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Stories from the Homeland: Bangalore Watch Company

by Kunal Khemka on April 16, 2020
The Collector's View

Our Indian correspondent Kunal Khemka tells the story of the Bangalore Watch Company, and discusses its place in horology.

India is no stranger to Horology and Watchmaking. Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipurcommissioned five Sundials – ‘Jantar Mantars’, completed between 1724 and1735 in the Indian cities of New-Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura, and Varanasi.

During Colonial times (1858 to 1947) the English brought a lot of their clocks to India. More recently, Hindustan Machine Tools Limited (HMT) (an Indian Government organization) set up a joint venture in 1961 with Citizen Watch Company of Japan – HMT Watches – to manufacture watches. Now almost defunct, these watches are highly sought after amongst nostalgic Indian collectors. This was followed by Titan Company in 1984, a joint venture between India’s giant TATA Group and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation to manufacture (mostly) affordable watches. While the above have their roots in Royalty, Colonial Heritage, Government Policy, Industrial Conglomerates and Joint-Ventures, Bangalore Watch Company, founded in 2018, has its roots in Entrepreneurial Spirit in a fiercely Modern and Global India.

Background


Bangalore Watch Company was founded by a young husband-wife couple of Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj. Both were former high-end software consultants, who first met while pursuing their master’s degree in university in India. What’s remarkable here is while most independent watch brands and microbrands are founded by watchmakers seeking an entrepreneurial opportunity, Nirupesh and Mercy were software consultants who left promising global careers to establish an Indian watch brand. Then living in Hong Kong, widely regarded as a global hub for watch retail, they were frequently exposed to prestige and haute horlogerie watch brands, such as Rolex, Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Phillipe, Vacheron Constantin amongst others. This piqued their interest in watches and horology.

Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj.

They noticed that while most of these brands produced relatively few watches per year, most did so with incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail, and still manage to tell stories about their homeland through their collections. They realized that no watch brand in India was making world-class watches and telling stories of India through their collections. This became the genesis of Bangalore Watch Company, and the seed for a new watch brand was planted.

Nirupesh and Mercy took a sabbatical from their jobs in 2016 to figure out their future life plans. While their software careers were progressing, they were not enjoying their lives as they had to move to a new country every few years. During the sabbatical, they did extensive market research and created a plan to make their idea come alive. They moved back to India, and after investing a significant portion of their life savings in their new venture, Bangalore Watch Company was born in 2018 in the southern-Indian city of Bangalore. While Bangalore is famous as a global IT hub, and home to well-known companies such as Infosys, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy Services, the city is also home to HMT Limited, headquarters of Titan Company and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). And it has been home to Nirupesh and Mercy, who moved here in 2003 for their careers.

India is a promising market for luxury watches. According to Bangalore Watch Company’s own research, the size of the Indian watch market is (approximately) USD $ 1.3 – 1.4 Billion, with a growth rate in the high teens. Many famous Swiss and Japanese brands are present. The authorized retail network is also sophisticated with several chains across India, mostly regional. Retail showrooms and customer service are on par with the best in the world. With the rise of newer economic opportunities, the market for global luxury products grew significantly.

While demand in India for prestige brands such as Rolex, Omega, Breguet, Ulysse Nardin, Zenith etc. grew significantly, Bangalore Watch Company’s research also illustrated the fact that Indians – both resident and overseas Indians, have a passion for world-class Indian brands which convey Indian stories. A great example would be Indian Single Malt Whisky industry – made by Amrut Distilleries, John Distilleries, and Rampur Distilleries, which have become well known global brands.

India’s own whiskies have gained a good reputation worldwide.

Nirupesh and Mercy felt there was ‘enough room’ in the market for Bangalore Watch Company to exist and they took the bold first steps of entrepreneurship.

The first watch they debuted was the Renaissance Automatic, which they saw as a Homage to HMT Watches; taking off where HMT left off. And both HMT and Bangalore Watch Company being in Bangalore added to the allure.

