Modern watchmaking in India has its inaugural roots in the creation of a division of watch manufacture as part of the vast State subsidised company HMT (Hindustan Machine Tool), which is a supplier of a great range of engineering products that include precision moulding machines and tractors.
The first batch of watches was produced in 1953 and was officially released by the Prime Minister Nehru in an opening ceremony at the factory based in Bengaluru (Bangalore). This brand, simply labelled HMT, became a popular watch of choice due to its robust movement (initially manufactured by the Japanese firm Citizen) could be cased well enough to protect the watch from seasonal monsoon damage.
Whilst Citizen provided the initial tooling, HMT quickly expanded the manufacturing capabilities to other regions and developed the expertise to include making balance springs and shockproofing devices.
Advertised as “Timekeepers to the Nation”, HMT produced a wide range of mainly hand wound watches, particularly for the ‘Office Worker Class’ .The ‘Janata’ was a favourite among the many different styles which could be bought at HMT outlets throughout the different regions, Government workers being offered a 30% discount . The Janata and the Pilot are the mainstay of the range and, helped by supplying the Military, annual sales approach 2 million watches.
In 1987 the Tata group, well known for steel production ,entered the market with a range branded as Titan. Initially these watches did not make much impact on the sales of HMT, which had broadened the range which included a “Dowry watch” worn by the groom. HMT relied on the traditional range of mechanical, manly men’s watches and developed electronic watches later.
Tata quickly realized that the eleven to twenty year old market was fairly unrepresented and started producing branded styles to represent different segments of other levels of society. The ‘Sonata’ range is aimed at “Sporting Youth” and the ‘Raga’ range is for “Mobile Ladies”. These new styles include the His & Hers Maxima range for wedding couples.
Surprisingly, the junior market now has over 40% of all sales and competes with Casio. Encouraged by this, Titan have developed a premium range which includes the Titan Edge, with a movement only 1.2mm thick. The HTSE range is extremely popular as the watches have a photovoltaic cell in the dial which uses light to power the watch.
With a customer base estimated at 150 million, in a country of 200 million internet users, much of the purchasing of watches in via online retailers such as Watchkart or Snapdeal. This now accounts for the great majority of sales, perhaps 80-90%. HMT have quietly relinquished its majority and Titan now supply 60% of the total watches sold, including the imported luxury Swiss brands. Internet use is expected to rise to over 500 million by 2020 Sadly the old factories at Lucknow and Ranibagh are closing, and the watches are being bought by collectors and enthusiasts. The Bengaluru plant remains and HMT watches remain on sale at post offices.