When the Indian government announced the closure of the state-owned HMT, India’s first watch company in 2015, Nirupesh Joshi, director at an IT firm, and his IT consultant wife Mercy Amalraj, were living the good life in Hong Kong. By their own admission, they spent a good chunk of their weekends that year at the city’s many luxury watch boutiques admiring fine timepieces.
When production finally ceased at the Bangalore-based HMT in 2016, the couple were on a sabbatical, traveling the world. By the time they were done traveling nine months later, instead of going back to their old lives, they returned to India with a desire to start India’s first micro watch brand in the city they called home — Bangalore.
“When we used to be in the boutiques of some of the finest watchmakers in the world, we wondered why fine watchmaking never took off in India as it did in the jewellery sector. HMT, Hegde & Golay and Titan are all great brands with a cult following but none of them are in the fine watchmaking league,” says Joshi. Sensing a real opportunity, they decided to introduce — to India and the world — an Indian micro brand.
“We started Bangalore Watch Company out of a singular desire to reacquaint gentlemen with fine watches of Indian origin.” The engineering graduates, who met in college, used their time on the road to research getting a watch brand off the ground. “Slowly, the research turned into a business plan. In late 2016 we decided to move back home and set up our company in January 2017,” says the 36-year-old.
IT HAD TO BE BANGALORE
Bangalore is home to two pioneering Indian watch brands, HMT and Hegde & Golay, which evoke a strong sense of nostalgia in everyone that grew up in the country in the 70s and 80s. “HMT, in particular, has a cult following with watch collectors at home and overseas ever since its closure was announced. Keeping this legacy in mind, there was no better way to identify ourselves than having our city’s name proudly tied to our brand. It had to be Bangalore, hence Bangalore Watch Company,” explains Joshi.
“That being said, neither HMT nor Hegde have a reputation for making fine watches. While we look up to the legacy, we’d like to be known as the first Indian origin brand to be creating fine timepieces in the subcontinent… telling stories from India," says Joshi.
SUGGESTED READING: Death of a Brand: The HMT Saga
All of 2017 was spent dealing with paper work to register their firm Island East Watch & Fashions Pvt Ltd, fleshing out designs for their first collection (which was done entirely by Joshi), deciding on the movement, sourcing parts and collaborating with engineers and design experts from Hong Kong, Shenzen and Europe.
The Indian market is flush with contemporary fashion brands producing quartz watches in the price range of $100 to $400.
“The Indian market is flush with contemporary fashion brands producing quartz watches in the price range of $100 to $400. But there are no Indian origin brands producing serious watches in the sub-$1,000 price range. We wanted to present to the gentlemen in India and overseas, a solid timepiece at an appetizing price point, and with strong emotional connections back to India.”
THE RENAISSANCE AUTOMATIC
The Renaissance Automatic is the brand’s debut collection, six models limited to 80 pieces each and open for pre-order on the Bangalore Watch Company website. Reminiscent of mid-century dress watches, it uses a 40-mm-wide case machined out of surgical-grade stainless steel and is water resistant to 100 meters. The bevel around the bezel and lugs are polished while the sides and bezel have a satin-brushed finish. The case uses a polished exhibition caseback and is fitted with a signed crown with the brand’s etched and polished shield logo.
Nowhere is the brand’s attention to detail more visible than in the design of the dial. The radially-brushed dial uses applied indices for the minutes track with arrowhead-shaped applied hour indices. A date window is placed at 3 o’ clock and the applied Bangalore Watch emblem at 12 and “Automatic” script at 6. It is paired with a calf skin leather strap with nubuck lining and is powered by the self-winding Miyota 9015, chosen because it was the best fit for the brand’s vision of a fine watch at their target retail price ($596 or AED2,188).
Citizen’s Miyota 9015 is a workhorse 4 Hz movement with 42 hours of power reserve and 24 jewels. To their credit, the brand has put in the extra yard to ensure the movement is finished well. Cue little details like the striped decoration on the bridges, removal of stock printing and a customized rotor with a laser engraving their signature shield motif.
“HMT’s first watches used Citizen’s movements, so there’s another slight tip of the hat to India’s watchmaking legacy,” says Joshi.
'MAKE IN INDIA' is CHALLENGING
Setting up a micro-brand in India hasn’t been easy. From registering the company to executing their business plan, there were niggles and challenges, at every stage. “The entrepreneur network and incubation environment for the tech or restaurant start-ups in Bangalore is excellent. But we are a micro watch brand, the only one in the city, and finding support in these groups was difficult,” recalls Joshi. “Not many understood our problems nor did they have suggestions or solutions for us most times.”
There are a handful of Indian firms that supply high quality parts, such as dials and cases, to the world’s top brands, yet they couldn’t find what they wanted locally. So, they went back to Hong Kong and further east to Shenzen to source parts. The next challenge was to find the right people to assemble their watches. Finding them in India was difficult, so they decided to shift micro-assembly to Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The watches are brought to Bangalore for the final assembly.
The next problem was figuring out how to take their fine timepieces to discerning men. Going to retail outlets meant either sacrificing their profits or increasing the price of the watch as retail outlets demanded as much as 40 per cent margin on top-end watches. So, their strategy is to stick to sales through their website at the moment.
They have done all this without any investor or crowd-funding initiative. The duo have put the majority of their life’s savings into this passion project. Currently, their focus is on building the brand and developing the second collection which is likely to launch this Fall.
For more information, log on to www.bangalorewatchco.in