Showing posts with label watches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label watches. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

HMT is now popular after its demise

 

Found this documentary about HMT, apparently it has become more popular after the company shut down.

 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

HMT Watches To Shut Down

 

If you’ve been to Bangalore’s Lal Bagh gardens, chances are you’ve probably seen the iconic 7-metre wide Floral Clock set that sits in the lawns just as you enter the main gate:

Pic - indiamike

Pic – indiamike

That clock was made by HMT Watches, a government owned subsidiary of the Hindustan Machine Tools company, that is now being shut down after more than 5 decades of its existence.

If the name sounds familiar, it should—HMT Watches were market leaders in watch manufacturing and sales, being the first to introduce a multitude of models and different kinds of watches into India. One model, called ‘Kanchan’ was even known as the ‘dowry watch’, simply because entire weddings would be put on hold until the watch was made a part of the marriage agreement.

Pic - icultist | Flickr

Pic – icultist | Flickr

Our grandfathers would sport HMTs, not because it was a status symbol, but because it was a home-grown piece of manufacturing that actually worked and stood the test of time, much like the Hindustan Ambassador, which was also recently killed.

Started in collaboration with Japan’s Citizen Watches in 1961, HMT Watches were once the epitome of precision manufacturing and production. The following video, that was made in the 1970s, documents their rise to fame and the way they handled their production:

From clock towers to temple clocks, to the HMT Bhavan on Bellary Road in Bangalore, HMT Watches were literally everywhere:

The HMT clock at Chamundeshwari Temple, near Mysore Pic - Ryan | Flickr

The HMT clock at Chamundeshwari Temple, near Mysore
Pic – Ryan | Flickr

However, HMT’s dominance was slowly encroached upon by newer companies with newer technology in the 1980s, and even capital infusion into the company couldn’t turn the odds back to their favour. They constantly reported ever-growing losses, that last of which came in 2012-13, which saw the company incurlosses of Rs. 242.47 crores.

The shutting down of HMT Watches isn’t about the loss of just another company. It’s about the death of an iconic symbol in Indian history, the final breath of a once-great entity that people related to; the death of the “time keepers to the nation”.

1. HMT Watches were the first company to introduce Quartz watches into the Indian watch market. Yet, HMT is still one of the only remaining watch makers to regularly use mechanical components in their watches.

2. They were also the first to introduce Braille watches.

3. Indian movie star Sunny Deol still wears an HMT Watch, even though he has to wind it up every day.

4. The last HMT store is in Delhi’s Connaught Place.

5. HMT’s first watches were released by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

 

 

Watch-lovers in India are in despair, now that it is clear that the iconic Indian watch brand, HMT, will soon be shutting down. Set up in 1961, HMT is a state-owned manufacturer that collaborated with Japan’s Citizen Watches to produce a range of watches that Indians were proud to sport. But the company, headquartered in Bangalore, has been making losses since 2000. This week, the government decided to shut HMT Watches and HMT Chinar Watches down on the recommendation of the Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises.

A HMT watch was an integral part of the unofficial uniform of Indian office-goers through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Even today collectors of HMT timepieces swear by the brand’s retro appeal, its reliability and its undeniably Indian flavour.

When online retailer Flipkart started selling HMT watches, the more popular models were sold out within minutes of listing it on the website, say watch collectors. HMT Watches started its own online sales in mid-August and many believed that this was a sign that the company was turning around. Its advertising slogan, "Timekeepers to the Nation", was certainly apt.

Prashant Pandey, a resident of Bangalore and HMT aficionado, has collected more than 500 pieces in just a few years. “I saw my grandfather wear a HMT watch,” he said. “My wife’s grandfather had a Pilot, which he passed on to me. There’s a lot of emotional attachment to these watches. I am shattered. This is a legacy coming to an end.”

This 1977 video from the Films Division explains the making of that legacy.

And here are some iconic designs of HMT Watches.

Janata

Among the first watches to be made by HMT, the Janata was a favourite of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. This winding watch was plain, affordable and had more than 25 variants. Janata watches have been known to tick on for more than 40 years.

Pilot

The Pilot, along with Jawan, Sainik and Rakshak, were synonymous with the military. Though these were not specialised military watches, they were supplied to the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy, which were HMT’s biggest customers. The Pilot is a favourite of watch collectors.

