Monday, October 20, 2014

My HMT Watch and others

The closure of HMT Watch Factory [click] recently has saddened thousands of HMT watch patrons.  HMT wrist watches became a status symbol in the 60s and 70s.  It sounds silly now but a watch was high on the list as a 'dowry item' in marriages!  Like the 'wedding ring', there are 'wedding watches', which my friend Suresh wears even now, 28 years on! The prized present from the father to his son or daughter on passing school or college used to be a watch.  Buying a watch from the first pay check was a special dream achieved by many!  Even now, watches are presented as a fitting gift on retirement from service.

 My 'first bought watch' was from one of my earliest salary savings, in 1983.  Deciding on an HMT 'Jubilee' ahead of  'black dial Pilot' and 'Sona' was only for my fondness for Roman numerals at that time, though all were sleek and the other two, a tad bit dearer. Every rupee counted at that stage, more than ever.

Picture courtesy with permission from: Prashant Pandey blog. [linked later]
[Click all images to enlarge]

Jubilee had cost me Rs.200 which was close to 1/4th of salary, a very substantial proportion for a watch!  Having an 'own watch' boosted the status, so we felt!  We pulled up the cuff when we wore a full-sleeve shirt to show it off on the wrist, making a conscious and deliberate 'fashion statement' and looking at the watch as if looking at the time, in such a way others noticed the act!  This, my maternal uncle Annaiah was curiously observing and teasing me!  Together, we observed others do that as well!

During school days we inquired time ["ಟೈಮ್ ಎಷ್ಟ್ರೀ"] from passing elderly people who proudly looked at the watch and answered.  Now a watch was on my own wrist!

The latest HMT watches catalogue was put in to my hands in 1985 by my college classmate Sudarshan [who was also in the campus, working]. He had got it from his friend in Bangalore.  Now, all of a sudden, my Jubilee started to look unattractive!  Instantly I got smitten by 'Pilot' and envied the wrists that adorned 'Pilot'.  My colleague Mukunda was interested in a new watch.  So my Jubilee, lock, stock and barrel, went to his wrist and he dealt with it in four installments for Rs.175.

In that catalogue, 'Chinar' appeared more impressive than Jubilee.  There was no stock in Mysore.  'Pilot' was fighting the race, but 'Chinar' won because of its new horizontal lines.  After much dilly dallying, I left out Pilot and Sona also.  Crazy as I was for watches, having learnt to take apart, also do the reverse I used my spare time as a hobby mechanic!

Sudarshan was very kind to bring me the 'Chinar' from the Bangalore outlet.  I handed over a cheque for Rs.214/-.

Cash Memo from the Unity Building outlet, famous then!  Total Rs.213 Paise 30. 

I was not 'watchless' between Jubilee and Chinar.  My grandfather's 1950s Skymaster 'Continental Calendar' stood by.

The Jubilee was the first HMT in the house because my grandfather already had left his '1914 Favre-Leuba Zenith', my uncle used a 1960s 'Enicar' and my father had his 'Lamania' [later used all three above] which was lost to his friend-repairer in the next street.  My great grandfather's pocket watch was sick.

HMT named 'Janata' as 'Chinar' because it was made in the new [1985] Srinagar factory, which I learnt now browsing for this post!  See date on the back. 


A full white dial Janata was the favourite of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who wore it regularly. Film actor Sunny Deol also wears an HMT.

My friend and team mate Ravindra had given me his 'Pilot' for overhauling  He was nicknamed 'Pilot' which name even now continues to overwhelm his actual name among friends!  I do not know if Pilot Watch was the reason.  After overhauling it and to check its working I wore it joyfully for two days!  I was also 'scratching that itch'!  [The itch persists]  Its craftsmanship was so magnificent that it was a pleasurable experience to take it apart and then put the parts back after cleaning, easily. This is one watch I enjoyed overhauling.  The dial was famous for its luminous indices and hands that glowed in the dark [for about 20-30 minutes], hence it carried a slightly extra price.

