Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Curtain Call – Closing down of the HMT Chennai Showroom

The Curtain Call – The closing down of the HMT Chennai Showroom

HMT Chennai Showroom
My association with HMT Chennai showroom goes back to the year 2013. It began with a phone call, asking them if they had any of my favourite HMT watches in stock. This was followed by an overnight bus journey over the week end. The visit helped me tick-off a dozen HMT watches from my wish list. I made some good friends at the showroom who helped me a lot in my journey as a collector and enthusiast.

In the last few months, HMT watches have started closing off their showrooms in major cities of India and a few days back their showroom in Chennai closed its operations. The news of its closure brought back so many memories. It’s been quite a while that I could visit them and now it’s too late. Below is an eyewitness account from my friend Jaideep Ramdas, an HMT watch collector and enthusiast from Chennai
I had visited my favourite showroom one fine Friday, a couple of weeks back. It had been a while since I had been there, owing to work and other commitments. I was in for a shock when I saw the state of the showroom. It was completely rearranged and seemed different. The display shelves were moved to a corner and their red velvet steps empty. These were the same shelves that I use to keep gazing at longingly. Once packed with HMT watches, they were now bare. Huge steel cupboards, the Godrej almirahs, the staple of every Indian household and offices were all lined up together. It was always a pleasure when Mr. Govindaraj opened these. You could always expect a surprise, a grey dial Sameer or a nice HMT watch strap. There were packed cardboard boxes everywhere and some heavy vintage pedestal fans.

Mr. Govindaraj, seeing the expression on my face, explained to me that they had started the process of closing down the showroom. All the things were getting packed and being sent to HMT Bangalore. Apart from that, some old cupboards and fans would be auctioned internally. Though I knew the showroom was going to close, seeing it happen was very sad. The Chennai Showroom was and will always be very special to me. A majority of my collection were purchased from this showroom. It was from the Chennai showroom (at a different location) that I started on my watch journey after reading that famous post on HMT Pilot watch by Frans Mattez. My first purchase was a Janata and a Sona.

For the last four years, a visit to this showroom and long chats with Mr. Govindaraj and other members of this team was my routine on Saturdays. The knowledge and the rich experience these people possessed was amazing and they were willing to share it. Our discussions were quite informative and enjoyable Mr. Govindarajan, Mr.Natraj , Mr.Nagaraj and Ms. Divya were a huge support in my watch collecting journey. I consider it my good fortune to have met them, learnt from them and also am guided by them in this endeavour. The Chennai showroom was also a meeting point of other watch collectors who later became friends. It was great to meet another person who had an interest in HMT watches and chat. Every visit to the showroom would be a surprise because
you never knew what you were going to get, whom you were going to meet or what you were going to learn.

Last Saturday, when I visited the showroom, it was in the final stages of closure. Though I was mentally prepared, I still felt sad. One of the most iconic brands was shutting down its presence in my city. The highlight of the day was meeting Mr. Muhamad Bakhar, a former employee and one of the senior most technicians. It was great talking to him about watches and his experiences with the company. As I bid bye to the HMT showroom and the team, I could not help thinking of them. These people along with the other HMT staff represent a breed of committed professionals and are the unsung heroes of brand HMT. They have kept the flag of HMT watches flying high inspite of the circumstances.

Hats off to you gentlemen! Here’s wishing you all success.

L to R - Mr. Nagraj, Mr Natraj, Mr Govindaraj, Mr.Jaideep

L to R - Mr. Muhamad Bakhar,Mr. Nagraj, Mr Natraj, Mr Govindaraj,Mr.Shekar

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Monsoon woes and HMT watches – How to maintain your HMT watches during monsoon.

It’s that time of the year again when both plant and animal kingdom feel rejuvenated. Monsoon is at the doorstep of India. This is a testing time for the lovers of HMT mechanical watches. I know of many HMT watch fans who switch to HMT quartz watches to ensure the safety of their mechanical watches during this time. To those of you who are new to HMT mechanical watches and wonder what’s all this fuss about rains and saving mechanical watches from it. I can understand your amusement.  Most of you might have might have been keeping time so far, using quartz or modern mechanical watches. Such watches offer high level of water resistance as compared to the HMT mechanical watches. Your next question might be “Hey!, but my HMT has water resistant printed on it and I am not doing deep sea diving with these watches in any case. The least that I expect is for it to withstand the rain.” I agree with you, it does have water resistant etched on its case back but water resistance in the context of HMT watches means that it can withstand a few accidental splashes of water and it can resist water on it for those few seconds before water is wiped off using a soft and clean, dry cotton cloth. It cannot survive inside water even if the depth is a few centimetres.

Watches with higher level of water resistance have few characteristic features which are not available in HMT watches. A threaded crown and case back secured with gaskets made out of rubber, Teflon or nylon. Majority of these watches are hermetically or vacuum sealed and have thick watch crystals. Such features are absent in HMT mechanical watches which result in lower water resistance.

