How the pandemic has shaped the Indian watch community

A young and growing community of collectors, better sales figures and the entry of brands such as Seiko, Czapek and Bovet 1822 are helping to bring global attention to India.

A young and growing community of collectors, better sales figures and the entry of brands such as Seiko, Czapek and Bovet 1822 are helping to bring global attention to India.

In August 2020, watchmaker Jaipur Watch Company launched Jumping Hour watches. The timing – right in the middle of the first wave of Covid-19 – could have jeopardized founder Gaurav Mehta’s plans, but his company ended up selling 150 of the 200 stainless steel wristwatches. “I was surprised,” says Mehta, 38, whose business took a few months to recover from the March 2020 lockdown. “I call it a case of ‘revenge buying’ [as people were splurging when the market reopened]. We’ve added more variations to the collection to meet growing demand, and there are only around 23 pieces left. Priced at ₹50,000, with a special motion feature for every time the minute hand hits 12, they are available from the brand’s website and Tata CLiQ.

Gaurav Mehta, Founder, Jaipur Watch Company

Gaurav Mehta, Founder, Jaipur Watch Company

Mehta’s success came thanks to the rapidly emerging cult of watch collectors in the country. To make the sales, it reached out to potential buyers through its top 50 customers and a network of watch collector communities, such as RedBar Bombay, the first Indian chapter of the international RedBar Group, Watch Enthusiasts India (WEI) and Horology Talk.

Jumping hour watch by Jaipur Watch Company

Jumping hour watch by Jaipur Watch Company

While India currently has three major independent watch brands – Jaipur Watch Company, Bangalore Watch Company and Titan (HMT, whose watch division closed in 2016, sells its shares on its website) – demand for watches from international luxury is increasing among new and seasoned collectors. This goes for big brands like Hublot and Omega as well as for independents and micro-brands. The list of global names eyeing our market includes Grand Seiko, Czapek, Girard-Perregaux and Bovet 1822, says Preetika Mathew, Editor-in-Chief of WatchTime India magazine. “There’s news from more brands to come,” she adds.

Preetika Mathew, Editor-in-Chief, WatchTime India

Preetika Mathew, Editor-in-Chief, WatchTime India

The Indian market is big, data shows. According to market and consumer data firm Statista, our watch segment revenue is ₹13,312 crore this year. The market is expected to grow by 10.24% every year until 2026.

Grow the collection

India’s surveillance communities – rather tight-knit, with members only joining through credible invitations or referrals – are a recent phenomenon, but the numbers are growing. RedBar Bombay is considered one of the most reputable of them. Born from the Bombay Watch Enthusiasts of Punit Mehta, 34, in 2021, it is the first official Indian chapter of RedBar, which claims to be the largest community of watch collectors in the world.

Punishes Mehta, Chapter Leader, RedBar Bombay

Punishes Mehta, Chapter Leader, RedBar Bombay

The official tally for the Mumbai chapter is just over 100 members who meet to discuss new releases, rare watches, brands and personal collections. Karan Anshuman, creator-director of the Emmy-nominated show Inner edge and of Mirzapuris a member.

While watch collectors are generally considered older men, that trend is changing, says Mehta. The average member of RedBar Bombay is between 35 and 40 years old. There are also a handful of women, like Karishma Karer, editor of Hands On Time and co-founder of The Hour Markers, a media platform for watches. Mehta calls Karer a supporter of their community whose “guidance and connections have helped us grow.”

Karishma Karer, editor of Hands On Time and co-founder of The Hour Markers

Karishma Karer, editor-in-chief of hands on time and co-founder of hour markers

To the south, Chennai has a strong watch community. Stylist and watch enthusiast Osman Abdul Razak plans to launch Madras Watch Shop (along with a friend) for neo-vintage and art-deco timepieces. The rarest pieces he spotted in the city include a 1940s Zenith Automatic Bumper movement, which has been passed down through three generations, and a 1957 Rolex Oyster Royal with a cream-colored textured chevron dial with markers. unusual hours.

Crucial days

The impact of the pandemic has been a “double-edged sword”. Although initially enthusiasts stopped buying, Mehta says that at the same time their interest in the finer details grew. They have become more inclined to read and acquire knowledge before making a purchase. The community has also adapted well online. “Many brands set up Instagram live Q&A sessions to meet brand founders and ask them to answer questions. We also opted for webinars where experts talked about specific topics,” he says.

And what about watch news? For Mathew, the digitization of news has not had a direct effect on the editorial structure. “The impression hasn’t changed much. We’re still doing in-depth stories and reviews, but the online space has become more dynamic. So we rush in with stories online,” she says.

Meanwhile, the latest data from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry is promising in India. In January and February, the value of Swiss watch exports to the country increased from ₹175.7 crore (in 2021) to ₹196.1 crore – although not yet close to the 2020 figure of 225 crore ₹.

Brand aware

Swiss watchmakers are also interested in India (globally, we were the 24th importer in the first two months of 2021). RedBar Bombay hosted numerous sessions for its members, ranging from a conversation with Maximilian Büsser, the founder of luxury brand MB&F, to one with Style Director Christian Selmoni and CMO Laurent Perves of Swiss manufacturer Vacheron Constantin.

Indians don’t just buy Rolexes and Omegas. “The online space has introduced watch enthusiasts to many new independent brands such as MB&F, Ming, Genus Watches and Kurono Tokyo,” says Mehta. For those whose pockets aren’t quite as deep, mainstream choices are limited to Tissot, Rado, Seiko and TAG Heuer, says Nirupesh Joshi.

Nirupesh Joshi and his wife Mercy Amalraj, Founders, Bangalore Watch Company

Nirupesh Joshi and his wife Mercy Amalraj, Founders, Bangalore Watch Company

His brand, Bangalore Watch Company, produces a few hundred to a thousand pieces a year. They are known for their watches that celebrate Indian aviation and space exploration. “Our bestsellers are our MACH 1 [inspired by the Indian Air Force], and Apogee watches. The limited edition Apogee Extraterrestrial contains a meteorite recovered in Scandinavia. The 50 coins, priced at ₹1.7 lakh each, sold out within days of its launch last August,” he adds.

MACH 1 by Bangalore Watch Company

MACH 1 by Bangalore Watch Company

The craze for the “limited”

While the improved technology and affordability of smartwatches have seen a surge in popularity in India, Mumbai-based retailer Art of Time observes that this has not had a significant impact on the luxury watch industry. “One is more likely to wear a nice watch to an event than a smartwatch. Luxury watches are like works of art, handcrafted and passed down from generation to generation and will stick around long into the future,” says Disha Sawhney, corporate communications manager.

Dr. Karan Madan, Founder, Watch Enthusiasts India

Dr. Karan Madan, Founder, Watch Enthusiasts India

What is changing, however, is the obsession with limited-edition models and how social media platforms are helping to bridge the goodwill. Last November, Dr. Karan Madan, who founded WEI, posted a photo of Seiko’s Alpinist Mountain glacier, which was only available in Europe, on the group’s Facebook page. A WEI member who lives in Norway immediately got in touch and asked the Delhi-based diabetes specialist to pay for the limited-edition watch and have it delivered to his home. “He then sent it with his brother who came to India a month later,” he concludes.

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