Collections

BWC is comprised of two collections:

Renaissance, which includes the Automatic for Men, and ‘Stri’ (means
‘Woman’ in Hindi) for Ladies. This collection was inspired by and pays
tribute to mid-19 th century dress watches, as well as to both India’s
erstwhile HMT and Hedge & Golay (another erstwhile Indian watchmaking venture.)

Mach 1 is an Aviation inspired collection and is a tribute to India’s first
supersonic fighter the MIG-21 Type 77. This variant of the MIG-21 was in service for five-decades in the Indian Air Force (IAF), from 1963 and retired in 2013.

Renaissance Collection:

Automatic:
The Renaissance Automatic is a men’s classical three-hander with date. It has a case diameter of 40mm and is powered by a workhorse and reliable automatic movement – the Japanese made Citizen Miyota 9015. The case is made of surgical grade stainless steel 316L. There are six dial variations, and this is a Limited Edition Run of 500 pieces.

These include:

  • Grand Ivory.
  • Deep Anthracite.
  • Argentum.
  • Grand Ivory. (Case has rose gold PVD plating).
  • Deep Anthracite. (Case has rose gold PVD plating).
  • Argentum. (Case has rose gold PVD plating).

Other notable details include a circular brushed pattern dial; applied hour
markers, indices and dauphine hands – all rhodium plated; date-window frame; water resistance of 100 meters or 330 feet; scratch resistant sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating and a transparent caseback. Each is priced at USD 550.

Stri:
The Renaissance Stri is a ladies classical three-hander. It has a case diameter of 36mm and is powered Ronda Swiss Quartz movement. The case is made of surgical grade stainless steel 316L. There are five dial variations, and this is a limited edition of about 300 pieces. These include:

  • Opaline.
  • Anthracite.
  • Opaline. (Case has rose gold PVD plating).
  • Anthracite. (Case has rose gold PVD plating).
  • Emerald. (Case has rose gold PVD plating).

Other notable details include a bezel adorned with 72 hand-picked Swarovski Crystals; sunburst pattern dial; applied hour markers; indices and leaf hands – with the hands being rhodium plated; water resistance of 30 meters or 100 feet and scratch resistant sapphire crystal. The price ranges from USD 410, 440, and 470 depending on dial variant.

Mach 1 Collection

The Mach 1 is Bangalore Watch Company’s interpretation of a Pilots Watch. It is a three-hander with day of the week and date. It has a case diameter of 42mm and is powered by another workhorse and reliable automatic movement – the Swiss Made Sellita SW-220-1. The case is made of surgical grade stainless steel 316L. There are a total of four dial and case variations. This is a limited edition of about 300 pieces. These include:

  • Mach 1 Civilian, Stainless Steel.
  • Mach 1 Aviator, Stainless Steel.
  • Mach 1 Civilian, Stealth Fighter. (Case has PVD matte black coated).
  • Mach 1 Aviator, Stealth Fighter. (Case has PVD matte black coated).
    The dial design of both the Civilian and Aviator is Bangalore Watch Company’s own interpretation of the historic German Flieger Design Type A and B, both popular WWII designs.
  • Type A (Baumeister A) is a classical dial with Arabic Numerals from 1 to 11, and a triangle with two dots at 12. This is re-interpreted in both the Civilian versions. There are no two dots at 12.
  • Type B (Baumeister B) uses big minute numerals from 5 to 55, and a small inner circle with numerals for hours, and at 60, a triangle and a line on top. This is re-interpreted in both the Aviator versions. There is no line above the triangle.
The BWC Mach 1 Civilian, SS.

Other notable details include the crown, shaped like a jet’s afterburner nozzle; water resistance of 100 meters or 330 feet; scratch-resistant sapphire crystal which also has triple anti-reflective coating for extreme legibility. The dial and the hands are both matte black, and the numeral and hands are both filled with superluminowa C3 grade. And the ‘Fin-Flash’ of the IAF is placed near 9’o clock.

