Bangalore, India isn’t typically associated with watchmaking. Far removed from historical centres in Switzerland and Germany, Bangalore has an interesting watchmaking history of its own. Hindustan Machine Tools Limited (HMT) was a state-owned brand from the 1960s and for decades represented Indian watchmaking. HMT watches were generally the only game in town with a production of several million per year. The brand has since disappeared with Titan Watches now the dominant player, but Bangalore Watch Company is carving a market for itself with uniquely Indian, limited production models. The Bangalore MACH 1 automatic celebrates the Indian Air Force MiG 21 Type 77 with design elements seen throughout the case and dial, with a special edition using aluminium from a decommissioned jet.
Bangalore Watch Company was founded in 2018 by husband and wife team Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj. Both had successful tech and consulting careers outside the watch industry, but were inspired to launch their own brand that represented 21st-century India with a retro flair. As an aviation enthusiast, Nirupesh was close to buying an expensive pilot’s watch from an established brand but ultimately couldn’t pull the trigger. Something was missing – he just wasn’t connecting with the piece. Couple this with his frustration of not having a desirable watchmaker in India and the idea of launching his own company soon became a passion. During a sabbatical in 2016, the journey began and working with a small team of technical designers and project managers, they launched the brand’s inaugural collection in early 2018, the Renaissance Automatic. This mid-century inspired dress line came with multiple dial colours and case finishes, but Nirupesh wanted a piece that really highlighted modern India and aviation, so the MACH 1 was developed a year later. Launched in September 2019, the collection honours India’s first supersonic jet fighter, the MiG 21 Type 77.
The MiG 21 is a Russian fighter first introduced in 1959 and still in active service today. Over 650 were produced in India, the largest production run outside of Russia, and the Indian Air Force (IAF) purchased its first fleet in 1961. The jet proved invaluable for 50 years, providing air superiority in conflicts like the Bangladesh Liberation War. In 1971, the MiG 21 FL Type 77 earned the nickname “dogfight duke” as it flew India’s first supersonic dogfight against a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-104A Starfighter, claiming victory and ultimately grounding enemy planes for good with an overwhelming air-superiority umbrella. The Type 77 was finally retired in 2013, but over 100 MiG 21 models remain in IAF operation today. The MACH 1 pays tribute to both the plane and IAF with a collection designed and assembled in Bangalore.
Case and design
The stainless steel case of the Bangalore MACH 1 is on the larger side with a 42mm diameter and height of 11mm (48mm lug-to-lug). The size helps with overall legibility, however, and doesn’t overwhelm the wrist. Two finishes are available – brushed steel or black PVD – and all are water-resistant to 100 metres.
The screw-down crown resembles a Mig 21 afterburner nozzle with both its shape and angled knurling, and the caseback serves as a celebratory plaque for the Type 77, with three MiG 21’s engraved flying in formation. Its 50-year reign, 1963 to 2013, is engraved on the bottom right. The 22mm black textile strap is inspired by a MiG 21 seatbelt with a leather lining and always appreciated quick-release levers.
Dial and hands
The matte black dial of the Bangalore MACH 1 continues the theme with the Indian Air Force tricolour fin-flash at 9 o’clock. The long, narrow hour and minute hands are filled with Super-LumiNova C3 and resemble those from a MiG fuselage, while the seconds hand is tipped with a red MiG silhouette. Large Arabic numerals are printed from Super-LumiNova C3 and the dial comes in two flavours.
The “Civilian” has a simple 12-hour design with large Arabic numerals, while the more complex “Aviator” has a 24-hour design with the main numerals relaying minutes (05 to 60) and 24-hour time (13 to 24) circling just inside, and 12-hour numerals printed at the outermost perimeter. The brand’s logo is applied just above a day/date window at 3 o’clock. A red triangle at 12 o’clock is a classic Flieger design element, allowing pilots to immediately orient themselves to the dial layout. A limited edition of 21 MACH 1 watches will feature a dial comprised of aluminium alloy from a MiG 21’s outer skin, providing a unique piece of wearable history. A sapphire crystal with a triple anti-reflective coating comes standard on all models.
Powering this Bangalore MACH 1 collection is a Sellita SW220-1 Automatic, in production since 2008 and comparable to the ETA 2836-2. It has 26 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz) with a 38-hour power reserve. Functions include central hours, minutes and hacking seconds with a day/date complication at 3 o’clock (with quick date correction). Although the caseback is solid, the movement often comes decorated with perlage and Côtes de Genève on its bi-directional rotor. The watches aren’t designated as Swiss made, but the inclusion of a Swiss calibre instils that extra bit of confidence over Asian counterparts (perceived or otherwise).
More from Nirupesh Joshi
I asked company founder Nirupesh a few additional questions about both the MACH 1 and Bangalore Watch Company to learn more about the brand and development of his latest collection.
Erik, MONOCHROME – You’re building a brand in a historic watch hub with Hindustan Machine Tools Limited (HMT) being the famous watchmaker for decades starting in the 1960s. Do you see Bangalore Watch Company as a successor to HMT to restore mechanical watchmaking in India?
