Nirupesh Joshi and his wife Mercy Amalraj founded Bangalore Watch Company in 2018 with the goal of representing 21st-century India with exciting and high-quality watch collections. Neither worked in the watchmaking field prior to this, as both had successful tech and consulting careers. Nirupesh is an aviation and watch enthusiast and grew frustrated by his home country’s lack of desirable watch brands. His latest collection, the MACH 1, celebrates the Indian Air Force MiG 21 Type 77 with multiple design elements and perfectly encapsulates the brand’s ethos. The limited MACH 1X (21 pieces) even has a dial comprised of aluminium alloy from a MiG 21.
I recently talked with Nirupesh about India’s watchmaking history, his thoughts about in-house production, the inclusion of Swiss movements in current and future collections, and much more. This burgeoning brand from Bangalore is certainly one to watch.
Erik Slaven, MONOCHROME – Can you tell us a little bit about India’s watchmaking past?
Nirupesh, Bangalore Watch Company – We’ll have to get through a small history lesson to understand this background. India has always had a taste for high-quality watches. The Royalty of India and their penchant for fine watches and jewellery from Cartier or Van Cleef and Arpels is well documented. This trend of high consumption continued throughout the period of British occupation of India – the story of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso concept, born after a polo match, is well known. After the British occupation ended and India gained independence, Nehru – a forward-thinking political leader and the first prime minister of independent India – brought forth industrial reforms in the 1950s modelled after the Soviet system of Autarky. HMT (Hindustan Machine Tools) was set up in the mid-1960s and was tasked with producing the first indigenous wristwatch brand in the country. Using technology transfer and training from Citizen Japan, some estimates put HMT at producing about 115 million watches during its lifetime.
In the 1980s, India’s economic stance changed. We opened our economy to the world and laid the foundation for what is today a fully globalized economy. Import duties, which were extremely high for luxury goods, were also reduced by a significant margin. This brought an influx of Swiss and international brands to India.
In the recent past, the rising middle class made room not only for Swiss luxury brands but utility brands like Titan and Fastrack. Fossil and its portfolio of contemporary fashion brands like Armani, Michael Kors, etc… have also found a strong foothold with the rise of e-commerce and ‘shopping mall’ culture. Today’s wristwatch market in India is truly a buyer’s market and the customer is king with a multitude of options.
With well-known Indian watch brands (past and present) like HMT, Titan and its sub-brand Fastrack, how does Bangalore Watch Company distinguish itself from these larger, more familiar brands?
There is a certain romance about HMT. They’re really affordable watches with an average price of $30 to $50 and are from a bygone era. The Indian government officially announced the closure of HMT in 2013 and all overstock items are being sold now. Titan and Fastrack are utility brands and almost everyone in India starts with a Titan and quickly grows into other brands.
If you’re a young executive in India, there’s very little in the wristwatch space that excites you. How much longer are you going to pretend to be excited about a watch dedicated to a US flight training school or a US space mission?
Bangalore Watch Company has a clearly defined audience. Our customers are upwardly mobile, well-travelled, well-read, executives and business owners, and excited about the idea of wearing well-built watches that are inspired by stories from India. They’re also aware that they’re buying a product that’ll last a lifetime and won’t cost them their next international holiday.
Therefore, we never see ourselves competing with a Titan or Fastrack.
I previously asked you about in-house movements, which are not part of your near-term roadmap, but are there any plans for in-house production of components – cases, dials, hands, etc.?
We’re always on the lookout. Our hands (and perhaps dials in the future) are produced by our partner company in Bangalore. They are very reputed in the hands and indices business and supply many well-known Swiss brands as well. Cases, however, are a no.
Authenticity is a big part of our brand ethos. We’ll never pretend to do something that we know we’re not good at. We’ll play to our strengths and use the best partners we can find for things we need help with. The wristwatch manufacturing ecosystem in India is at a different level. The quality and workmanship required to execute high-quality watches like the ones we want to make are just not available in the country. The pursuit of “Made in India” sounds fancy, but it’s futile given the ecosystem today.