Sona

The quintessential dress watch, the Sona was a winding watch and the thinnest model made by HMT. It is known for its high-quality gold plating.

Kanchan

This automatic model was also known as the "dowry watch". Pandey recounts stories he has heard of people lining up outside HMT showrooms as early as 5 am with letters from various political leaders recommending that a Kanchan watch be given to the bearer of the letter. “If there was no Kanchan watch then the marriage would not happen,” said Pandey.

Astra

The Astra was the first HMT watch with a digital chronograph, a stopwatch combined with the display. Buyers were willing to pay a lot more than company price to get their hands on it.

Old HMT watches are still in high demand among collectors. Pandey runs a blog to help HMT watch seekers avoid getting fleeced in the online market and says he gets a large number of requests for help to find Pilot watches. The key to the HMT watch, Pandey says, is that it looks like “a new antique”.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Pocket Watch Was The World’s First Wearable Tech Game Changer | Innovation

 

The Pocket Watch Was The World’s First Wearable Tech Game Changer | Innovation

Would you wear a computer on your wrist?

It’s a new high-tech debate, as “wearable” computers begin to go on sale. We’ve long grown accustomed to carrying a computer in our pockets—but now tech firms are betting we’d rather have one on our wrist, showing us our messages, social-networking pings, maybe some Google searches. Already, over 400,000 people bought Pebble smartwatches last year, and Google’s head-mounted Glass computer was released to over 10,000 early adopters. Apple is widely rumored to be putting out a smartwatch later this year.

For many, wearables seem like a final, crazed step in information overload: Tweets on your wrist! Supporters, however, claim that a smartwatch might actually be less annoying—because you can quickly glance at it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve run through this debate, though. To really understand how the wearable computer could change our lives, consider the impact of the original wearables—the pocket watch and the wristwatch.

Clocks began to transform everyday life as early as the medieval period, when church bells sounded the hours, letting villagers know the pace of the day. But timekeeping began to weave itself into day-to-day life in an entirely new way as clocks became more omnipresent and portable. Affordable pocket watches weren’t common until the 19th century, but once they arrived, they quickly invaded the world of commerce. When you could time your actions with those of a remote trading partner, new styles of just-in-time commerce could emerge.

“Merchants desperately needed to time certain things,” says Nigel Thrift, co-author of Shaping the Day, a history of early timekeeping. “If you think about all the farms, those goods and crops around London, if they don’t get to the city at a certain time, they’re spoiled.” Meanwhile, pocket-watch-wielding conductors meant trains could begin to keep regular schedules; scientists and astronomers could conduct more precise experiments. Portable watches even made it easier for lovers to conduct illicit affairs, by arranging to meet at a preordained spot and time. (“You try conducting an affair without a sense of time,” Thrift jokes.)

And when precise time wasn’t available? Chaos ensued. In 1843, elections in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, were disputed when nobody could agree on what time the polls had closed—because the townspeople didn’t synchronize their clocks. (“It is well known that we have no exact or certain standard of time in this borough,” complained a local paper.)

Having a watch wasn’t just about keeping to the clock, though. It was a cultural marker—a performance of punctuality. Every time you pulled out your watch, conspicuously and in public, you signaled others that you were reliable.

“You were a modern person, a timekeeping person, a regular person,” says Alexis McCrossen, a professor of U.S. history at Southern Methodist University who wrote Marking Modern Times, a history of American timekeeping. A 1913 Hamilton watch ad explicitly described the device as a tool for moral improvement: “The Hamilton leads its owner to form desirable habits of promptness and precision.” Soon, the watch was a straightforward metaphor for having attained the middle class: Horatio Alger novels often showed the plucky protagonist had “arrived” when he got a watch. The technology even created a new compliment: If you were ambitious and hardworking, people called you a “stemwinder”—somebody who habitually wound his timepiece.

“Punctuality gets marked as a morally elevated thing,” notes Robert Levine, author of A Geography of Time and a social psychologist at California State University, Fresno.

But pocket watches had one problem: They were impractical when you were on the go. If you were trying to do something active—like drive a car or ride a horse—reaching into your pocket could distract you and cause disaster. So, much as today’s gym-goers put their iPods on an armband while they work out, sporting folks of the 19th century began to fashion “wristlets”—leather straps that would hold their pocket watch on their wrist while they rode on bicycles or on horseback. The 18th and 19th centuries also saw some of the first formal wristwatches—with delicate, small watch faces, worn by women as a form of jewelry.

