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Bangalore’s Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj are determined to rewrite India’s watch-making history

Keeping time: Bangalore’s Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj are determined to rewrite India's watch-making history

Bangalore Watch Company, which is a ‘pick up from where HMT had left off’ has put a premium on high-quality parts in a world-class design in its watches

Keeping time: Bangalore’s Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj are determined to rewrite India's watch-making history

Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj

‘Top Notch’ is a fortnightly column where journalist and editor Namrata Zakaria introduces us to fashion’s elite and erudite club.

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When we speak of the luxury business in India, we usually speak of fashion or perhaps our gobsmacking palace hotels. Jewellery may comprise a large chunk of it simply because of its price tag, there’s scarcely a pan-national label that is especially design-focused or global-facing.

Premium horology too, such a gargantuan and gorgeous business the world over, is a cold-shouldered industry in India mostly monopolised by two common-man watches — first HMT, and then Titan.

But one Bangalore couple is quickly changing that. Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj founded the Bangalore Watch Company (BWC) just three years ago, and already find notable mention in the top luxury horological publications the world over.

BWC watches are made in India but put a premium on high-quality parts in a world-class design. Most importantly, they market themselves as a “modern Indian luxury watch” for the Indian as well as global discerner.

It’s probably ironic that both founders were former tech professionals. A boutique watch company is unusual as technology has rendered the wristwatch irrelevant.

“What we did in our past life is the polar opposite of what we do right now,” Joshi, 40, laughs. “We spent a few years overseas and we got introduced to the world of watches. So, the idea of a watch as luxury item came rather late to us — we didn’t inherit an heirloom piece like everyone else usually does,” he said.

Amalraj, 40, adds: “We were living in Hong Kong, and everywhere we looked there were luxury watch stores or billboards all around us. The malls were full of fancy watch labels, I couldn’t even pronounce all those names,” she smiles, and says. “But we wanted India to have a specialty watch. We wanted to represent our modern India on the world’s radar, we wanted to convince the world that India can make a beautiful watch too.”

BWC has recently launched is Apogee series of Indian Space Research Organisation-inspired watches, 60 percent of which is made in India.

The duo will submit that technology has rendered the watch unnecessary.

“I love being asked what the relevance of watches is. These days, our washing machines, our cars, our refrigerators tell us the time. But we wear watches for emotional reasons. From that point watches are still relevant. A smart watch won’t become an heirloom, it will expire in a couple of years,” Joshi avers.

Bangalore was home to the couple, as it is the tech capital of the country. But it’s also serendipitous that HMT was founded here, and Titan is headquartered here. They decided to keep the city in their company’s name.

HMT keeps cropping up in the conversation. Their first watch, Renaissance, was a tribute to the humble HMT too. “Every international watch brand had a story woven around it. It was an air force squadron or a Swiss valley or some such. My father wore an HMT, it was the common man’s watch. It shut down in 2018 and it was an emotional moment. When we opened BWC in 2018, we wanted to pick up from where HMT had left off. We wanted to give the world a top-class watch but also tell the story of a modern India.”

The BWC watch is sold the world over but more than 70 percent of their customers are Indian. “Most of them live in cities, but our typical BWC owner is typically one who pursues a world-class brand that’s made in India,” Joshi says.

The label’s Mach 1, inspired by aviation, is clearly their most popular timepiece (there is soon going to be a second-generation Mach 1).

“I was, of course, fascinated with fighter planes. I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders and going to see the INS Vikrant on Chennai’s Marina Beach. I’m always looking for aviation-inspired things, and I wonder why we don’t have an Air Force watch or a pilot watch. The most iconic Indian story of a fighter plane is the first supersonic fighter plan, the MiG 21 Type 77, that was used in the Bangladesh War. Our design is inspired by it, from its luminous glow to its straps inspired by the harness in the cockpit. The entire celebration is a narrative of the plane,” Joshi says.

The duo launched a dressy and delicate women’s line a couple of years ago, but with the trend of gender-neutral watches, they’ve decided to explore the space. “I personally prefer men’s watches,” Amalraj says, “I wear an oversize one myself.”

Covid may have slowed down production and challenged the ecosystem of their suppliers.
But as Joshi admits no vacations and no fancy dinners meant more disposable incomes towards buying expensive watches. “We’ve been doing okay.”

Earlier this year, Titan launched its Edge Mechanical for about Rs 2 lakh. Is it a sign that the market for Made in India watches is coming of age? “I think we are ready,” Joshi says.

“People now want more than a logo to what they buy, they want a connection. It truly is the time for a luxury made-in-India watch. I have no doubt in the purchasing power of the Indian customer now.”

Timing, it seems, is everything.

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