Your watches have been relatively affordable to date. Are you considering more luxurious, expensive watches that rise well into four figures (EUR/USD)?
Our aim was to create a brand with authentic storytelling and decent quality at the sub-$1000 price point. We are just two collections into that journey now and are excited about the huge opportunity that lies ahead. We have a ton of exciting stories we want to bring out through our future watch collections as we did with the MACH 1.
We also recognize that there is an opportunity and appetite for watches at a higher price level, both in India and overseas. If we do pursue that, however, it’ll be under a different label.
As a self-confessed aviation enthusiast, would you revisit the IAF and other aircraft for a future collection? Perhaps the HAL HF-24 Marut fighter from the 1960s, the first Indian jet (just as an example)?
The only other story that came close to being the inspiration for a pilot watch collection was the HAL TEJAS LCA (Light Combat Aircraft). This fighter plane is entirely developed in India, including the avionics by our ADA (Aeronautical Development Authority). Multiple squadrons of IAF are now scheduled to induct this plane for light combat roles. Very cool fighter jet and a very cool story!
You mentioned an expensive watch you almost purchased in Hong Kong but ultimately passed on as you never really connected with it. Could you share what brand and model it was?
There were two watches. First, the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon. I was never into the Speedy as it was just not my style. But, when I first tried on the zirconium oxide ceramic case, I was smitten by how it felt on my wrist. Second was the IWC Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Chronograph. Obvious for a guy that’s into planes, eh?
Your new Mach 1 series have Swiss Sellita automatics. Are you exploring other Swiss movement options for future collections – ETA or Soprod, for example? Would you return to Miyota or use a Seiko calibre?
Sellita has turned out to be an outstanding choice for us. They were very flexible with our requests, deliveries were on time and the movements are very easy to service. We’ll continue using Swiss movements for all of our projects as long as they can meet our pricing goals for what our customers are willing to pay. If we use an ETA or Sellita mechanical chronograph, it’ll push the prices beyond what our customers would be comfortable paying. So, it all comes down to that.
Are there any Indian companies you would collaborate with for a watch or collection? Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki or Air India, for example.
Seven out of ten owners of BWC watches are from India. For a large majority of India’s young people, mechanical watches aren’t as exciting as their next new smartphone or 65-inch flat-screen television. We’re trying to make high-quality watches exciting again, hence the storytelling. Tata, Maruti or Air India are all seen as ‘legacy’ brands, and may not serve our cause. On the other hand, collaborations are always fun and allow us to widen our customer base. We have a couple of projects that are in the works, but I have to be tight-lipped about them now!
Exotic or labour-intensive dial materials are definitely popular these days, such as meteorite, enamel or even wood. You used aluminium alloy from a MiG 21 for the Mach 1X dial. Are there any plans for more speciality dials?
I mentioned earlier that we don’t like to follow a trend just because it is cool. For us, it’s all about the story. If a material adds more authenticity and excitement to the story (like the MACH 1X), we will try our best to get it done. There are a couple of exciting stories in the pipeline, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled.
Have you been inspired by either a watch brand or specific individual in the industry in regard to design, technical specs, etc.?
There are many, so here’s a list of what inspires me most.
Jean Claude Biver for his clarity of thought, Christopher Ward (watch brand) for its business model, Oak and Oscar for its community, Konstantin Chaykin for its innovation and Hajime Asaoka for his modesty.
With Covid-19 dominating the news and causing global disruptions to business and daily life, do you see a potential angle for watches? A model that donates a portion of sales to the medical effort, etc.? And just as a side note, you’re in the “Silicon Valley” of India and Samsung’s Research Institute in Bangalore just developed an app for their Galaxy smartwatches to remind wearers to wash their hands every two hours. They developed and published the app within two weeks. Cool stuff!
Mercy, my wife and business partner, and I contributed to a few charities from a personal capacity. We don’t see a business angle here. Right now with the shipping delays and lockdowns, our goal is to ensure all our deliveries are on time and letting our customers know they can reach us if they need us.
For more information about the brand or to make a purchase, visit their website.