Time became information you acquired with a quick glance. But because women were the main wearers of wristwatches, men mostly avoided the trend. They looked too effeminate.

“They were very gender divided,” Thrift notes. Even watchmakers thought the wristwatch trend was silly and hoped it would die off. One decried it as “the idiotic fashion of carrying one’s clock on the most restless part of the body.”

The tide changed during World War I. Officers began using wristwatches to coordinate the new style of attack: opening with a barrage of gunfire to stun and destabilize the enemy, followed immediately by an onrush of soldiers.

“You’d want the soldiers to be alert to the fact that the guns were about to stop, and be ready to spring,” says David Boettcher, a British horologist who has researched wartime watch-wearing. This required precise timing, and officers fumbling around in the dark for a pocket watch wouldn’t do. To make the wristwatches easily legible in battle, watchmakers fashioned them with large, round faces that had prominent dark numbers set off by a white porcelain backing and coated in radium that glowed brilliantly in the dark.

Suddenly, wristwatches seemed manly.

"It was the iPhone of its day, it was leading-edge technology,” Boettcher notes. And like many forms of hot new tech, it spread virally. “You get loads of boys out on military maneuvers, and one’s got on his watch that ticks and glows, and so everybody wants one.” Millions of soldiers went home having developed a wristwatch-wearing habit. The numbers tell the tale: In 1920 wristwatches were only 15 percent of all watches made in America, but by 1935 they soared to 85 percent of the watches. (Even today, men’s wristwatches are ostentatiously large—and often sold in ads boasting how jet-fighter pilots use them. “It’s almost to say, ‘I’m not a piece of jewelry—I’m a piece of technology,’” as McCrossen jokes.)

By mid-century, the exploding world of white-collar work presumed that its employees would—more often than not—have a wristwatch. Students received them as gifts upon graduation. Glanceability was precious in the highly coordinated world of office meetings. Craning your neck to look at the wall clock could risk offending a superior; a quick glance at your wrist wouldn’t. “There are all sorts of ways you can glance at your watch without anyone knowing, and it’s instantaneous,” McCrossen notes.

By the 1980s, the wristwatch had become, as York University humanities professor Douglas Freake dubs it, “perhaps the most important cybernetic device in contemporary industrialized societies.” We were cyborgs of time. And slaves, too, as critics pointed out. Wristwatches may have made us more efficient, but as humanists had long fretted, perhaps total efficiency is a creepy goal for everyday life.

These days, of course, glanceable time is no longer only on our wrists. It has evaporated into the world around us. Clocks are everywhere: on computer screens, phones, coffeemakers and microwave ovens. Nobody needs to wear a wristwatch to tell time anymore. It has transformed into pure metaphor, nothing but a signal.

But if the evolution of the wristwatch offers any clues, the journey of the wearable computer is likely to be tumultuous. As with early watches, the companies selling these odd new devices make appeals to one’s morality. Google claims its head-mounted Glass helps you “get technology out of the way,” while Pebble says a glance at the wrist is less rude than having to “pull your phone out in the middle of the meeting.”

Whatever one thinks of those assertions, it’s certain that wearables would tweak our orientation to the world around us. Much as wristwatch wearers developed a heightened sense of time, we’d develop a heightened sense of “what’s going on”—news of the day, invisible details of our health, the thoughts of a loved one. The watch allowed new feats of time coordination; wearables would increase social coordination.

***

And so we’d probably see a cultural echo, too. Those who thrive off social contact will love a wearable, but those already overwhelmed by Facebook and texting will find it tears at their solitude and sense of self. Both will be, in part, right. The device may be new, but those hopes and fears are old.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sunny Deol Adores His Vintages HMT Watch!

 


sunny-deol-post_1356430020Punjab da puttar Sunny Deol has no fancy for the latest fashion trends; unlike many Bollywood actors, he rather adores an old vintage HMT watch and loves to wear it every day.

Where many B-town celebrities are well-known for their obsession with big brands, which costs up to several lakhs, the others go for quirky designs and appearances. However, Sunny paaji begs to differ, as for him, it’s vintage that matters.

The actor apparently has taken a fancy to a very old HMT watch that he now wears every day. What more, he even has to wind the watch to make it run on time but still doesn’t want to do away with it. A source says, “Sunny has been known to love watches that are versatile. His timekeepers double up as devices to measure the temperature or even his blood pressure. His latest obsession is however off the roads that cost a meager Rs 500.”

