Marking The Hours With Harman Wadhwa, Founder Of The Repair Hub On Perceived Notions Around Authorised & Unauthorised Service Centers

Marking The Hours With Harman Wadhwa, Founder Of The Repair Hub On Perceived Notions Around Authorised & Unauthorised Service Centers

THM Desk
12 Mar 2024 |
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Founded in 2015, The Repair Hub is an independent watch service boutique born out of a family's deep-rooted passion for timepieces dating back to 1960. Recognizing the vital importance of proper maintenance for preserving fine watches, they set out to establish a specialized facility solely dedicated to delivering exceptional servicing and repair services beyond compare. Their singular focus stems from an understanding that meticulous care and expert hands are paramount when it comes to ensuring the longevity of prized timepieces.


Authorised in servicing brands like Citizen, Victorinox, Seiko, etc, we caught up with Founder Harman Wadhwa to discuss their journey and more!

THM: What made you venture into this area of watchmaking?

Harman: So initially after graduation, I joined my dad's business, a watch distribution company for North India where were distributing Espirit watches and Seiko clocks, etc. I joined after college but wasn't enjoying it much and felt too dependent on the brands and retailers. So I decided to start my own retail store. However, I faced some challenges growing the retail store.


Initially, customers weren't interested but gradually that changed and I realized there was a gap in the market - customers wanted more services and there were more and more luxury watches like Rolex and Omega coming in for repairs. I could see my staff had the capabilities, but there needed to be a bigger gap in the market. So I started to enjoy it and thought that if I wanted to make my career, I'd have to do it myself. I had always wanted to become a watchmaker since 10th grade. I dropped that plan as we didn't have direct access to resources in Switzerland. But I tried again and after much effort, I found one of the few remaining watchmaking schools in the world and in 2019, I did my course at the Korpela Hoff's Watchmaking Competence Centre (KHWCC) in Le Locle, Switzerland.


THM: Why did you decide to start The Repair Hub?

Harman: It was a fantastic experience being in the watch manufacturing hub, walking past all the brands daily. My independent school taught classical watchmaking comprehensively, unlike some brand-funded schools. After returning, things have progressed well for me. Initially, in 2015, I started with fashion watch brands as that vertical wasn't served well. Most service centers were part of retail stores, but I wanted an independent specialization. I've now reduced the fashion brands to focus more on luxury watches, as there is high demand for trained specialists like me, and clients feel reassured entrusting their prized timepieces to an expert.

THM: Do you believe customers are often skeptical when choosing a service center for their timepieces?

Harman: People are always very skeptical about where to go and who to trust for servicing their expensive watches. There's always that fear when they buy such high end timepieces, but don't have reliable access to genuine parts. Not everyone can practically travel abroad just to get their watches serviced. Surprisingly, when I did research in 2015, I went to cafes frequented by affluent people and surveyed them, asking "Where do you get your watches repaired?" Everyone said they go back to the original boutique where they purchased the watch.


At that point, I was scared thinking "Oh, I'm going to do this, but people will only go where they bought from." That was true back then - if your watch needed service, you'd return to the boutique. However, things have changed now with social media. Brands can market directly and people read reviews before deciding who to trust with their prized possessions, rather than just going to the original seller. This shift has worked in my favor. People now have more options and information when choosing a skilled, trustworthy watchmaker, rather than defaulting to the boutique. My expertise permits me to service their treasured timepieces reliably.

THM: When it comes to watch servicing, what kind of requests do you get from customers?

Harman: Usually, a client comes in with a basic problem - "My watch is not working properly. The crystal is damaged, or the watch is running slow, losing time." These are common symptoms that indicate a need for servicing. For many regular customers, not collectors, they simply notice their watch has stopped working. Indians typically have the mentality to only get a watch serviced when it completely stops, which is the wrong approach. Delaying service until the watch stops leads to more damage and higher wear and tear. It's better to get periodic servicing done.


People are gradually becoming more informed that preventive maintenance is crucial for longevity. They need to understand that neglecting service increases costs in the long run due to additional repairs required. It's the same principle as for any other product - periodic servicing prevents bigger issues. The only advantage with watches is that you can optimally service them every 3-5 years, stretching it to 6 years maximum, but not beyond that. People get complacent thinking "Oh my watch has been running for 12 years!" Just because it's still running doesn't mean it's running perfectly fine without any issues building up internally. They don't realize how much it may be gaining or losing time when left untouched for months.

THM: When a customer comes to you with a problem, what are the steps you undertake to diagnose it?

Harman: So the first questions I typically ask are - How old is this watch? How often do you wear it? And what kinds of problems are you facing with it - lack of power reserve, running slow, stopping at a specific time, hands touching each other, etc.? Sometimes I get cases where the watch has water damage because the owner didn't properly screw in the crown after setting the time, compromising water resistance.

Unfortunately, I also see many cases where someone has attempted to repair the watch previously, but did it improperly, ending up causing more damage. It's like getting stitches on your body - you want them to be neat and precise, not rough and sloppy work. Watchmaking requires extensive training and skill - it's an art that not just anyone can do properly. Getting Watch repairs done in a haphazard way by an unskilled person is completely wrong in my view. The work has to be carried out with care and expertise. I definitely believe watchmaking is a specialized craft that demands a lot of effort to master the intricate skills required to service fine timepieces correctly.


