A Glimpse of the History of India and the Watch World | The Hour Markers

History has it that watches, namely the “sun watch” first originated in Egypt around 1500 B.C. Then came the inception of the first modern wristwatch and pocket watches, that were limited to the affluent lot for obvious reasons.

Did you know that it was in fact America that manufactured wrist watches in thousands for the common man. Peter Hamlin created the first pocket watch in 1524 and finally the trend of pocket watches spread to Switzerland by 1575. From here to the inception of “Omega Watch Company’ in 1848 by Louis Brand, the birth of the crown (Rolex) in 1905, there were watches of all shapes and sizes to cater to everyone’s fancies and pockets. India wasn’t too far from this frenzy.

favre leuba watches price in india | The Hour Markers
favre leuba watches price in india | The Hour Markers

In 1865 and 1867, Fritz Favre, a worthy successor to his father, traveled to India and launched his brand on the subcontinent, which was to quickly develop into an important market for Favre-Leuba. Around 1954, after the Second World War, Favre-Leuba was able to count on a stable position in India thanks to their own office in Bombay. Step by step, the family company won back its position and relevance in other watch markets – first in Switzerland, then in Europe, and later in America and Africa.

west end watch company watches | The Hour Markers
west end watch company watches | The Hour Markers

Longines, an integral part of the Swatch Group today claims that their first shipment of watches came into India in 1878. In 1884, Alcide Droz and Arnold Charpie started the watches business for “West End Watches” in Mumbai, then known as Bombay. Most of the railway companies back then had West End watches and clocks to synchronise what is known as, the world’s longest rail network. By 1914, “West End” was manufacturing watches marked C.S. for the Civil Service in India and Indian Military that were under the British control.

zenith watches price in india | The Hour Markers
zenith watches price in india | The Hour Markers

Zenith, one of the most preeminent makes of some of the most precise watches began selling in India as early as 1901.

zenith watches price in india | The Hour Markers
zenith watches price in india | The Hour Markers

Mahatma Gandhi himself was given a Zenith pocket watch by his friend Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964.

Mahatma Gandhi

This silver pocket watch became one of his rare few material possessions and accompanied his daily life, notably signalling his prayer times thanks to its alarm function. To his great regret, it was stolen from him during a train journey to Kanpur, but fortunately the thief was filled with guilt and remorse, and returned it to him six months later while begging his forgiveness. This anecdote about his Zenith watch was shared by Gandhi in his journal.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Watches | The Hour Markers
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Watches | The Hour Markers

Then there is the famous legacy of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso that was created for the British Polo players in India way back in 1931.

Now coming to our very own homegrown brands. Around the 70’s the Indian watch market was almost dominated by HMT ( Hindustan Machine Tools), a brand by the Government of India. HMT set up a watch manufacturing Unit at Bangalore in collaboration with M/s Citizen Watch Co., Japan in 1961. As the first manufacturer of Wrist watches in the country, HMT successfully absorbed the totally new precision manufacturing technology for mass production, and assembly of micro sized components. This tryst with ‘firsts’ continued and led to launch of India’s first Automatic Day-Date watch , first Quartz watch , first Braille watch, first Ana-Digi watch and so on.

Indira Gandhi, third Prime Minister of India

The first HMT watch, rightly named “Janta” was launched by the then Hon’ble Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963. This still remains one of the most popular HMT watches even today.Indira Gandhi was yet another iconic ambassador HMT. Between 1972 and 1985, HMT set up manufacture units in Bangalore, Srinagar, Tumkur and Ranibaug, infact just the Bangalore unit housed 3500 engineers and rolled out over 10 crore watches over 50 years. Sadly due to poor management and various other reasons, the Government of India closed down most of their factories around 2014. However, you will surely find one HMT in almost every common man’s home in India and still enjoys that “cult” status in the country.

The first batch of Hand Wound HMT Wrist Watches was released by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The first batch of Hand Wound HMT Wrist Watches was released by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

They say save the best for the last. How we discuss watches in India and not mention the Indian giant – Titan. A joint venture between the Tata Group and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO), Titan commenced its operations in 1984 under the name Titan Watches Limited. Widely known for transforming the watch and jewellery industry in India and for shaping India’s retail market by pioneering experiential retail, Titan is the fifth largest integrated own brand watch manufacturer in the world.

Raga by Titan Masaba Golden Watch | The Hour Markers
Raga by Titan Masaba Golden Watch | The Hour Markers

With hitting the 15 million mark every year in production, each year saw new technologies and innovations. In 1993 Titan set foot in the European market, followed by Middle East and Asia Pacific, selling over 150 million pieces across 32 countries. Topping the charts in the share of the organized watch market with a claim of 50% share, audaciously challenging the Swiss, Titan became the world’s largest integrated own brand manufacturer of watches. It’s no surprise then that Titan redefines the way India sees and wears watches. Infact Titan also brought home a Swiss-made brand namely- Xylys. From Sonata and Fastrack to Raga and Nebula, Titan brands hold a credible place in every Indian’s home.

Raga by Titan Masaba Golden Watch | The Hour Markers
Raga by Titan Masaba Golden Watch | The Hour Markers

Be it the Maharaja’s who procured various Vacheron Constantin’s, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s and Cartier over the years, the association of India and watches go way back. Infact even in recent times there have been various brands that have paid tribute to the legacy of watches and India.

Here are few :

  1. Panerai
Radiomir Peneria GMT Watches | The Hour Markers
Officine Panerai paid tribute to India with two Special Edition watches. The timepieces were personalised with an engraving on the back of the dial, showcasing the iconic Gateway of India, Mumbai’s most famous monument, built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, and widely recognized as the gateway of power and majesty.
Officine Penerai Watches | The Hour Markers
Officine Penerai Watches | The Hour Markers

2. Piaget

Piaget watches price in india | The Hour Markers
On the Altiplano Double Jeu and the Protocole XXL, the Indian temple drawn by the Piaget designers evokes the Lake Palace on the small island of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, India.
Piaget watches price in india | The Hour Markers
Piaget watches price in india | The Hour Markers

3. Girard Perregaux

Girard Perregaux Watch price in india | The Hour Markers
The 2008 WW.TC Financial Bombay Stock Exchange, a watch that indicates time around the world as well as the business hours of major stock markets, including Bombay.

4. Frederique Constant

The Frederique Constant Classics Limited Edition India | The Hour Markers
The Frederique Constant Classics Limited Edition India

5. Louis Moinet

Louis Moinet’s Artistic interpretation of the Taj Mahal | The Hour Markers
Louis Moinet’s Artistic interpretation of the Taj Mahal as a part of the « 8 Marvels of the World » collection
Coming from a family of watch enthusiasts and pioneers, Kari, as fondly identified by the watch-community, has been a part of this mystical world of horology for almost two decades now. From watch magazines to books to Internationally acclaimed watch shows, Kari has founded, initiated and pioneered various such endeavours.