Lately, I have been obsessed by automatic watches. Again. I have been fighting this addiction many times over the last decade, but this time I decided to finally get myself an automatic watch.
I decided to ditch the Sonata Quartz watch I have been wearing for the past 12 years and get myself a brand new one for my wedding. I began searching on the internet for the best deals, and I started running into posts and blogs about automatic watches. For the youngsters from the current flashy-colorful-watches generation, these are watches which use a purely mechanical movement converting the wearer’s hand motion to drive the watch, and therefore never requires a battery change. Even now when I try to explain the mechanism of such a watch to a newbie, I am myself still surprised at the micro-mechanical engineering marvel behind such a watch. Even more surprising is the fact that the basic technology is more than 200 years old ! There were no computers or simulators or robots back then, and horologists had to create such watches entirely by hand. The art of making and repairing automatic watches is dying fast, there are not many watch companies who would invest time and money into such machines in India.
The irony of such watches is that automatics are always priced expensive to quartz watches, but they lack the accuracy of quartz movement. You can buy a quartz for a few hundred rupees in India, digital or analog. But to procure a cheap automatic watch, you need at least a few thousand rupees. After visiting numerous showrooms and websites, I concluded that the cheapest branded automatic watches available in Bangalore are from Seiko. The Seiko-5 starts at Rs 6k. Titan’s automatic range starts from Rs 10k. But I was on the hunt for an even cheaper alternative, and my search lead me to HMT, a 60 year old government owned machine tool company.
HMT’s website mentions some automatic and mechanical movement watches available for online order, and they are priced waaay cheaper than their swiss counterparts. The automatics start at Rs 3000 and you could have a mechanical one for Rs 950 !! But wanted to hold and feel the watches before plunging in. And so I started my hunt to Bangalore’s watch retailers to procure an HMT automatic. It was soon evident that consumers no longer preferred automatics, I could not find even one retailer who had and HMT automatic in stock. Turns out others too have tried and failed; read Sidin Vadukut’s story on hunting an HMT.
I finally decided to go to the source, took down the address of HMT’s Bangalore factory outlet, and got on the bus. The outlet nearest to me was in the Unity building near the corporation offices, you have to get down at the corporation stop, and walk about 1 km to the ancient site. Towards the back of the two storied buildings is the factory showroom, and walking in was like walking into some government office.
The two middle aged men were in deep talk, and did not seem interested in selling anything. When I mentioned I was looking for automatics, they raised eyebrows, and pointed me to the single display case which housed two rows of mechanicals and two of automatics. The cheapest one was priced at Rs 4k. They had a cool skeleton version which was not available on the website, and was priced at Rs 9k.
Right across the factory outlet was another smaller watch shop, and its proprietor, My Sathyanarayana showed me his humble collection of automatics. Sathyanarayana has been running his shop, Sri Lakshmi Times, for 45 years. His children also know watch repair, and are carrying forward the dying art form. He had second hand vintage automatics from Rs 800, and even showed me a sold tourbillion in perfect working condition !!
There were rows and rows of HMT watches on display; now this not something you get to see daily. Click on the pictures for full sizes.
I finally decided on an HMT Sourab Premium, which I found beautiful (looks like a Rolex Datejust) and not too heavy to carry around. I am going to gift this to my dad on his birthday coming up soon.
I also noticed a very beautiful pre-owned Seiko 5 automatic for sale, and quickly picked it up. It has a glass back to show off the automatic movement !
Real mechanical watches are on a spiritual level. Some people will never get that. The micro-engineering behind an automatic can only be truly understood by an engineer. That’s why my dad loved them. That’s why I love them.