Time’s up for HMT: Before it’s all gone, get one for yourself. Here’s why and how

If you had forgotten about the HMT watch your dad used, its soothing tick-tick-tick as you held it to your ear, this past week may have brought back a spate of memories.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has announced the closure of public sector units HMT Watches and HMT Chinar Watches. While the news is not a surprise, it triggered off huge interest as many Indians remembered their first HMT watch or the watches their elders wore.

The company that once commanded over 90 per cent of India’s wristwatch market, with some models so popular that marriages would be cancelled if the preferred one was not given as a gift to the groom, is finally being laid to rest.

But interestingly, there is still demand for HMT’s watches and news of the closure has spiked interest levels.

Chances are that you are interested in getting an HMT for old times’ sake. But should you get one for sentimental value? Which HMT should you buy? How does one service a watch when the manufacturer no longer exists? Where do you buy HMT watches, since almost no retailer stocks HMTs any longer? Many Indians have asked these question over the past week.

Here are some answers:
First up, yes, you should go ahead and get an HMT watch if you want to. Perhaps even two or more. There are hundreds of designs available, so everyone can find one they like. Many Indians will even find an HMT named after them!

It isn’t only for sentimental value. The watches that HMT was originally famous for are hand-winding, automatic mechanical watches. The finest watches in the world are not powered by batteries but by tiny machines that store power thanks to winding or just the movement of your wrist.

HMT watches are also quite rugged and might need servicing only once in five years, and will keep ticking as long as you take basic care.

That also means mechanical watches are more complicated and hence more expensive compared to quartz watches.

HMT, though, sells some of the cheapest mechanical watches in the world—despite a massive price rise in 2014-15. As for service, thanks to the millions of HMTs around and the fact that most HMT watches use a basic 50s era mechanical watch movements from Citizen in Japan, parts and even completely refurbished movements are easily available.

While every tiny watch repair store won’t have watch mechanics good enough to repair HMTs, you should be able to locate someone easily. A complete, refurbished HMT movement comes for around Rs 50, so repairs won’t be expensive either.

Where to buy isn’t an easy question. While HMT’s own retail shops have mostly downed shutters, HMT currently runs an e-commerce section on its website and on Amazon India, but many of the most popular models are out of stock and won’t ever come back.

Customer service is terrible, as those who have faced glitches while ordering will attest to. It’s a matter of weeks, if not days, before HMT stops its e-commerce operations. Another problem is that of quality—while older HMT watches were respected for their ruggedness, even if there wasn’t much finesse, some of the watches sold by HMT today come with defects ranging from broken straps or worse.

There are a few select private watch retailers who cater to niche demand and EBay has tons of listings too, but thanks to the demand a new cottage industry in fake HMT watches has sprung. While the movement cannot be faked because manufacturing watch movements isn’t an easy task, the dial and design are usually suspect. To make things worse, often a fake has a better finish than the real one.

Time’s up for HMT: Before it’s all gone, get one for yourself. Here’s why and how

The HMT White Pilot is the most iconic modern HMT. On the left is the fake, with the real thing on the right.

If you are looking for vintage HMT watches, the fakes are even tougher to catch. This cottage industry has given birth to watches which even HMT never manufactured.

Fortunately, help is at hand.

Try Facebook, where you can find India-dedicated watch groups like the India Watch Company. Groups like these have watch aficionados who are willing to help newbies detect fake watches from real ones and even allow buying and selling through them.

These groups also organise regular meet-ups and watch hunts. For instance, there is a thriving second-hand watch market in the Md Ali Road area in Mumbai and near Chandni Chowk in Delhi. At these places you can buy junk watches for as little as Rs 100 each, and these can restored to glory by spending around Rs 400-500 per watch.

Confused about the number of HMT models? One of the most iconic models has been the HMT Janata, the venerable watch that is a timeless classic.

Or there’s the Pilot—a simple watch that most real pilots would have never used but one that most HMT fans love. The Pilot comes in a range of colours from black to orange and blue. Both are hand-winding mechanical watches. There are a whole range of automatics too, ranging from the iconic Rajat Supreme onwards, although it must be said that most automatic HMTs with modern designs are not available any longer.

Watch collecting is a wonderful hobby since humans, since time immemorial, have been interested in measuring time. And if HMT’s closure has made you think about getting an HMT to bring back memories or even as an investment, you should—they last a lifetime, don’t need batteries, are easy to maintain and come at great prices.

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Updated Date: Jan 10, 2016 11:11:18 IST

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