A Brief His­tory of (In­dian) Time

For a coun­try that has al­ways had a fraught re­la­tion­ship with punc­tu­al­ity… or at least its own sense of stretch­able time, In­dia has a sur­pris­ingly deep love af­fair with watches. Watch­mak­ers too have al­ways loved us, if only be­cause we are an ‘un­der­pen­e­tra

India Today - - LEISURE - —Jabir

The Jaz Clock

A hugely pop­u­lar brand of alarm clock in In­dia from the 1930s through to the 1950s. From early art deco to later Bauhaus min­i­mal­ism, the clocks were al­ways stylish and fea­tured a chime tuned to the note ‘Re’. The French com­pany sur­vived Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion by in­tro­duc­ing a logo de­pict­ing a song­bird, the waxwing (or jasseur in French), to avoid the Boche’s dis­ap­proval of Jazz. Its pres­ence in In­dia faded with im­port re­stric­tions in the 1960s, but the com­pany still pro­duces watches and its old clocks do a brisk busi­ness on­line.


Ti­tan was the All­wyn of the 1990s. A Tata brand, ini­tially in a man­u­fac­tur­ing ar­range­ment with Timex, the com­pany has done a lit­tle too well to in­vite sen­ti­men­tal­ity or nostal­gia. Per­haps they re­alised as much, be­cause in 2011 they bought an­other legacy mar­que beloved of vintage watch web trawlers: Favre-Leuba… Maked in Swiz­zer­land but now Owned in In­dia, heheh…

The West End Watch Co.

This small Swiss com­pany was a leg­end in its hey­day— the first half of the 20th cen­tury. Their watches were favoured by soldiers and ad­ven­tur­ers across much of Asia but par­tic­u­larly in In­dia and the Hi­malayan re­gion. Its most fa­mous line, the ‘Sowar’, in­vokes the cav­al­ry­men of the Bri­tish In­dian Army. Ex­em­plars on ebay will cost you around $150. But steer clear of re­fur­bished spec­i­mens with re­painted di­als.


The indige­nous al­ter­na­tive to HMT, the state-owned com­pany be­gan mak­ing watches in 1981 in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Seiko and soon cap­tured 10 per cent of the coun­try’s watch mar­ket. De­spite en­er­getic ad­ver­tis­ing, in­clud­ing the first jin­gle A.R. Rah­man ever wrote, the com­pany did not sur­vive lib­er­al­i­sa­tion. But the watches are in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar on ebay. Ex­cept with vintage Seiko fetishists who com­plain of Feikos with All­wyn move­ments un­der the ‘made in Ja­pan’ face.

Zenith pocket watch

Mahatma Gandhi is re­mem­bered as ‘the most punc­tual man in In­dia’ and he cer­tainly liked his Zenith pocket watch, a gift from the young Indira Nehru. While the orig­i­nal was re­cently pur­chased at an auc­tion for $1.8 mil­lion, not-quite-faith­ful repli­cas cost­ing as lit­tle as Rs 300 abound on the e-tail mar­ket. Call it democ­racy…


Long be­fore ‘Make in In­dia’ was a thing, these watches were a mark of na­tional pride in the days of im­port sub­sti­tu­tion. The ‘Janta’, the ‘Jawan’ and the ‘Pi­lot’ were best­sellers and ever since the an­nounce­ment last year that the pub­lic sec­tor com­pany (estd 1961) would be ‘wound up’, as it were, the watches have be­come a fetish ob­ject for nos­tal­gists, iro­nists and reg­u­lar hip­sters. The in­ter­net is now awash in HMTs, real and fake. Jai Hind!

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