The prestigious and historic Hamilton Watch Company is moving its service and distribution center to North Bergen early next year, which will mean anywhere between 100 and 200 new jobs in that town.
The company is owned by the Swatch Group, which is headquartered in Switzerland but has a United States headquarters in Weehawken.
Stephen Winkler, a spokesman for the Swatch Group in Weehawken, declined to give an exact location for the new Hamilton Watch center, but North Bergen officials believe that there are negotiations to acquire property somewhere along West Side Avenue.
Several other businesses already occupy West Side Avenue, like VitaminShoppe and Liz Claiborne.
According to Winkler, the Swatch Group has been slowly phasing out its operations in Lancaster, Pa., in order to bring a service and distribution center closer to its Weehawken headquarters in the UBS PaineWebber building on Harbor Boulevard.
Production of the Hamilton watches, which have been in business since 1892, ceased in Lancaster seven years ago. The shift of the service and distribution center will be the final phase of the move.
“It just makes things easier for the customer to have all of our operations in the same area,” Winkler said.
While the customer service department will remain in Weehawken, the service and distribution sites will be located at the new North Bergen facility.
“This move is over seven years in the planning and allows our Brands and Service Center organizations to fully integrate to work together more efficiently,” said Yann Gamard, the United States manager for the Swatch Group. “We are hoping to have as many employees join us as possible.”
Hamilton Watches became famous timing the movements of the nation’s trains in the early 1900s, as well as precise timing devises used by the military forces in World War II.
“Hamilton really was the leading American watch manufacturer for many years,” said historian Rene Rondeau, who repairs Hamilton watches and has studied the history of the brand.
The company started by promoting reliability, with early ad campaigns touting, “Hamilton: The Watch of Railroad Accuracy.”
“They were favorites of railroad people,” Rondeau said. “The military later turned to Hamilton to produce chronometers that ships and planes needed for navigation in World War II.”
According to Rondeau, Hamilton stopped making watches for civilians in the 1940s simply to produce more than one million military timepieces.
In the early 1970s, Hamilton Watch was the first to introduce the Pulsar digital watch, with a bright red LED readout – a watch that became widely popular and was worn by people like President Gerald Ford and Johnny Carson.
However, the Pulsar watches soon lost popularity and became obsolete in the late 1970s. Swatch, the leading manufacturer of sports watches, still continued to produce digital watches under the Hamilton brand name.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that Hamilton Watch’s move to North Bergen is just another sign of how the township is enticing to big businesses.
“It tells me what we’ve been saying all along, that North Bergen is a good place to do business,” Sacco said. “We’re right in the hub of everything, with the different highways, airports, train lines. We’ve made a commitment to bring businesses like Hamilton Watch to North Bergen. Getting a company with a proud and storied tradition makes me very proud. They are quality watch-makers, and we’re the fortunate recipient of their decision to move. It’s a positive thing for North Bergen, and as the mayor, I’m very proud that they’ve decided to move here. Any time that new jobs are added to the area is a plus for the economy.”