Hamilton Interview with Sylvain Dolla, CEO
From the sub-1000 franc automatic diver’s watch to zero-gravity movement testing, Sylvain Dolla gives WorldTempus the low-down on developments at Hamilton.
How was Baselworld for you this year?
Everything has done really well except for one line, which hasn’t surprised me because it was one that we developed specifically for the Japanese market. The Broadway, our new line, has done very well, which is important because it is a strategic launch for us. But otherwise it’s difficult to single out a particular product, because they have all done well.
The Khaki Navy Frogman is one of my favourite watches of Baselworld this year. When I look at what you get in this watch for the price you pay, the value is incredible. How do you manage it?
I never forget that if I consider myself as the customer I am going to think twice before I spend 800 – 1000 euros on a watch. I think our customers are familiar with the brand and are very aware of the value. It’s important for us in the industry not to forget that one thousand euros is a lot of money for most people. So I always take into consideration the price. The Frogman is a good example because the brief was to have an ISO-certified dive watch, which is already a technical challenge for the team. It had to be good looking, with character, and integrate elements from the brand’s past. And it had to come in at 995 euros, for the 42mm version. We know there is a big market in Europe for divers watches below 1000 euros. We bring as much value to the product as we can without allowing costs to mushroom. For example, it would have been nice to have a ceramic bezel, but that was just not possible at this price point.
Last year you started zero-gravity tests on your movements together with ETA. What are your objectives with these?
I spent one and a half hours with the scientists from ETA discussing these tests but I was already lost after two minutes! All I can tell you is that ETA is very excited about these tests because they will allow it to gain real-world data on one of the few remaining unknowns as far as watch movements are concerned. ETA has a lot of scientific analyses and theoretical studies on the effects of gravity on chronometric performance, but it has never been able to test these in practice. Two years ago we started a big project to try to understand this better. The engineers from ETA worked on developing special testing equipment to test the watches in zero gravity. We were not even sure whether we would discover anything on a zero-gravity flight and we took a full-week of flight testing with several flights per day on with a scientific approach, which is why we didn’t really communicate on this.
The scientists have now compiled their results and we had a first debrief one month ago to decide whether or not to continue the tests. I can confirm that the results are contrary to the logic we would expect. Some of the results even showed that the movements were behaving almost as if they have a memory effect, so this has further awakened the interest of the engineers at ETA. It was definitely worth doing.
Can you give us a general idea of the market situation. Is your US heritage reflected in the market?
Yes it is, but we are also the leading mid-range brand in Japan and we are doing very well in Korea, where we are number four. Italy is also a big market for us with considerable growth. China is also an important market and all five of these markets are balanced, so a negative impact from one will not affect us as much as other brands.
Do you think your strong eye on prices could help you in the current situation?
I am very optimistic. The slowdown in some markets will force people to challenge themselves. Eight years ago we had a crisis in Japan for Hamilton but we managed to turn the situation around thanks to some hard work. We’ve had it easy in many markets for a number of years so it’s good to have a bit of a challenge. I think there is still a huge potential in our price segment.
I try not to listen to too much to what others are doing or be influenced too much by the competition. I don’t define my strategy for six months but for years and years. We try to be consistent. We decided ten years ago to focus on mechanical watches in the 500-1,500 Swiss franc price range because that is where we identified the long-term potential. If I had listened to the crowd last year I would have immediately switched to producing smart watches and it would have been a huge mistake. I’m very happy that we invested in mechanical movements instead.
The history of Hamilton is an exciting journey, spanning over 120 years from its foundation in Lancaster, United States to its present home in Biel, Switzerland – the capital of watchmaking. Today, the pioneering role played by Hamilton in the world of aviation, as well as in digital and electrical technology, is a source of inspiration for its timepieces. With their unique design and personality, Hamilton watches combine the American spirit...Find out more >
All the news >
All the watches >