were won by our pilots. During ten races, he could not win because his plane was heavier than the other planes, so he was finishing sixth, seventh or eighth position. The beauty with the Red Bull Air race is that they all have the same engine, so it’s really pure performance of the pilot. We changed the painting and we saved eight kilograms. With this, his plane was the same weight as the others and he won the last two races, so on pure performance he was better than the others.
Hamilton is very popular in Canada, how can this popularity be explained?
It is due to a selective and qualitative distribution in Canada such as European Jewellers and Raffi Jewellers in Toronto, Bijouterie Italienne and Bijouterie Monaco in Montreal, Calgary Jewellery, Gemoro in Edmonton, Lugaro Jewellers and Rodeo Jewellers in Vancouver.
Furthermore, Canadian clients are very sophisticated when it comes to their feeling for the design of our watches. The American Spirit is an important part of the brand’s history and therefore strongly linked to North America. And lastly, the Swiss movements and technologies have been shown to be appealing to the Canadians because of their eye for detail.
We touched on your retail presence in Canada, are there expectations that you would extend your online boutique to Canada?
It may come. 18 months ago, we opened our ecommerce website in the US and it was very successful and Canada may follow in the future. It is very interesting because when you open an ecommerce it’s not a question of selling watches, it’s all about having a better knowledge of the tools that the Internet has to offer. When you open an ecommerce store, the cost of setting up the site is not that important, what really matters is what you do behind in terms of online marketing. We have recruited a dedicated person in the US, an online marketing specialist and it is really interesting for us, not just to sell, but also to communicate with our customers.
Smartwatches, what do you think about them?
The major difference between consumer electronics and watches is that the former are commodities whereas watches are emotional products. That is the reason why we focus on developing emotional pilot watches that will incorporate advanced features such as the Worldtimer. This new watch houses the exclusively developed, Hamilton quartz movement, the H-41e, with a centre minutes chronograph. The calibre can uniquely switch between worldtimer and pilot chrono mode and accurately tells the time in 24 major cities of the world. In the end technology is not the ultimate goal for Hamilton but a means.
Hamilton remains a very authentic brand with great value and aims to sell watches which can be appreciated by our customers over decades.
This year, you are having quite a lineup of novelties. I know this is a difficult question, but among the 2015 models which one stays closer to your heart and to your wrist?
The new Hamilton Ventura Elvis80 is by far my favourite watch of 2015 as it is the most daring watch with the strongest character. Honoring Elvis Presley, who would have turned 80 this year, the automatic model uses Hamilton’s own H-10 movement, with an 80-hour power reserve and comes along with a very contemporary case architecture.
More about Hamilton at www.hamiltonwatch.com