Hamilton Replica Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews


Navigating the replica 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 replica watches. So I’m very happy that the brand is performing well in one of the most demanding replica 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 replica 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 replica 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 replica watch hands-on here). That’s why our new collection is called Broadway, and we want the replica 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 replica 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 replica watches, they come to us. When Christopher Nolan did Interstellar and he wanted one specific replica watch designed for the movie he knew he could contact us and we would do it in record time, a concept replica 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 replica 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 replica 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 replica watch! We sell a gold replica 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 replica 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.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews


ABTW: There is a common saying in the market that the “limited edition” concept is just another marketing gimmick. What is your opinion on that?

Sylvain Dolla: I would say that for some brands it might be a marketing tool, but for us it is just being reasonable: crazy ideas are great, but they do not sell by the tens of thousands. We have to be rationally crazy. And a limited edition can also be the source for future best sellers. The new gold replica watch, I love it so much I wouldn’t be surprised if in two or three Baselworlds you see a whole new collection based on this design.

ABTW: Connected replica watches. After a 2015 full of uncertainties, everybody is now thinking that smart replica watches can and will affect the quartz segment and not so much the mechanical replica watch market. If quartz replica watches generate around 27% of the sales of Swiss replica watches, then smart replica watches pose a real threat. Since TAG Heuer launched its connected replica watch and promoted it the way it did, smart replica watches now seem as legit as mechanical ones. To me it is a horrendously dishonest concept, but the truth is it is working for them, they are selling them well. Would you ever consider making a smart replica watch?

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews


Sylvain Dolla: For us it is very clear. First, I’m not very enthusiastic about smart replica watches. I follow the market because I started in the Swatch Group on smart replica watches, the Swatch Paparazzi (the replica watch developed with Microsoft). So I could have pushed it on Hamilton, but we haven’t done it. First of all, our big success is with mechanical movements. People want to buy something that is not going to be obsolete in a couple of years. More than 80% of our sales are mechanical replica watches. These past years we have developed new movements and we will continue doing so, as you will see next year at Baselworld.

Having said that, we love technology. But whatever we may develop in the next years at Hamilton, it will remain a replica watch. A fine replica watch. It doesn’t mean it won’t integrate elements of intelligence or technologies, but it will remain a replica watch. And I will never make the compromise of integrating technology that will make a Hamilton replica watch obsolete in two years. That’s not what we are and that’s not what we need. I agree that in the €100 to €500 segment connectivity will be very important, but not in upper price markets. Yes, they will sell a lot at the beginning because it is cool, but afterwards… Look, prices are going down drastically, and smart replica watches seem to be working only on the very entry-level price point rather than at our price point.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews


Technology, we need it and we love it. But, again, replica watches. Not consumer electronics. I come from that market and don’t want to go back to it again because you are so focused on price that you lose all possible creativity.

ABTW: So, would you consider doing something along the lines of Montblanc’s E-Strap (that they apparently abandoned), for instance? But as soon as you incorporate electronics you have the obsolescence problem.

Sylvain Dolla: That’s why I said for Hamilton everything is replica watches. And if we integrate intelligence it is not at the price of obsolescence.

ABTW: For me, the best idea so far is the Swatch Bellamy because it is cheap and can reach the biggest consumer base: youngsters. I mean they cannot use a smart replica watch for their digital life because it is so intense; they need a phone to write, to take pictures to record videos… a smart replica watch is too small for that. But what do youngsters do? They consume. They buy stuff all the time, and for that, the Bellamy is perfect because it is cheap and it works in all the places they go to consume.

Hamilton Watches CEO Sylvain Dolla Interview ABTW Interviews
The smart replica watch debate has brought Sylvain to the edge of his seat. He is very vehement when he wants to make his point clear and moves his whole upper body to stress his points on this matter. But he never loses his smile.

Sylvain Dolla: True, and you don’t have to charge it. In Hamilton, as long as it is something that you don’t need to charge, we will do it.

ABTW: And would you consider selling your dials through iTunes or Google Play to be worn on smart replica watches?

Sylvain Dolla: I worked in the consumer electronics market, and I wanted out. I will not make the mistake of pushing Hamilton in that direction. It would be the biggest mistake. We may have technology coming to Hamilton at some point down the road, but it will be a replica watch. A fine replica watch.

hamiltonwatch.com & watcheast.com

‘Marie Antoinette’s Replica Watch’ By John Biggs: Book Review And Interview


Just recently, a book about an important historical pocket replica watch was released by John Biggs. Now, (cue Troy McLure voiceover) you may know Biggs from the HourTime Show podcast or his writing at TechCrunch and WristWatchReview. What you may not know is that he is also an author of books. While his previous release, Mytro, was a fictional outing; his most recent, Marie Antoinette’s Watch: Adultery, Larceny, & Perpetual Motion, is an exploration of many histories.

On the surface, you’d expect that the book is a history of the Marie Antoinette pocket replica watch, and it certainly is. It is also an exploration of Abraham-Louis Breguet, who created the replica watch. At the same time, it is a history of the replica watch industry, a history of France around the time of the revolution, and a history of the biggest theft to occur in the world of horology. So, no matter what your own particular interest is in history, there is some facet of it here that should grab your attention, provided you are starting from a base of being into replica watches.


Marie Antoinette

Fortunately for us, Biggs has a way of writing all of these various threads of history in a way that is engaging, and almost carries a feel of a novel. In other words, it’s engaging. The various court intrigues that occurred around Marie Antoinette (the actual queen) could have been dry, but Biggs breathes life into it, focusing especially on the special relationship that planted the seed leading to the commission of the pocket replica watch.