While military aircraft have their countries national marking on their fuselage and wings, an additional marking is often displayed on the Fin or Rudder. IAF’s Fin-Flash are the Tri-colours of the Indian Flag. The stainless-steel versions are priced at USD 680, and the Aviator (matte black PVD coated versions) at USD 730.

BWC also made a Mach 1X, Stainless Steel version where the dial was made from the skin of an IAF decommissioned MIG-21.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 FL’.

This was a limited edition of 21 pieces. During the MACH 1 design process, they started exploring the possibility of a special limited run of watches with parts from an Indian Air Force MiG 21. The idea of creating watches with components from airplanes isn’t new; although very few brands have executed them well. With the Indian Air Force’s strict policy of not making airplane scrap available to third-parties, it was almost impossible at the time to imagine such a project. With perseverance, and a stroke of luck BWC managed to find a legitimate source with limited material recovered from the skin of decommissioned Indian Air Force MiG 21.

The Mach 1X dial, is made from the skin of an IAF decommissioned MIG-21

Recently, they launched four strap options named after four IAF Bases:

  • Farkhor Black – named after IAF secret base in Farkhor, Tajikistan.
  • Siachen Grey – named after IAF high altitude base in Siachen (Kashmir).
  • Jaisalmer Khaki – named after IAF base in Jaisalmer Desert, (Rajasthan).
  • Tezpur Green – named after IAF’s Eastern Command base in Tezpur,
    (Assam).

Mach 1 has proved popular and might find a permanent place in Bangalore Watch Company collection.

Assembly Operations

While Bangalore Watch Company is an Indian company with Indian ideas and stories, the watches themselves are not 100% Indian. Nirupesh and Mercy’s belief in 100% transparency and quest to produce truly world-class watches led them to seek carefully selected suppliers in both India and overseas, including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and Switzerland. Over 90% of the components they use are designed in-house but manufactured by these suppliers. The cases, hands, dials are all manufactured overseas. It would be impossible to get everything
done in India as the local ecosystem is geared towards much larger quantities.

Also, no supplier in India was able to provide certain components, such as surgical grade 316L stainless steel and sapphire crystal. Their watches are assembled (casing of movement, dials, hand-setting, crystal etc.) in Hong Kong, before being shipped to them in Bangalore for final quality control, and strap-fitting. Nirupesh and Mercy felt that the available skill set in
India for assembly of mechanical watches was lacking, and thus decided to have this done in Hong Kong. Every watch shipped to its new owner is personally overseen by either Nirupesh or Mercy. And the watches are solely available online through their website and come with a 24-month warranty.

Conclusion:

As an Indian myself, I am proud to own two HMT’s and two Titan watches. As a child of the 80’s, I can somewhat relate to Bangalore Watch Company’s stories of Renaissance being a homage to HMT, and Mach 1 being a tribute to IAF’s MIG-21. Millennials and beyond might not be able to so easily, as the India they are born into has been far too modern, open and global, and such nostalgia might be meaningless to them. Stories like these are important as they serve as a reminder of one’s heritage. Watches are more interesting and have greater appeal when connected to such stories. It will certainly be interesting to see what Bangalore Watch Company introduce next.

Acknowledgements:

The following Sources and Individual were consulted to write this article:
Wikipedia.org/wiki/Jantar_Mantar
Wikipedia.org/wiki/HMT_(Company)
Wikipedia.org/wiki/Titan_Company
Wikipedia.org/wiki/Fin_flash
Bangalore Watch Company website. www.bangalorewatchco.in .

A special thanks to Mr. Nirupesh Joshi of Bangalore Watch Company for providing me with invaluable background information on their entrepreneurial journey; for loaning me a Renaissance 1 Automatic and Mach 1 Aviator, Stainless Steel; for few weeks; and for answering all my numerous questions.

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