India

India's iconic HMT watches run out of time

Ithichanda Ponnappa shows off an HMT watch Image copyright Anantha Subramanyamk
Image caption Ithichanda Ponnappa is a fan of HMT watches

India recently announced plans to shut down the loss-making company which made iconic HMT Watches. BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi in Bangalore meets a dismayed fan with a large collection of HMT watches.

Ithichanda Ponnappa, who works with a multinational IT firm in India's technology capital, Bangalore, is hit by nostalgia.

He has been a fan of the old mechanical watches produced by the once-upon-a-time "public sector giant" HMT, or Hindustan Machine Tools, over the past 53 years.

The 37-year-old has been collecting HMT watches since he was rewarded with one by his father when he passed his school exams at age 15.

Today, he has an impressive collection of 650 HMT watches, mostly the mechanical ones.

And in recent weeks, he has been taking some time away from his busy work schedule to pick up the models that he does not possess.

Mr Ponnappa is not alone - many others are making a beeline for these watches as nostalgia sweeps across India, to possess a piece from "the timekeepers of the nation" - as HMT described its watches in advertisements.

'More than just time'

Mr Ponnappa is "very sad" that HMT is closing down. "I feel pity for people who buy expensive branded watches. What I love about HMT watches is their simplicity," he told the BBC.

So, what does he find fascinating about mechanical watches in this era of quartz and digital technology?

Image copyright Anantha Subramanyamk
Image caption Mr Ponnappa has a collection of 650 HMT watches
Image copyright Anantha Subramanyamk
Image caption Mr Ponnappa says what he loves about HMT watches is their simplicity
Image copyright Anantha Subramanyamk
Image caption HMT was making watches for more than 50 years before it decided to call it quits

"A watch is a lot more than just time. A mechanical watch has 120 components. You dismantle it and you just can't assemble it again. That is what is fascinating. You have to give a 12 round wind and it runs for 24 hours. And, it's fascinating to hear the tic tic tic," says Mr Ponnappa.

On being asked if he has any favourite models in his collection, he starts to count - HMT Citizen, Sona, Pilot, Janata... and then stops. "It's very difficult to say which one is my favourite," he says.

His current challenge is to find the special watches that HMT produced for the armed forces or a particular company and those with coloured dials.

In recent years, he has bought second-hand HMT watches on e-commerce sites like eBay.

"I bought from eBay, even from eBay UK, serviced them and am using them. The UK has a big community of HMT fans. Some of the watches cost me just £5 ($8), or even £20 ($32)."

Mr Ponnappa and some other admirers of the HMT watches set up a Facebook page whose membership has grown to 350 now. As membership of the fan club grew, the government at one point considered a revival plan for the watch factory.

But the mounting losses forced their hand - HMT's losses rose to 2.47bn rupees ($40m; £25m) in 2012-13, up from the previous year's 2.24bn rupees; its sales were down to 110m rupees while the production cost was 140m rupees.

"Major factors affecting the performance were paucity of working capital, erosion of trade channel and high cost of borrowings," the company said in its latest annual report.

Mr Ponnappa says a major reason behind HMT going out of fashion is the change in how people keep time.

"If you see some of the luxury watches, it is not about quartz. It is all about mechanical and automatic, which was the speciality of HMT. Today, people don't care. You don't really need a watch any more. You can check the time on your cell phone. Watches are more a fashion statement, a status symbol. People have plenty of money so they just go after brands," he says.