Biggs also could have chosen to give short shrift to Breguet (and his eponymous company), but he manages to weave in the personal history and accomplishments of the man in a way that humanizes him, and paint a vivid portrait of the man who was driven to complete his most famous commission. It also provides a backdrop for understanding what the clock and replica watch industry was going through in Breguet’s time, and how he drove a lot of the direction that brings us to where we are today.

For a history book, there is plenty of present-day included as well. While the creation (and subsequent theft) of the Breguet Marie Antoinette replica watch certainly come up from the mists of time, Biggs covers the story from the current day too, showing the reader what the Breguet company has become today, and its efforts to reproduce the Marie Antoinette replica watch, with the recreation having been in production for years before, and arriving shortly after the original was recovered.

Suffice it to say, I really got into the subject matter Biggs presents. That said, it is not a flawless book – there were a few passages I needed to re-read a few times to get what was being said – but, on the whole, I found it to be an excellent read. The research is top notch, and the writing style is done in such a way that the reader is kept engaged, even if they are not particularly into books of a historical nature. Even if you do not have a particular interest in (the) Marie Antoinette, I would recommend this book for anyone with an interest in replica watches, given the insight provided into the history of the replica watch industry – from pre-revolutionary France up through the modern day. For more on this book, and others written by John Biggs, you can head over to his website (linked to below).


John Biggs

We also got some time with Biggs, and threw some questions his way about the book and its subject. Often times with books of this nature, it can be helpful for the reader to sort of understand where the author is coming from, and what drew them to the subject in the first place. Without any further ado, here’s our interview with John Biggs.

aBlogtoWatch (ABTW): When did you first settle in on the idea to write about the Marie Antoinette?

John Biggs: I got the idea when I was learning about replica watches in about 2001. It’s the one story in the replica watch world that truly has it all – the mystery, the suspense, the romance, and the beauty. I was hooked from the beginning.

ABTW: With all of the locales involved in the story, I assume that there was no small amount of travel involved with researching the book. How did that go?

John Biggs: I visited France, Sweden, Israel, the UK, Switzerland, and Austria. It was an exhausting process. At one point, I was hospitalized for some kind of weird stomach thing I picked up as I was traveling. Writing a big book like this is hard.


Breguet 160, aka the Marie Antoinette

ABTW: With this sort of research, it seems there are inevitably surprises about the subject that the writer does not expect. What caught you off-guard when you discovered it?

John Biggs: I was surprised to know that it had a dead-beat seconds hand. This is a hand that “ticks” like a quartz replica watch, which is very unusual. They used to add those to make replica watches be more like mantle or pendulum clocks. It’s a strange feature but very cool.

ABTW: Given the main subject of your book, did you get to see the Marie Antoinette in person?

John Biggs: I did. I saw the original in Israel, and I even saw the recreation in Switzerland. Breguet and Nicholas Hayek built the replica watch on a whim just before the replica watch was rediscovered.


Abraham-Louis Breguet

ABTW: Your book contains a lot of background on Breguet and the company he built. Given this knowledge, do you feel drawn to own a Breguet some day?

John Biggs: I love Breguet. I don’t like frou frou replica watches, so I’d prefer to get a Transatlanique versus one of their more filigreed models. However, I’d be happy to wear any Breguet – as long as I don’t need to swipe my credit card.

ABTW: The Marie Antoinette is certainly a milestone in the history of replica watchmaking. What place do you think it has in today’s world of horology?

John Biggs: The sad thing is that it has no place. It’s like a clockwork bird – it makes no sense that it exists. It’s cute and it’s fun, but it can easily be recreated electronically. These replica watches were the pinnacle of the arts and sciences in the 1700s and 1800s, but they don’t mean much to the average person of today. However, thanks to sites like ABTW and WWR we can build groups of people who love replica watches and truly appreciate what Breguet did so many years ago.

Nicolas Hayek and the Queen

Nicolas Hayek and the Queen

ABTW: It is unfortunate that that’s the state we’re at, with the Marie Antoinette being a historical curiosity more than anything at this point. If you could pick any one facet of what went in to creating the Marie Antoinette, and have it executed in a modern replica watch, what would it be?

John Biggs: The passion. The Marie Antoinette was a library of amazing features inside a timepiece that is literally breathtaking. It’s the perfect marriage of form and function and it showed Breguet’s true love for the craft.

ABTW: This book is fairly extensive, and covers one of the most intriguing modern horological mysteries. Is there some other replica watch-related topic you think you’ll dive into next?

John Biggs: I’m probably taking a break. If you’ve heard me on the podcast you’ll see that I’m kind of replica watched out. I love them a lot, but at this point, I need to expand a little. I’d like to write about humans a little more in my next non-fiction book.

ABTW: Last, but not least, let’s get your love of technology (and 3D printing) in the mix. Do you think the world of 3d printing will be able to approach the level of precision that would allow something like the Marie Antoinette to be produced, assuming the assembler had the requisite skills to put it together?

John Biggs: Oh man. That would be cool. I can imagine a time when we are able to generate objects using 3D printing and nanobots. I could imagine feeding in plans and having a replica watch appear a few hours later. It would be amazing.

You can read more about John’s new book in his own words and a chapter from it, as well as enter for a chance to win one of three signed books that he is giving away right here. johnbiggsbooks.com