It’s a sign on the changing times. HMT, one of India’s most beloved watchmakers, has finally shut down its last factory in Tumkur. With it, HMT watches, once a staple for young men across the country, will become a thing of the past.
Earlier this year, the government had decided that it would down the shutters on the state owned company. HMT, or Hindustan Machine Tools, had been founded in 1953 as a tool manufacturer, but had later diversified into watches, tractors and printing machinery. The watch division was set up in 1961 at Bangalore in collaboration with Citizen Watch Co, Japan.
The 120 employees of the plant in Tumkur have all been offered voluntary retirement. At its peak, the factory had generated over 1,600 jobs directly and another 400 in the 20 ancillary units on a sprawling 119 acres which almost hosted a township, including the residential quarters of its employees. Three other factories, including one in Uttrakhand were also shut down.
HMT was the watch of choice for Indians in the 70s and 80s, and owning an HMT watch was a rite of passage for young adults. As time went on though, the watches found it hard to compete with cheaper and snazzier foreign counterparts. With mobile phones displaying the time, watches aren’t as ubiquitous as they once were, or have been replaced by fancy digital versions.
But HMT shall always be fondly remembered for its influence in popular culture. It was proudly worn by people as a symbol of home-grown manufacturing that actually worked. One of its models, called ‘Kanchan’ was known as the ‘dowry watch’, simply because entire weddings would be put on hold until the watch was made a part of the marriage agreement. And film actor Sunny Deol reportedly still wears an HMT watch which he winds daily.
Time, that cruel mistress, rolls on, even for a watch manufacturer.