Hobbies are good to go, obsessions may be not. Yet right at this moment, I have no less than a dozen of them. But when you graduate from postal stamps to Hot Wheels or coins to watches, you better know what you are getting yourself into. Possessed by the deity of collecting, I bet.
I’ve always been a bit careless about collecting “things”. I said “things” because over the course of two decades, I think I have collected just about everything from time to time. From postal stamps in kindergarten (thanks to my Dad), to coins, miniature aircraft models, Hot Wheels, knives, post cards, tickets, currencies, phone cards and finally watches… the collectible item has become pricier and more technical with time.
About a year ago, I realized how I have managed to build a small collection of watches by luck. Without any further delay (like many time before) I went on learning and acquiring specimens of different kind to build up the collection. From regular digital and quartz to the more pure-bred automatic and mechanical ones, I had quickly made a list of watches I wanted to showcase in my armory.
So when I got my ticket to India for a three-month stint, the obsession struck back. India as a country was never known for the mastery of watch-making, but they had a few classics of their own. When I say classic, it’s not Titan or Maxima, nor even Orpat or Sonata but the venerable HMT, a brand that seems long forgotten.
Hindustan Machine Tools aka. HMT started back in 1953 as a state-owned enterprise. Over the years diversified into watches, tractors and what not. And similar to the other Indian super brand Ambassador (made by Hindustan Motors), HMT watches are facing extinction today due to the rise of more affordable and fashionable options.
In my three months in Delhi I could only find HMT branded shops (one or two at best) in Purana Delhi (Old Delhi). Unfortunately the location of the shops makes it apparent to the reader about the state of HMT. I wanted to buy their age-old, battle-hardened HMT Pilot for my small but growing collection. Sadly except a few raised eyebrows, I couldn’t find anything else.
So when my parents came over for a trip of the famous Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra Jaipur), I had a chance to visit some smaller towns and pursue on my plan. In the Pink City, HMT was at least a brand people could recall. They had a few HMTs stored away in the furthest corner of display shelves, but it was there at least. The Pilot had gone out of production (as they said) so settling for other models was my only bet.
Kohinoor, Sameer, Janata, Sona… the names had a very personal touch and when I finally came across these rare pieces at unbelievable prices (imagine a mechanical at $20 and automatic at $40), I just could stop myself from picking up a pair of them.
First up, was my dad. And being in advertising for over six years I can tell, it wasn’t an easy sell. While the technology amused him, the throw-away prices got him worried over build quality. The classy Sameer he got for himself was in fact so old, the coil inside stopped working after the first winding. Thankfully there was a repairman close by. If he hadn’t taken it, I would have picked up perhaps. Such a 70’s look surely deserved a place in my collection.
After going through dad’s round of selection, it was time to pick one for myself. As usual I got myself confused between NASS and NASL range of automatics or a SONA and JANATA range mechanical. I decided to go with the latter as automatic I already had a few back home. Believe it or not, the first time I set my eyes on this supposedly cheap and hard to find HMT Sona, I fell in love with it absolutely. It was pure class and I just had to get it for myself.