THM: What are the portfolio of brands that you specialise in?

Harman: For the brands I'm authorized for, I obviously get those watches frequently. But I've been very fortunate that I get to service mostly all brands like Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and more. I've been able to achieve expertise on a wide range of high-end pieces. There are very few cases where I've had to turn a customer away, maybe one or two instances tops. That's because sometimes the job requires factors aligning from the client's side as well. Customers don't always understand when they should let the brand handle extremely complicated repairs.

In those cases, I advise them to go to the brand's own service center, especially for things like Minute Repeaters. I explain that while I can do the work, it's better if the manufacture handles such intricate complications in case any issues arise during or after the repair. But if you see my Instagram, you'll find I've worked on pieces like Roger Dubuis Double Tourbillon and F.P. Journe timepieces as well. While new for me initially, I have an experienced team. We discuss and strategize how to properly approach and execute the repair process for such haute horlogerie pieces. It's a serious matter - like an operation theater for expensive watches. We cannot take any chances.

THM: What are the perceived differences between an authorised and unauthorised service center?

Harman: While authorized service centers are trusted, the quality may vary across brands and individuals handling the work. It ultimately comes down to the skill set and knowledge of the watchmaker, not just a fancy brand name. There have been instances where brands said no or took too long, and we provided better service. I'm not saying authorized centers are bad, but you don't know the expertise of the person doing the actual repair work behind the scenes. Amazing at retail doesn't necessarily mean amazing at intricate servicing. It depends on the watchmaker's abilities and their team's competence - teamwork is critical in this craft.


So I wouldn't always recommend only going to an authorized center. When getting an expensive watch serviced, research the actual watchmaker handling your piece. Ask them specifics of what will be done. Read reviews. Don't assume the boutique you bought from will provide the best service just because they sold you the watch. For many brands, I'm the only competent independent option in my city able to properly service them, surpassing some authorized locations. After-sales service is more than just repairing a watch - it's detailed processes, customer communication, understanding their needs, and perfect servicing execution.

While brands try to maintain uniform standards across service centers, the quality can differ based on the personnel's skills. So do your research, have the watchmaker explain their process transparently, and then decide who to entrust your prized timepiece with - an authorized center or independent specialist. Thorough diligence is advisable for ensuring a luxury watch gets the care it deserves.

THM: How do you position yourself amongst other service centers in India?

Harman: Firstly, there are hardly any good, fully independent and professionally-run service centers with proper equipment and skilled staff - you can count them on one hand. Many retailers and shops claim to offer services, but lack the capabilities of a fully-fledged service facility. When it comes to marketing, I've been very active on Instagram which helps connect with clients. It usually starts with one watch repair, and after seeing my work, that client recommends me to 10 other people. Word-of-mouth is crucial in this service business.

Unfortunately, the Indian consumer has faced issues with brands frequently changing authorized partners. This leaves customers confused about where to take their watch, being passed around like a football. Most buyers, typically men, want one reliable point of contact they can entrust their valuable timepiece to. They don't want the hassle of being bounced between multiple service centers. They prefer handing it over to an expert they can trust to handle everything seamlessly - either servicing it themselves or coordinating with the brand if required. This personalized end-to-end service approach, along with professional capabilities, is what sets us apart from the rare independent specialists from the numerous underqualified retailers offering repairs. Clients gravitate towards the convenience and peace of mind provided.

THM: Lastly, are all your processes automated or need manual work by the technicians?

Harman: In watchmaking, we utilize specialized testing machines to validate our work. After repairing an issue, we have instruments that confirm if the watch is functioning perfectly before returning it to the client. We also invest in obtaining the proper tools required for servicing different brands - specific screwdrivers, case openers, bezel removers and more. We acquire the equipment stipulated by each manufacturer, which is essential for properly dismantling and reassembling their timepieces. As an independent multi-brand specialist, I continuously invest in expanding my capabilities across brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, and others. Whatever new pieces or complications a client brings, I strive to have the necessary resources to make the watch parts and the correct tools to service them correctly.

I actively make investments whenever new demands emerge regarding certain watches that require specialized tools or testing gear. For me, it's a passion to reach the optimum level - I cannot compromise on delivering the best quality work possible. Achieving technical mastery across fine watchmaking is my driving force behind continually upgrading my skills and workshop's capabilities.

Listening to this young entrepreneur, who has evidently dedicated himself to his goals and passions with genuine sincerity, prompts one to consider the choice between an authorized service center and a dependable unauthorized one - a decision that significantly impacts the maintenance and durability of your timepiece. Let’s address the elephant in the room - much like Harman just mentioned, many adapt to the latter and work with smaller and focused service centres like The Repair Hub but will not speak of it openly. Authorized service centers, typically associated directly with the watch brand or retailer, provide assurance of quality and expertise endorsed by the manufacturer itself. Conversely, certain reliable unauthorized service centers may promise faster turnaround times and occasionally lower costs. However, it's crucial to approach this decision with caution.