Prashant Pandey wears five wrist watches—mostly HMTs—a day. After waking up to a watch near his pillow, the HR professional sets out on his morning walk wearing his first and returns from work at night, in his fifth. His Janata Devanagari—vintage watch with Hindi numbers—sits longest on his wrist, for eight to nine hours of his working day.
Pandey may have got his first watch—a no-name digital—as an eight-year-old, but his journey with HMT began the very same year (1988), when his grandfather was gifted a quartz watch by his bank.
The passion grew stronger, when he got his first HMT (Devanagari) in 2012 and he has been an avid watch collector since then. Pandey has collected so many of them that he claims to have lost count of his bevy of beauties.
“I have the entire rainbow and choose what to wear as per mood,” says the 36-year-old, who lives in Bengaluru.
Even after the loss-making company Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) shut down last year after a six-decade run, Pandey has made it his motto to keep its watches ticking.
“Some would call my habit of changing watches lunacy, but if I don’t change them, I can’t enjoy them. My watches are aesthetically simple and an extension of my identity.”
Once at a flea market, he dug out an HMT Tareeq lying face down in the dirt and clinging to adhesive spilt from a can. “A crystal came out of it and the watch looked like it wanted to be rescued,” he says.
Pandey decided to give the watch a fighting chance and a careful clean-up later, “it ticked back to life like a survivor under debris,” says Pandey, who collects watches of different brands, though HMT primarily.
There have also been some serendipitous buys.
A couple of years ago, on a Friday night, Pandey shared his yearning for the HMT Rakhee, which he’d spotted in an advertisement from the 70s, with his friend. The next day, while shopping with his wife, he spotted it in a “nondescript” watch shop. He walked out light of heart and pocket, to an eye roll from the wife waiting in the car.
From someone who’s spent half a month’s salary, at times, on collecting watches over the past four years, Pandey now sticks to a fixed monthly quota that could buy him 10-15 watches. “I feel like a boy in a candy shop, but I keep a poker face. A watch that was officially priced at Rs 2,200 officially, could go up to Rs 15,000 if the seller sensed your excitement,” he says. “But it’s a bubble that could burst anytime. Like in the share market, you must know what to buy. You can make profit only if you buy watches when they are cheap. When HMT Pilot was launched in 2013 for Rs 1,200, it became a rage for its white dial and blue hands and sold for 10 times as much. But the bubble, indeed, burst when the company re-launched it a couple of years later for Rs 2,200.”
In August 2013, Pandey initiated a Facebook group of watch collectors, to evangelise the nation about HMT watches.
The group has now grown to 1,600 members, with most male members between the age group of 14 and 70. “The very few women members mostly ‘like’ or post comments, but one of them who learnt watch repairing will soon be uploading a video of herself servicing a watch,”says Pandey.
From a fourth standard student in Lucknow whose journey in time began with making paper clocks with hands fashioned from used ballpen refills—courtesy a Doordarshan programme—he’s come a long way, indeed. Only time will tell, how far he’ll go.