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
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!