HMT Watches Limited, manufacturer of the closest-to-the-heart possession of almost every Indian at one time, will soon be shutting down.
The legendary watchmaker of the time machines that ruled Indian wrists and hearts for five decades was suffering continuous losses since 2000 due to the very competitive market and new brands. A government-owned subsidiary of the Hindustan Machine Tools, it saw a loss of Rs. 242.47 crore in 2012-13 and was unable to pay salaries to its employees.
“The government has decided to shut down HMT Watches Ltd. and HMT Chinar Watches Ltd. The Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises (BRPSE) has already recommended it and the board of directors has also given the go-ahead,” a senior official told The Indian Express.
An HMT watch was once a status symbol in the country. Fathers would hand over this valued possession to their children and they would then give it to the next generation, keeping the watch in the family as a tradition.
HMT Limited came into existence in 1961 in association with Citizen Watch Company, Japan. The then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, introduced the first ever HMT watch and the company has captured the hearts of everyone in the country since then. They set up the first watch manufacturing unit in Bangalore and an amazing 7-meter wide clock at Lalbagh still catches the attention as soon as you enter the main gate.
The Timekeepers to the Nation
The tagline was true to its words as the attire of office-goers would not be complete without an HMT watch, our grandparents would not step out of the house without stylishly wrapping their wrists with this piece of “jewellery” and birthdays and celebrations would not be considered complete without an HMT watch being presented as a gift!
I remember the day my father’s favourite watch stopped working. Unlike his usual calm and composed self, this time he actually reacted. He looked sad, restless and could not wait to take the watch for repair.
“Why don’t you wear the new watch I gave you last month? It’s time you got rid of that old one you have been wearing for ages,” I said casually.
He just said these four words, “It is HMT Janata.” And the sparkle in his eyes showed me that to him, it was much more than just a watch. Gifted to him by his father, it was a family tradition which he planned to keep forever. Luckily, the watch got fixed and we all got to know what “HMT” really meant to him.
Janata was also the favourite brand of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who loved its simplicity. Apart from the popular Janata watch, it was the “dowry watch” Kanchan which was always in demand. This ‘automatic’ model was so popular that it is believed people would line up in front of the showroom with a letter of recommendation from various political leaders stating that the Kanchan watch should be given to the bearer of the letter. Not only this, in some families a marriage would not happen if there was no Kanchan watch given as a gift to the groom!
At a time when Apple is launching the iWatch and our smartphones have replaced these wrist accessories, can you imagine an era when something as small as a watch could hold such importance?
Do you remember the gold-plated Sona watches by HMT and how wonderfully they used to go with every outfit? The thinnest model made by HMT was adored by all.
HMT was the first in India to launch a hand-wound mechanical watch, a quartz watch, an automatic watch, a women’s watch and a Braille watch. In fact, since its inception, it has produced over 115 million watches!
How and why did the watch stop ticking?
HMT had a very successful run until the 1990s era of liberalization, when newer and more advanced companies started to take over the market.
HMT somewhere failed to understand that watches are slowly becoming a fashion statement and not just a machine to track time. Its efforts to launch new designs and models also failed when production at its Srinagar factory stopped and it had to face a working capital shortage in the early 90s.
HMT Watch Business group was restructured as HMT Watches Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of HMT Limited in 2000. But, this also could not help the company come out of the falling demand. A revival plan was proposed which was approved by BRPSE in 2006 but was not supported by the Finance Ministry and Planning Commission.
ICRA Management Consultancy Services Ltd was appointed to draft a revised proposal but the company failed to show significant improvements and continued to bear losses on a regular basis, which finally led to its demise.
“HMT had all the right ingredients to succeed. It had outstanding engineers who knew the art of watch-making, possessed good technology, retail network, servicing and distribution. It just had to redefine itself to come out of the glut,” says Bhaskar Bhat, Titan’s managing director.
With HMT shutting down, it sure is the end of an era. Those who have this watch value it all the more now. For those who missed out on flaunting the tradition, you still have a chance to glimpse into the world of these amazing watches here. You can also learn how these iconic timepieces were manufactured in this short documentary from 1976.