The informer adds, “For his latest film with Anil Sharma, he will be shown flaunting an old watch. The watch was picked up from a roadside shop and cost only Rs 500. In fact, Sunny loves the watch so much that he wears it all the time. He enjoys winding the watch every evening.”

Isn’t it really sweet of him, readers! Quite an original human being!

World Leaders & Their Expensive Time

 

Politics is a dirty play, but leaders all over the world like to play this dirty game with a dash of opulence. National leaders from all over the world have a stringent dress code – Culture bred sophisticated attires, topped with timepieces which make much bolder statements than the representatives themselves.

Take a look at the wrist watch fetish these country tamers make space for.

Who : Nicolas Sarkozy – Former President of France
Seen wearing : Rolex white face Cosmograph Daytona (Approx. $37,000) and Girard-Perregaux 1966 Annual Calendar Equation of Time (Approx. $287,000)
What say : It’s only recently that Nicolas Sarkozy was voted the most powerful man in France. His choice in watches explain a lot about the way he works – Decently and Powerfully.

Who : Silvio Berlusconi – Former Prime Minister of Italy
Seen Wearing : Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar (Approx. $540,000)
What say : Dear Mr. Former Prime Minister, Media Tycoon, Entrepreneur, AC Milan Club owner, mega-wealthy sex-scandalist, we admire your choice in watches, but not your decisions.
Who : Late John Fitzgerald Kennedy – 35th President of the United States of America
Seen wearing : Omega Tank wrist watch (purchased back by Omega for Omega Museum for a staggering $350,000)
What say : Late Mr. President, didn’t really seem to be a watch enthusiast. But we guess the Omega Tank watch was one of the reasons why he was the most popular president of USA.
Who : Prince Williams of Wales – Duke of Cambridge
Seen wearing : Omega Professional Seamaster (Approx. $3,000)
What say : Maintaining the good boy image; marrying Kate Middleton; naming the royal baby as George Alexandar Louis and being the third in line to the royal heir, the elder prince seems to be doing it right on time and with the right watch on his wrist.
Who : Indira Gandhi – Former Prime Minister of India
Seen wearing : HMT Janata (Approx. Rs.1050)
What say : Being the first lady PM of India, Indira Gandhi maintained the indian-ness by wearing the HMT Janata wrist watch, which, in a way, is a mighty contribution to the indian hard work and folklore.
Who : Nawaz Sharif – Current Prime Minister of Pakistan
Seen wearing : Harry Winston Premier Excenter Time Zone (Approx. $30,500)
What say : We don’t like his taste in politics, but we definitely like his taste in watches. After winning the elections, he won our likings with the Harry Winston timepiece.
Who : Dmitry Medvedev – Current Prime Minister of Russia
Seen wearing : Franck Muller Mariner Chronograph 8080 CC AT MAR (Approx. $15,000)
What say : Russia has always handled its weigh as one of the super powers among the globe. The Franck Muller timepiece on the Prime Minister’s wrist proves the prowess.
Who : Vladimir Putin – President of Russia
Seen wearing : Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendat (Approx. $60,000), Breguet marine (Approx. $15,000), blancpain Leman Aqua Lung Grande Date (Approx. $10,500), Blancpain Leman Flyback (Approx. $10,000)
What say : Russia’s most incumbent political figure has maintained his prowess with his watches. His influence is well reflected in his choice of watches and we believe he lets his wrist watches do the talking by making em different and public often.

Who : Hillary Clinton – Former Senator and Secretary of State for America
Seen wearing : Chanel J12 (Approx. $5,000) and Rolex two-tone datejust (Approx. $2,7000
What say : Hillary Clinton has always appeared as the perfect eye candy in the political ring. Withdesigner watches like Chanel and Rolex, she maintains the image of class and candidness.
Who : Arnold Schwarzenegger – Actor and Governor of California
Seen wearing : Pre-Vendome Luminor Panerai Daylight (Approx. $35,000) and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Arnold Schwarzenegger Gold (Approx. $48,000)
What say : Arnold Schwarzenegger, being a german migrant has been impressive for his high-rate metabolism as a body builder and becoming a migrant Governor for California. His big bulky body is perfect for the Barbarian perfect Panerai and Audemars Piguet timepieces.

