Narayanan Hariharan, an entrepreneur, narrates a recent incident involving him, which could have easily been a wristwatch advertisement. While making an important point at a meeting, he noticed the person he was talking to was staring at his left wrist. He ignored it a few times. But when the person continued, Narayanan paused and asked, “What is going on?”
“I never knew HMT made such good watches,” said the other person. Narayanan smiled. He was wearing a Tiffany blue Varchas, the latest limited-edition wristwatch collection in the HMT Stellar series, launched in June.
Varchas is the brainchild of two HMT aficionados from Bengaluru, Abhinand Rao and Rakesh Murthy. These childhood friends ventured into analogue wristwatch collecting five years ago and now collectively own around 120 watches from various brands (about half of them being HMT timepieces like Misuni, Rajat, Janata, Pilot, Jawan, and Jubilee).
The Varchas story
Abhinand and Rakesh, both engineers, share a deep fascination for design and mechanics. At one point, they were into vehicles due to their intricate assembly of numerous moving parts, forming a cohesive whole. Wristwatches are not too different from automobiles in this regard. “Initially we were always fascinated by popular international brands like Rolex, Patek, Audemars and Seiko. But when we realised our home brand HMT is still running we ran towards it,” says Abhinand.
When the government, in 2016, closed HMT Watches Ltd, a division of Hindustan Machine Tools Limited, the duo, like many people in the country, mistakenly assumed they would not get HMT watches anymore. “Though HMT Ltd continued manufacturing and selling watches, many people still think that we have shut shop,” says an HMT Ltd official, who declined to be named.
However, the news of this closure, he admits, sparked renewed interest in the six-decade-old wristwatch brand. For instance, Abhinand and Rakesh are moderators of a 14-year-old HMT Watches Facebook group, with over 19,000 members.
In March 2022, the two friends planned to create a fresh and distinctive design for HMT as a tribute to their favourite brand. “We noticed comments on why the brand is not pursuing new-age designs. So, we wanted to create something new with an elegant teal blue colour, which has a cult following across multiple brands,” says Rakesh.
The process was not easy. “After months of tireless effort, plenty of setbacks and various discussions on the dial pattern, the case design, and dial colour, HMT took it up as a challenge. We had to be very patient with them. But we never gave up,” Rakesh adds. The two friends even took time off work to travel to the HMT unit to discuss the design.
Varchas is a result of all this labour. Three hundred people, who pre-booked it, received this limited-edition timepiece (for ₹8,161) in June. Because of the increasing demand, HMT will be mass-producing this design soon, albeit without the Varchas logo. It is likely to be available in HMT’s online and offline stores in another week.
Banking on nostalgia
HMT watches are largely unassuming. They lack the opulence of a Rolex; they cannot count steps; none measures heartbeat (though the HMT official told The Hindu that a smartwatch is in the works). They are just simple analogue watches (quartz, mechanical, and automatic). Why, then, do people like Narayanan, Abhinand, and Rakesh adore the brand so much?
Established in 1953, HMT played a crucial role in India’s industrial growth. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Pandit Nehru hailed it as one of the “Temples of Modern India.” HMT was supposed to produce machine tools that changed the country’s landscape. But, a decade later, a slightly smaller need arose: an affordable wristwatch accessible to the masses. So, In 1961, HMT collaborated with Citizen Watches Co., Japan, to establish their first watch factory in Bengaluru. PM Nehru launched the first batch of hand-wound wristwatches. Thus HMT’s foray into the realm of timekeeping for the Indian public began.
HMT soon became a household name in the country. Its watches became cherished heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next.
Narayanan remembers his first HMT watch. “My father had an HMT Kohinoor with a black dial. I used to wear it as a child but just for a minute or two. I wasn’t allowed to wear it outside. Only when I was in 11th or 12th grade, I was allowed to wear it without his supervision.”
“Later, when I started earning, I got an HMT Janata. My wife (my girlfriend then) liked the watch and wanted it. But I wasn’t ready to part with mine. So, I took her to the store and bought her a couple of HMT watches.”
Narayanan has worn an HMT watch in his boyhood, adolescence, and adulthood. He does not have kids. But six months ago, he gifted an HMT Pilot to his school-going nephew. The watches of HMT, which began over 60 years ago, are still ticking.