I remember this person who was new to HMT watches. He told me that he washed his HMT watch in the kitchen sink using dishwashing soap and scrubber as the watch case was not clean to his satisfaction. This incident had happened a day before he met me. I explained the horror of the possible outcome and urged him to rush the watch to a reliable watch repairer. He told me in our next meeting that the repair person was in splits when he explained his act of cleaning the watch. Luckily, nothing much happened to his watch but it was a very close call. 
HMT watch division has made quality watches ever since it’s beginning that offer resistance to most of the adverse conditions of Indian climate with minimum maintenance.  The problem with quality, especially water resistance is more evident these days as majority of watches brought and sold are brought from sources other than HMT watches themselves. We will concentrate on the water resistance aspect in this blog and understand what HMT does to make its watches withstand the damage water/moisture can possibly do to its watches. HMT ensured water resistance in small but effective manner in its watches. A few noteworthy features are mentioned below
  • Crown-stem tube this extends from the end of crown tunnel to the crown covering the crown stem. It’s visible once the crown is pulled out to set time. In most of the second hand watches brought from resellers these are cut off as it’s a hassle for average watch repairers to set the crown length through the tube while assembling the watch if it’s a Franken watch.
  • Crystal holder ring it’s that shiny metal ring often seen on HMT watches with flat crystals. It holds the watch crystal firmly to its place preventing external exposure to the watch from the crystal side. Average watch makers mistake this ring for an ornamental feature and either get rid of it or cut it to make it easy to fit on the dial.
  • Rubber Gasket. It is inside the case back and seals seepage of moisture inside the watch from the case back end. This has to be replaced every time the watch is serviced but this change of rubber gasket is often neglected which makes it ineffective.
  • Movement holder ring and the rubber gasket inside it These have to be intact as they are essential to water resistance and well being of the movement. In most of the second hand watches the movement ring is cut and the rubber gasket is missing. This leads the movement being shaky and normally is the reason when the dial shakes a bit every time the crown is moved or pulled out to adjust time.
  • A sealant which is applied across the watch stem entry point inside the watch. This greasy sealant would dry off quickly once applied protecting it from the hazards of external atmosphere.

These days, most of the HMT watches bought by watch enthusiasts are either repaired or assembled using parts salvaged from old used watches and therefore none or most of the above mentioned quality features related to water resistance are present. We should now understand the damage that can be caused due to exposure to moisture and the precautionary steps that can be taken to protect watches. Water/moisture seeps inside watches from three entry points – Crystal, Crown and Case-backs. If any of these three Cs are faulty or does not have the aforementioned features, moisture will seep inside the watch and damage it. There are two types of damages that are done on a watch – visible and the invisible damage. Visible damage is flaking, peeling or discolouring of dial; discolouring of hands; rusting or discolouring or fungal deposit on the case, crown. Invisible damage is the damage which happens to the insides of the watch and is not visible unless the case back is opened. It includes rusting of different watch parts which at times damages the movement beyond repair.


So what should you do to save your watch from the assault of moisture this monsoon? The first step is to buy a quality HMT watch, check the watch thoroughly and ask all possible questions before you buy a watch if you are buying them from any source other than HMT watches. Best is to buy it directly from HMT watches before they shut down completely. Let’s now talk about the watches you may already have. Here are a couple of options:
A watch Pouch
  • The easiest way is to switch to a quartz watch for the monsoon season, if you want to enjoy the rains with a watch on your wrist. HMT quartz watches offer better (not fully waterproof) water resistance as compared with a mechanical watch. I suggest you to give your daily beater mechanical watch for service before you give it the monsoon rest. Upon return from the service centre wear the watch for a couple of days to ensure that it has been regulated properly. This would also ensure that the lubrication oil applied on the watch movement spreads evenly across the movement parts. Post this; watch can be stored inside a watch pouch or in the plastic box in which it came originally from the company with a few silica gel sachets. If you don’t have either of these two then you can put it in any plastic box with silica gel sachets in a cool dry place where it’s not moved around a lot. I therefore suggest, not storing them in drawers that are used daily and the stuff is sifted through regularly. Make sure you wind the watch once a week. This will ensure that the watch is up and running to the optimum accuracy levels for regular use post monsoon.
  • If you wish to use your mechanical watch during monsoon, I suggest you to check your watch crystal once in a while to check for cracks in the crystal as these are an open invitation to moisture. Get the crystal changed immediately and ask your watch repairer to check for the gaskets and other aforementioned features to ensure the optimum water resistance of the watch. If at any time you see tiny droplets inside the crystal or fogging of crystal, take your watch immediately to a good watch repairer. Easiest way to save watches whenever you are caught in rains is by keeping a zip pouch handy. Slip the watch inside it once the first drop of rain falls from the sky. But before you put the watch inside ensure that you wipe off all the water using a clean dry cotton cloth (example a handkerchief). Even if you get drenched the watch will be safe inside the sealed zip pouch. The only problem with this option is that you would have no watch on your wrist each time it rains.
          Remember, prevention is better than cure. The information shared in this blog is from my own personal experiences and the ones that i have learnt from the experiences of other watch enthusiasts, repairers and friendly staff members of HMT watches. 
I hope you find this blog useful, as always would love to know your thoughts.

Enjoy the rains