Who : Barrack Obama – Current President of USA
Seen wearing : Jorg Gray JG 6500 (Approx. $350)
What say : We admire the incumbent president of America. He is friendly, he comes with new and fresher ideas to maintain world peace and his choice of wrist watch speaks a lot about his focus on the world and not his wrist.
Who : Ariel Sharon – Retired General and Former Prime Minister of Israel
Seen wearing : Breitling Aerospace (Approx. $3,200)
What say : The Breitling Aerospace tells a lot about the former General of Israel, his working ways, and why he became the PM of Israel.

Wonder if they discuss their watches after the UN General Assembly meets.

Monday, September 30, 2013

India’s Odd Relationship With Swiss Watchmaking

 

The watchmaking world might well be fixated on China these days, but it’s not the only emerging market with attractive growth prospects. Among the other new industrial giants of the world economy, India has the biggest claim to our interest, not only because her population of more than one billion adds up to a huge potential market, but also because of the peculiar relationship India has maintained with Swiss watchmaking since the late 19th century.

Exports to British colonials
Up to the middle of the 19th century, Europe and the United States were the traditional outlets for Swiss watchmakers, but the second half of the century saw a far-ranging diversification in markets. One of the causes was the appearance of American watch factories, like Waltham Watch and Elgin Watch, which made the United States the world’s most competitive market. Another factor was the technological revolution in communications and transport that multiplied global trading possibilities with the development of telegraph, steamships and railways. The orient could thus become the new outlet for Swiss watchmaking.

India was a new market that first commanded the attention of Swiss watchmakers between 1890 and 1914, thereafter expanding strongly into the 1920s. The value of Swiss horological exports to the Indian subcontinent rose from 658,000 francs in 1885 to 1.7 million in 1900 and reached beyond 21 million francs in 1920. Furthermore, finished watches were overwhelmingly responsible for this growth, representing 97.4% of watchmaking exports between 1885 and 1920. Swiss watchmakers refrained from setting up assembly plants in India as they did in Russia and Japan for example, nor was there a local watchmaking industry on the Indian subcontinent. It remained the exclusive hunting ground for Swiss-watch dealers.

Most of their watches were simple and cheap. Indeed, their average value declined from 22 francs in 1885 to 6.5 francs in 1915, before recovering to 17 francs in 1920. The trade was thus not just about luxury items for the wealthiest classes, but mainly watches for the middle classes that were emerging with the urbanisation and industrial development of India. The British colonial administration was an important consumer of Swiss watches. The railways and armed forces were also major clients, judging from the advertisements of Swiss companies active in India.

By the early 1920s, India had become a crucial market for Swiss watchmakers, taking an increasing share of the global exports of Swiss watches. In 1885 India accounted for only 1% of Swiss watch exports but this grew to 1.8% in 1900 and to 8.8% in the exceptional year of 1920, when the Indian market became nearly as big as the American market.

Watches for the people
Thereafter the export figures reveal a very stable Indian market in the interwar years of 1925 to 1940, when annual exports averaged 4.6 million francs worth of complete watches for the most part (95.4%). The half-a-million watches exported to the subcontinent each year represented more than 3% of total Swiss watch exports.

Nevertheless the structure of the market was transformed during the 1930s. In response to the world economic crisis, Swiss watchmakers brought new kinds of simplified and standardised watches on the market. In 1933 the West End Watch company, one of the biggest Swiss watch concerns in India since the end of the 19th century, launched the Secundus model both as a pocket-watch and as a wristwatch. The following year the company reintroduced its Sowar brand in a new low-cost wristwatch. They were aimed at the working classes and did much to make watches popular among India’s city dwellers.

Relocating to India?
When it became independent in 1947, India also broke away from the economic policies of the colonial era. In the 1950s and 60s, the state became a major player in the country’s industrial development. Import controls, followed by the second five-year plan of 1956-1961 revealed a state policy of promoting national industries while limiting foreign intervention in the domestic economy. For the watch industry, the government imposed quotas on watch imports through a system of licences for companies trading in India. These restrictions, which remained in force until the end of the 1990s, were meant to favour the development of a local watch industry.