Nirupesh Joshi – One needs to understand that India was a Soviet-modelled closed economy when HMT was started. HMT was the only watch that people knew (and bought), so HMT was the “people’s watch”. At their peak, they produced several million pieces per year. There are other watch brands in India that have now filled the position of HMT – Titan Watches are now considered the “people’s watch”. Everyone here starts with a Titan Watch.
The vision for Bangalore Watch Company, on the other hand, is to build watches of a higher degree that we can proudly call world-class. While we don’t want to be HMT in terms of the quality or volume of watches they produced, we’ll be happy if our name comes up in the list of companies that have attempted to put India on the world map for high-quality watchmaking.
The new watches are inspired by India’s MiG 21 Type 77, which of course represents a strong symbol of India. Are there other national symbols you’d like to represent with future watch collections?
The popular worldview of India, at least from a watchmaking point of view, is that of exotic gods and floral motifs. Our worldview is that of a 21st-century India with space exploration, a young modern nation and our women flying fighter planes. We want to create watches that are inspired by this worldview of India, so there are very exciting plans for the future!
You’re operating in the heart of India’s tech industry now, which conflicts with traditional, mechanical watchmaking – a smartwatch seems to be more fitting for the area. Is there still a sentiment for fine watchmaking in the region following the demise of HMT? Or has tech simply dominated the conversation?
It seems anachronistic indeed to hear about a brand producing mechanical watches out of Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. Tech has completely taken over everything now, cash isn’t used very much, payments are made via phones, and everyone has access to their cell phones and high-speed internet. However, virtually all of our owners are well-travelled executives, professionals or business owners. They appreciate brands that tell deep and meaningful stories that they can connect with. We also have many owners in Europe and America that buy our watches due to their affinity for India. They do business, manage teams or just love the stories of modern India. I’d also like to think that we are a modern brand. Our watches are only available for purchase through our website, we ship worldwide and we are active through digital channels.
The new Mach 1 collection use Swiss Sellita automatics. Are there future plans for in-house production of movements?
I believe that in-house movement production becomes necessary in specific circumstances; when our designs require a unique technology or complication that’s unavailable for purchase from existing movement manufacturers like Sellita; when we reach a certain production volume where it makes business sense to build our own movements; or when it becomes necessary to prove our technical provenance by creating movements in-house. In the near term at least, I don’t think these circumstances apply to the company.
You and your wife both left tech and consulting careers to pursue this passion of watches and watchmaking. What was the tipping point that caused this big shift in your lives and careers? You also proudly call yourselves industry outsiders, but have your backgrounds in tech directly translated to a watchmaking business?
It would be dramatic if there was a single incident that led to it all, but there wasn’t one. Many things came together. We were spending a lot of time at the various watch boutiques in Hong Kong where we lived, and there was this perennial thought in the background that a high-quality watchmaker from India wasn’t to be found. It was later during our sabbatical in 2016 that we spent serious time thinking about the possibility of starting our own watch brand. I am an aviation buff and there was this USD 5,000 watch from a famous brand that I was eyeing at the time in Hong Kong. I was very close to purchasing it, but something held me back. It was just that I wasn’t ready to put serious money on something that I wasn’t able to personally connect with. Ideas like the MACH 1 were born there, due to the absence of a brand that people like my wife and I could relate to and wear proudly.
Mercy’s education was in computer science and mine in business economics. While I spent several years as a consultant, marketer and then managing businesses in the US and Asia, Mercy had technical roles in various industries. We’ve also lived in three countries outside of our home, so it’s a good mix of technical, business and marketing skills that help us bring fresh ideas to our business. We were fortunate to find a good team of technical designers and project managers to help bring our vision to life.
I’m a big fan of watches that have a unique connection to a country or culture. Recent examples of this are the Cuervo y Sobrinos Historiador Pequeños Segundos and Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey Hao, and the Bangalore MACH 1 perfectly encapsulates modern India with an IAF MiG 21 Type 77 theme. Nirupesh and Mercy are indeed industry outsiders, but their passion and business acumen are taking Indian watchmaking in an unusual direction. Neither state-owned or aspiring for mass production, Bangalore Watch Company is all about design and modern Indian culture with limited production runs and special editions. In lieu of selling watches that simply connect to your wrist, they’re producing Indian-inspired collections that connect to you. It’s that intangible element, one that Nirupesh was chasing prior to launching his own brand, that makes an otherwise timekeeping tool into something much more.
The MACH 1 collection has four watches with a standard (but ultimately limited) production run, having either the Civilian or Aviation dial with a brushed steel or black PVD case. The fifth watch, the MACH 1X, is limited to 21 pieces with the MiG 21 aluminium alloy dial in a brushed steel case. Prices are accessible with the steel models selling for USD 680 or INR 48,930 and black PVD models moving up slightly to USD 730 or INR 52,430. The MACH 1X price is available on request. For more information or to make a purchase, visit the Bangalore Watch Company website.