ON THE BIG SCREEN
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CINEMA AND TIMEKEEPING IS AS OLD AS THE MEDIUM. CASE IN POINT, THE LUMIERE BROTHERS WHO WERE PIONEERS OF THE ART OF MOVING PICTURES WERE WATCHMAKERS WHO TOOK THOSE SKILLS TO BUILD THE FIRST MOVIE CAMERAS. AS A BRAND, HAMILTON WATCH HAS PLAYED A MAJOR ROLE AS WELL, FOR ALMOST 90 YEARS APPEARING ON SCREEN TO PROVIDE SOMETIMES SUBTLE, SOMETIMES OVERT CALLS TO CHARACTERS’ CHOICE OF WRISTWEAR.
— By Jason Gorber
DTK spoke exclusively to Hamilton Watch International’s CEO Sylvain Dolla about his company’s historical connection to Hollywood and how their deep connection to this community has resulted in the “Behind the Camera” awards show.
For many years, there’s been a strong connection between the Hamilton and Hollywood. How did this connection begin, and how is it integrated into your brand? What I love about this story is that it’s genuine, it’s authentic, it’s a very long-lasting relationship. The first time that Hamilton partnered with a movie was back in 1932 for the Marlene Dietrich movie Shanghai Express. We have partnered on more than 500 films. Our connection is based on relationships we have with prop masters, designers, and directors. They come and ask us to give a special character to the character. We have a very long history, so if they need watches from the ‘50s or ‘60s or whatever, we can provide watches from these years.
Do you have a team that will help assist in picking out watches? We have one assistant that takes care of shipping watches to the prop masters, and we have one gentleman based in L.A. that also liaises with them. Usually, they know exactly what they want.
So, it’s usually not a creative thing – it’s more of a ‘we can provide this’ thing. Depends. I’ll give you two examples. With Stanley Kubrick, he mandated Hamilton to create a watch for 2001: A Space Odyssey. For Interstellar, Christopher Nolan wanted to make a special watch, the Khaki Murph. The watch itself plays a major role in the movie, the hands helping connect Matthew McConaughey’s character with his daughter. That was a creation with Nolan’s input – the dials, the hands, the shape of the case, the straps. So, in most of the cases, the filmmakers know what existing model they want, and sometimes they want a new creation.
Are there any that you’ve made that are strictly exclusive, or is it one of those things that when you make a watch for a film, you can then sell it as part of your collection? Usually, we make an edition because people really want it. There were some cases where we did the watch just for the movie, and we are open to that. It depends.
One of the things you’re doing is you’re helping provide character through a fashion or pragmatic choice through the timepiece they choose. How would you describe the character of a Hamilton watch as opposed to one of your competitors? We have the American spirit in the brand – that’s something quite unique. We have a very strong character in the different designs that we have. For example, the Khaki is inspired from the military watches that we have been doing for many years. With Hamilton, everything is coherent, but we have a diversity in design.
And, of course, there’s the famous triangular watch that Elvis Presley wore. The Ventura was a revolution – the first electric watch! It was a Hamilton innovation. The design is contemporary and modern and is more than 50 years old.
What is the connection between the United States and the Swiss watchmakers? The company was acquired back in the 1972. In terms of today’s technology, Swiss production is really the highest standard in the industry. We have a tagline that summarizes the company: “American spirit, Swiss precision.” Maybe for you, coming from North America, it will sound a bit weird, but for us, there is something special when we come here. When you land in New York or in L.A., this wide landscape, the energy, the entrepreneurial aspect – this is the American spirit, and this is what we want to keep in our brand!
What do people misunderstand about watches? Everyone has a phone in their pocket now that can tell time. On the other hand, it might be simply a gratuitous fashion statement, so it wouldn’t matter about the mechanism and the intricacy. Do you think the watch has continued to have a hold on people as simply objects of fascination, or is it something more than that? I think, more and more, we need traditional handcrafted watches. We are surrounded with commodities, and commodities are meant not to last. The manufacturer wants you to replace them as soon as possible. When we develop a Hamilton watch, we want the people to be proud to wear it in 10 years because the design hasn’t aged. We want them to be able to give them to people they love. There are not many items around that people can wear, that people can use to reflect their personality, and that people can keep and will last.
So, it’s more an icon than it is jewellery. It’s something to actually hold on to. It’s something you have an emotional link to. It’s something you wear. It’s something that reflects your personality, and, for men, it’s one of the only things that you buy that will last and can reflect your personality.
The “Behind the Camera Awards” seems fitting for a watch company. Here, you have famous people giving awards to less famous collaborators. It’s like when you turn over a beautiful watch face and see the mechanism that the craftsperson has made, the behind the scenes work suddenly exposed. You summarize it perfectly well! What I love about this event [is] the speeches [of] the honorees are very touching; it’s genuine and it’s authentic. The celebrities are coming to honour their friends from behind the scenes.
How did it begin? We started in 2006 on a rooftop in New York on a very small scale. The costume designers, the prop masters, the screenwriters – these are probably the most passionate people within the screen industry! This is what we love; they are really great inspirations for us.