The WatchTime Q&A: Hamilton International’s CEO Vivian Stauffer

In 2022, the Hamilton Watch Company was able to celebrate its 130th anniversary (as well as 90 years since the American brand was first featured in cinema). WatchTime met with Hamilton International’s CEO Vivian Stauffer to talk about the brand’s unique role in the movie industry. A pilot himself, Stauffer first joined the Swatch Group in 2002, switched to Hamilton in 2007 and was promoted to CEO in July 2020.

“It is not a commercial opportunity for Hamilton, it’s a relationship story. It’s about the exclusive partnership we have with the movie industry.”

Vivian Stauffer, CEO Hamilton

Hamilton was first featured in a film in Shanghai Express, a 1932 American film with Marlene Dietrich. Since then, Hamilton watches have been featured in over 500 movies, including Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) and Tenet (2020). Do you have a favorite movie appearance?
VS: Always the next one (laughs)! If I had to choose my favorite one is definitely Interstellar. It’s a good movie, and our watch is key to the movie plot.

What is the commercial impact of having a watch in a movie?
VS: Whenever you have a product, an already existing one or not, you see an increase in sales. For example, when the movie The Martian was launched with Matt Damon in 2015, our Khaki Navy Belowzero sales went up. Then, it goes back to normal, until you see the watch in Tenet in 2020, and the numbers go up again. However, it is not a commercial opportunity for Hamilton, it’s a relationship story. It’s about the exclusive partnership we have with the movie industry.

Hamilton Belowzero Titanium Limited Edition Red
Hamilton Belowzero Titanium Limited Edition Red

How do you pick a movie, are scripts sent to you?
VS: That’s a very interesting question. We have three approaches of working with the studios. The first approach, which is the most beautiful one in terms of creativity for the brand, is to develop a prop watch. We created prop watches for 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Tenet. It challenged our design team to create something that does not exist and it requires a lot of resources and time. Over time we can see that we are getting more and more recognition as the watchmaker of filmmakers.
The second option is making watches available to studios and movie crews. They’re from the core collection and if they want one they usually get in touch with us. Out of the 10 to 15 movies a year featuring Hamilton, we usually choose one film to communicate on. Lastly, the third opportunity we work is when they contact us to have a timepiece fitting to the time period of the movie. When the film director is shooting a movie from the ‘30s, we cannot put an X-Wind Auto Chrono from 2005 on the wrist of the actor, for example. They need watches from the past, so we loan them watches from our Hamilton museum collection. If we don’t have them on hand then we source them from collectors.

So this is much different to a regular product placement then?
VS: Yes. We never pay when our watches are featured, it’s all about relationships and trust. That is why we launched the Hamilton Behind the Camera Awards in 2006. This event happens every two years in the U.S. We recognize all the effort that people working in this industry are doing to create storytelling and to share emotions through specific dialogues, costume designs, sound or scripts. When you realize how much work goes into a movie, we thought, ‘We should award these guys!’ That’s how the whole story of Hamilton Behind the Camera Awards started.

Have you looked at expanding into TV series?
VS: We have been in several TV series, we have been in Jack Ryan season one and two for example, and Mad Men. It’s quite funny because it was my daughters who said ‘Hey, there is a Hamilton!’ while watching it. Sometimes, we don’t even know we are featured. We have products available in Hollywood and they can pick the watches they want. We also recently entered the field of gaming. Video game studios are really good at bringing strong emotions to players and viewers, and almost have the same cinematic level as movies today. So we worked with Ubisoft in 2021 and were featured in Far Cry 6 on the player’s wrist.

How important is the U.S. market today for Hamilton?
VS: Very important. It’s the number one market for Hamilton. First of all, we are from there, it’s our birthplace, and we draw a lot of inspiration from there. We have this American spirit we are proud of. The electric car was born in the U.S., most space-related projects come from the U.S., innovation in general often comes from that part of the globe. I think we have this DNA in our brand which differentiates us from the rest of the watchmaking industry. It gives us also the opportunity to try new things that we potentially wouldn’t try without the beauty of the U.S. origin of the brand.

As a pilot, how much are you involved in the product development?
VS: Whenever our product team has an idea, they come to my office. I don’t have such a big impact, because we have several partners to work with while developing new models such as Air Zermatt and Air-Glaciers here in Switzerland. We have four professional aerobatic pilots, and also support Smartflyer, a pioneering project in the world of aviation. So we have a lot of opportunities to get information. But it’s true that whenever they have a question, they come to me. However, I am never ever going to Hamilton’s product department saying, ‘You should do that!’ The idea always comes from them, or from the marketing department.
When you produce a prop watch, the request comes from the studio. It will have a specific function, and they want to show it on-screen. A prop watch is a secure way of having visibility. However, the prop watch is not produced for end consumers and you create frustration. It is all about balance between getting inspiration from the movie industry to develop something new without creating frustration on the other side of the table.

You have been with Hamilton since 2007, what was your highlight during that time?
VS: There are so many things. If I look back a little bit, what I like about Hamilton is the loyalty throughout the years. It can be the partnership with Air Zermatt, for example: When we launched this partnership in 2011, it was an amazing experience, we simulated a rescue mission. We took several journalists, put them in cabins, saved them with the helicopter. And whenever you think about this moment, it’s something that stays with you forever. One of the main highlights would be this partnership with Air Zermatt, but it can be any Red Bull race as well, like the one in Cannes for example. But I’m not so nostalgic, I’m looking forward to what the future holds. I am not someone who forgets things, but I pass quickly on to something else. And I hope that the next project will be the one I’m going to remember in five years.

To learn more, visit Hamilton here.

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