HMT Pilot and its lume [web grab images]

In 1974, HMT came up with the first ever Automatic Day-Date, which was my elderly professor friend Achyutha's first watch, bought for its new features.  He mentioned how a watch mechanic raised his eyebrows in Israel during his study-stay: "Does India manufacture watches?"  After using more than 35 years, his wrist got a new quartz HMT, also with day-date.  He gave the 1974 self-winding watch to me, to 'do whatever I liked'. It needed slight repair but could not be carried out as it was beyond my range of 'expertise'. My veteran friend Khabade also did not find the worn out part.  Yet, it worked with some oiling for 3-4 years and then it started to show perfect time exactly once in twelve hours.  Got the point?

Achyutha's watch

Easy availability of spares and profusion of watch mechanics also added to HMT's popularity in its half a century of life.  With the advent of quartz technology, spring wound mechanical watches have been steadily going downhill and watch mechanics, dwindling. Quartz 'movements' have taken over.  Also, the watch machine is called the 'movement'.

This is not a showroom diaplay, but an accumulation at home.  Most watches wanted themselves to be photographed together.  It was a good gathering of the old generation mechanicals mingling with newer quartzos.  Almost three dozen watches. Come to think of the day when even one watch per home was a grand luxury!!  Online shopping...'add to cart'........  fashion, different straps, dials, chains, belts.... to suit the dress.....

My lovely Chinar, and my favourite stainless steel chain.

This is how hobby mechanics learn!  

You just saw the remains of my first watch, of some Swiss brand. It was a scapegoat, a 'lesson watch'!  It was gifted by my uncle to me when I passed 10th [in first attempt!]. It belonged to my cousin, who passed away young.  Later, I fit its dial and case with a quartz movement and gave it off to FiL who urgently needed a watch!

I have always loved watches.  Enough has been bragged by me, nay, blogged, about in my 3-part series about watches and clocks. First one is here: [click].

More appealing will be Prashant Pandey's blog exclusively on HMT watches, loaded with stories behind each watch in his collection! I bumped into it in my quest for HMT 'Pilot'. He also has a facebook group of HMT watch collectors.  Prashant is a collector of HMTs with a prized wealth of 500+ models - an HMT watches museum in the making.  [Click here and enjoy]
And another: [Click here]

On a lighter side: 
Everyone knew what 'HMT' was.  But there were two other light references for HMT.  If we put a towel on our shoulder, we become HMT, like the village man.  He always has HMT.  "ಹೆಗಲಿನ ಮೇಲೆ ಟೊವೆಲ್ಲು" [towel on the shoulder].  The towel is an integral part of the village man's costume.  We may forget to wear a watch when we go out, but he, not his towel!   Another reference is to parents having daughters only - "ಹೆಣ್ಣು ಕ್ಕಳ ತಂದೆ or ತಾಯಿ".

We can imitate the ticking of the watch by clicking fingernails of the thumb and middle finger near the ear!!

On the factual side:
HMT showed that India can mass produce fine quality, dependable, robust, trouble-free, long lasting, affordable watches in India itself so much so that it was on millions of wrists, male and female, producing more than 110 million watches in plethora of models in its lifetime from 1961 to 2014. Some models are evergreen classics!  Not for nothing there are watch collectors 'specializing' only in HMT watches!

Some impressive catch phrases HMT used in its watch advertisements.
"Come, discover HMT watches. It will change the way you look at time."  It certainly did!
"Keep time with HMT – The time keepers to the nation." We did and they indeed were!


Amrit Yegnanarayan said...

My first and only watch as a Janata. I wore it till it stopped working about 20 years ago. Have never worn a watch since then

Prashant Pandey said...

Quite Nostalgic and a very well written memoir of Mr Dinakar's journey with time.

sachin bhat said...

wonderful blog abt hmt

Susan Hirneise Moore said...

You continue to amaze me, Dinu. I had no idea how adept you are with watch repair and such!

Merit Builder said...

Beautiful article. I'm 25 and I invested in the HMT Jubilee Silver Dotted Dial a three days ago and received it today. Others may scoff at me for not wearing a Quartz but its a very small hassle for what I consider to be classiest timepiece I have ever laid my eyes on. Beats all the other modern designs companies come up with these days. :)

The best part is that the year I bought it in (2017) is marking the 70th anniversary of India's independence which is what Jubilee stands to celebrate :)