EXCLUSIVE: Hamilton finds safezone in UK market

Hamilton stopped off in London this week as a part of whistle-stop international tour to showcase its 2015 collection ahead of Basel next month.

WatchPro sat down with brand president Sylvain Dolla, who originally joined Swatch Group to work on Swatch’s first smartwatch, to discuss the watches on show and how Hamilton is performing in the UK.

Over the last five years Hamilton has invested heavily in the mechanical movements it puts inside its watches. They may well originate from Swatch Group sibling ETA, but Dolla was determined to make them resolutely Hamilton.

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“Five years ago we identified that we wanted to invest massively in the movements and it started with basic consumer requests,” he said. “Clients told us that they loved our chronos, but they wanted them to last [in terms of power reserve] over a full weekend. We had to work on the power reserve because it mattered to the people.”

Hamilton is now showcasing the product of that investment with 80 hour power reserves and more elaborate movement decoration including perlage and its skeletonised Squelettes.

Dolla states that nearly all Hamilton automatics feature fully adapted Hamilton movements, rather than ETA base movements.
Movements continue to be at the centre of Hamilton’s international growth with the brand recognising increasing interest in mechanical watches for women.

“The ladies collection is becoming more important for us; we were one of the first brands to really believe in and push ladies mechanical watches. At first it was a bit difficult and we didn’t have success, but now there are more and more markets where ladies are starting to show an interest in mechanical watches and there is no other real offering in our price segment.”

This year’s collection features a number of stand-out pieces including a quartz-powered Worldtimer with chronograph and a serially produced version of the Takeoff, last year’s limited edition detachable watch head which had sold out before Basel had even closed its doors. But Dolla is clear that the future success of the brand hinges on continuing to add value to its watches, saying:

"Every year we have the ambition to bring even more value to the product, so some little details. All of the classic watches now have a deployment buckle, these kinds of improvements. This year we are a little bit more classic, that’s true, last year we had a little bit more Khaki. But for us, we work a collection over the course of three years. There is no intention from us to be more classic; it’s a balance and over three years we launch, ultimately, the equivalent number of Khaki references and American Classic references.”

The UK market is an interesting anomaly in Hamilton’s global business. It is currently the brand’s 11th most successful territory and steadily climbs those ranks each year, but it wasn’t always so.

“We are really very cautious when it comes to the UK market because 20 years ago the brand started in the UK and failed,” explains Dolla. “So seven years ago when we started again, we decided upon a very qualitative and cautious brand-building approach. We didn’t put down any financial goals or number of door goals, we really wanted to start with a very solid foundation.

“So now we have around 110 qualitative points of sale in the UK working with main partners like Ernest Jones, which is our biggest client [at 50 doors]. We will build that steadily, step-by-step, really brand building, building the knowledge of the sales associates with no compromise on the qualitative aspect of the distribution. It’s performing very well, we are very happy and now I know that we are in a safezone where the brand has a foundation and we not replicate the mistakes of 20 years ago.”

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