The Swiss watchmaking establishment was well aware of the issues at stake but divided on how to respond: should it get involved by locating production in India to retain market share against foreign competitors? Or should it ban the practice in favour of exporting finished products? A Swiss watchmaking delegation was accordingly sent to India in 1958 to look into the possibilities of manufacturing locally. However, for the time being the Statut horloger that governed the Swiss watch cartel (see Watch AroundN°10) did not allow Swiss companies to invest directly abroad. A relaxation of the cartel’s restrictions in 1961 opened the possibility of a partial transfer of production to India. Thus half a dozen Swiss companies, including some that had been long present in the Indian market, hoped to set up local production units. In 1964, Tissot and Omega in the SSIH group, Favre-Leuba, Enicar, Degoumois, Benrus (an American firm with a branch in Switzerland) and Langendorf sent a joint petition to the federal authorities to be allowed to invest directly in India. However neither the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (Fédération Horlogère) nor the Swiss chamber of watchmaking managed to get industry consensus on the issue through ad-hoc committees. Some manufacturers put up stiff opposition to the transfer of production. In fact, until the end of the 1960s, no significant industrial venture involving Swiss watch firms succeeded in getting off the ground.

Abandoned to the competition
Meanwhile, the Swiss watch industry’s main competitors were on the warpath, investing in India and contributing to the birth of watchmaking in that part of the world at the start of the 1960s. Industrialists from the French watchmaking town of Besançon, for example, set up the Indo-French Time Industries company in Bombay with Indian partners, while the German firm, Kasper & Co. of Pforzheim, founded Asika Time Industries at Coonoor with local associates. Both assembled movements imported from France and Germany respectively. However, Japan’s Citizen Watch Co. became the leading player in India by setting up a joint venture in Bangalore with Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT), a state enterprise created in 1953 to make machine tools and precision instruments. The Japanese watch company, which had also been producing machine tools since the mid-1950s, sent some over to equip HMT’s watchmaking workshops. It then went on to supply movement blanks and parts until its Indian partner was ready to manufacture its own movements. The closest cooperation was in the training of technical staff. In 1961 Citizen invited 51 Indian engineers to spend a year studying at their factories. In June the following year a team of Citizen engineers was sent to India to help their returning Indian colleagues set up production. The Indian plant was complete by December 1962. During the 1970s HMT emerged as the leading Indian watch manufacturer. Even though Indian production consisted primarily of assembling parts imported mostly from Japan, it expanded strongly in the 1960s and 70s. From 1965 to 1980, domestic watch production soared from 208,000 units to 4.8 million. From the end of the 1980s, the Titan company joined in as driver of the Indian watch industry with its quartz watches and became HMT’s main challenger. In 1993, India’s output of watches reached nearly 30 million units with HMT claiming 47% of the market and Titan 37%.

The result of this policy was the stagnation of watchmaking exports to India, which did not have the freedom to expand. Exports of finished watches (93.8% of the watch trade with India in 1955) had continued and even increased significantly until 1955. But HMT’s watchmaking debut during the sixties triggered a drop in exports from 918,000 finished watches in 1955 to 30,000 in 1970 and just 12,000 in 1980. While watchmaking exports to India remained high, they consisted mainly of components for Indian companies. The share of complete watches in the horological exports to India likewise slumped from more than 90% in the 1950s to 46% in 1970 and 24% in 1980.

A free market at last
Economic liberalisation policies adopted from the end of the 1990s enabled Swiss watchmakers to return to the Indian market in strength. All import restrictions on Swiss watches were gradually removed, notably the import licences in 1998 as well as the lower price limit for imported watches – 35,000 rupees (about 1,000 US dollars) until 2000, then 4,000 rupees ($120) until 2002 when India lifted all trade restrictions on watches.

With trade liberalisation, exports to the subcontinent rose from 14 million francs in 1990 to 21.9 million in 2000 and to more than 77 million in 2008. Furthermore, the proportion of finished watches in the horological exports leaped from 24.3% in 1980 to 95.9% in 2000, also reflecting the changes that took place in the 1990s.

Despite this strong growth, India ranked only 26th among the Swiss watch industry’s markets in 2009. However it shares with a number of far-east countries the distinction of being among the fastest growing markets. The recent opening of single-brand boutiques in Bangalore and in India’s other urban centres (Omega, a pioneer, had five by 2010) is a sure sign that this market has potential.

More HMT !

 

Who are HMT?

HMT stands for Hindustan Machine Tools. The company is owned by the Government of India. HMT was entrusted with the vital task of building machine tools for the newly independent India and in 1953 the first machine tool factory was set up at Bangalore.

