As Prashant Pandey diligently unfolds his HMT watch collection, it is impressive, to say the least. Rows of watches, stacked neatly in pouches, according to their models and series, are laid out on the floor of his living room.
"Is this enough? Or should I get a few more?" he asks.
His wife carries some more pouches that read "HMT Watch Collection" and other boxes with individual watches, and places them on the dining table.
"One pouch is full of HMT Janata watches, another is HMT Pilot, one is a mixed bag. There's one pouch with only gold plated watches, and another which has bracelets," he explains pointing to the collection that he has put together with a great deal of effort.
For nearly five years now, the HR manager working in an IT firm in Bengaluru, has been collecting watches from across the country, with special attention reserved for the iconic HMT watches.
Established in collaboration with Citizen in 1953 by the Government of India, HMT Watches would go on to evolve into a reputable brand in the next few decades.
But as the decades rolled by, the watchmakers faced stiff competition in the market even as it found it challenging to keep up with technological advancements. Last year HMT Watches finally shut shop, after it turned into a “loss making subsidiary”.
Prashant's tryst with watches began in 2012.
He was returning home from the airport one day when he spotted the HMT Bhavan on Bellary Road.
"It fascinated me. It also brought back memories of my grandfather who had an HMT Quartz watch in the ‘80s that he had received as a gift from his office. And at that time, having a Quartz watch was a big thing," he says.
But the idea of starting a watch collecting hadn’t struck him then. After his return from the airport, he read up about the company and landed in HMT Bhavan the very next day to buy a HMT Pilot.
"I had called all the showrooms in Bengaluru before that but none of them had an HMT Pilot. When I reached the Bhavan, another person was already buying the last piece of HMT Pilot that was available with them on that day. So, I ended up buying a HMT Devanagari instead, and it became my first HMT watch," he says.
His first watch.
Over the next few weeks, Prashant bought a HMT Pilot, HMT Jhalak and HMT Jubilee- since the latter two weren't available in Bengaluru, he got a brother's friend to buy them and send it to him from Mumbai.
These four watches, he says, ignited his passion to collect more and more.
As his collection grew, so did his research, and vice-versa. He would Google and talk to people from HMT and buy all kinds of watches - from special edition ones to the most popular models. He bought them from showrooms, flea markets, old watch shops and from people who'd be willing to gift or sell their watches.
Watches specially designed for doctors and nurses
There’s a watch specially made for doctors and nurses, one that was made to mark India’s Independence, one encrusted with a gold coin. For those who believe in astrology, one model even shows your “raahukaal”.
Watch showing "raahukaal"
"I also started collecting models that had names of my family members. I found a HMT Prashant. I got a HMT Pradeep (name of his uncle), HMT Pranav (brother), HMT Pravesh (father), HMT Prabha and HMT Rekha (aunts). I could relate to these," he chuckles.
Unlike many other collectors, Prashant wears his watches regularly. And, every time he gets a new watch, he wears it, mostly to make sure it is functioning properly.
Ask him how many watches he has in his collection, and the proud owner tells you that he does not really care about numbers.
"I am probably superstitious but I don't count my watches. I don't believe in numbers actually when it comes to collection. Maybe if there are numbers involved, you may either feel that there's too less of something or too much of it. It affects your zeal and enthusiasm. But I can say have a lot of them, and some are very rare," he states.
In 2013, Prashant started the HMT Watch Collectors group on Facebook in order to bring together people with similar interests from across the world together. The active group currently has over 1,500 members, and some of them meet once every month to share their love for horology.
"The reason I created it," he says, "is because I found that most related online forums were specifically focused on buying and selling. I wanted this group to be a knowledge sharing space run in a professional, objective manner. And that is why ours is a non-commercial group."
When HMT shut down last year, there were reports of the government planning to set up a HMT museum in the city. Prashant says their group is somewhat like one.
"The group is an online museum of sorts. We have more than 6,000 photographs of watches in our repository. We are still discovering new watches, some that most people have not seen yet," he says.