The time for an Indian state-owned watch making company, which once called itself “The timekeepers to the nation”, has run out. I record without any feelings whatsoever the impending shutdown of the Hindustan Machine Tools Limited or better known by its acronym HMT. As brand names go hmt (they used the lower case) was quite a name, notwithstanding that it was once one of the symbols of the commanding heights of the economy model that India followed.
Just how entrenched the commanding heights of the economy model was in the country can be gauged by the fact that HMT, which was better known for its watches, also manufactured tractors, machine tools and bearings. Purely out of nostalgia, I went the HMT website this morning and was transported back to that era. It was like going into a Soviet era building that forgot to upgrade itself. Its latest news includes the 100 millionth watch being presented to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on April 20, 2000. Its first watch was presented to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru July 28, 1961.
HMT’s 100 millionth watch
HMT watches, which first drew their knowhow from Citizen Watch of Japan, were excellent in terms of their performance. At a time, when watches are no longer just watches—a case in point being Apple Watch about which I wrote yesterday—hmt is like an anachronism. I don’t think they manufacture any more. It has now reached a vintage where it is about to become a classic of the kind that makes a comeback precisely because it should not make a comeback. I was once gifted an hmt watch which I never wore because I have always found watches pointless.
The company has accumulated considerable losses over the years and failed to keep up with the changing aesthetics of India’s hundreds of millions of young people for whom time is an incidental feature of their smart phones and tablets. People still do wear watches and possibly some of a particular generation still hang on to their hmts. However, there are so many private players in the market now that there is no way hmt could have kept up with the competition. “The government has decided to shut down HMT Watches and HMT Chinar Watches Ltd. The Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises (BRPSE) has already recommended it and the board of directors has also given the go-ahead,” a senior company official quoted by Shruti Srivastava of The Indian Express newspaper as saying.