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.”
And here are some iconic designs of HMT Watches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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