Then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru believed that India was capable of manufacturing precision components and he allowed HMT to set up a watch factory at Bangalore in collaboration with M/s Citizen Watch Co., Japan in 1961. In July of 1961, one hundred employees of HMT Watches went to the Citizen factory in Tokyo and learned every aspect of manufacturing watches for one year. Upon their return, employees of Citizen Watch Company spent a year in India assisting with the setup of manufacturing. Production of watches began in 1962, with first batch released by then Prime Minister Nehru.

Then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru releasing the first batch of hand wound wrist watches.

Headquartered in Bangalore, the 60-year-old HMT — for several decades the celebrated timekeeper of India, and a powerful home-grown manufacturer of capital goods — was severely hit by the new policy and business regime post-1991. In 2000, HMT was broken into five subsidiary companies, HMT Ltd. (which controls the Pinjore tractor plant), HMT Machine Tools, HMT Watches Ltd., HMT Chinar Ltd., HMT Bearings and HMT (International) Ltd. This was primarily done to give autonomy to the subsidiaries and to leverage the company’s experience and skills through product diversification.

Since when are they making Watches?

HMT began manufacturing mechanical movements under license from Citizen. At its peak, HMT manufactured watches in three factories and had a specialized watch case division in Bangalore. HMT has produced over 110 million watches since the 1960s; it expanded its production facilities with two additional factories, one in Tumkur, near Bangalore, and another in Ranibagh in Northern India.

Some of the most popular models like Janata, Sona, and Pilot are powered by hand-wound Caliber HMT 020, now rebranded as HMT 0231. 020 was the older HMT designation for the basic handwind movement when the movement tooling setup at Watch Factory-1 (Bangalore) was being used. Around 1985 the 020 was being manufactured with new tooling at Ranibagh in northern India and the movement was designated 0231. HMT did away with finer cosmetic finishing of the movement components to cut costs.

          The Citizen 0201 movement. Image credit Christoph Lorenz

          The HMT 020 Movement. Image credit Christoph Lorenz

In terms of quality, these HMT movements are pretty well made, and the difference between the Citizen and HMT movements are just a few details, such as lack of decoration or simpler jewel bushes. The HMT 020 is a mens' size handwound movement with 17 jewels and a large Glucydur balance, which is beared in two Citizen Parashock protections. It is constructed in a traditional way with a direct driven center second and a center minute wheel. There are a few variations of this basic movement. The 020/0231 is the basic handwind with centre seconds (HMT Pilot, Janata, Kohinoor etc.), 0232 is another handwind movement but without centre seconds (HMT Ankit), 0233 with offset seconds (HMT Kaushal and the TBC-OC pocket watch), 1809 with centre seconds and non quickset date (HMT Tareeq and Ravi). The 0203 and its variants are still made 100% in house and are the mainstay mechanical movements for HMT. 

That is so cool! Are they still making watches?

As of today HMT is still making their handwind movements completely in house, and watches are still being produced albeit at a much slower rate and most of their models have become difficult to track and connoisseurs try to bag the rare models as they come up for sale.

HMT Automatics basically used the Miyota 6500 movement, until very recently, but the tools which were used to produce these movements got old, instead of investing in new tools HMT decided to import the Miyota 8205 movement and redesign the older watches to fit the 8205 movement. The 8205 movement is not a drop in replacement. The watches with 6500 movements will continue to be sold till stocks last but they are not being produced anymore.

The Kedar on the left uses the Miyota 6500 built completely in house and the Kedar Premium, one of the newer models, uses the imported Miyota 8205.

They have a website, but I found that it is rarely updated. The models on the site differ drastically from the range that is offered.

By the way, did you know they make skeleton watches too ? Here is a snap of their skeleton automatic watch, which you can pick up for Rs 9000/-

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I bet that’s the cheapest skeleton automatic you can buy brand new in India. And man, it was cool to see the dials behind churning !

And they do make chronograph’s too. Here are the two chronographs I saw on display, which are priced at Rs 6000/-. And yep, all the dials work.

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The chronographs and skeletons are not available on the HMT website.

 

Here are some more shots of the display case and from their latest catalogue:

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Hunt for the HMT

 

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.

An HMT commercial from the 90s

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.

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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 !!

CIMG2336Mr G. Sathyanarayana, the ever helpful proprietor.

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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.

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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. Smile

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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 !

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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.