On a fortuitous day six years ago, when Gaurav Mehta decided to stick an antique Imperial era coin on to his watch dial to create a new bespoke watch, he was unaware that it would plant a seed of an innovative luxury start-up. While Titan is a huge player in the mass to premium watch segment, there really is no Indian brand that could boast any significant presence in the premium to luxury market.
First, friends asked him to make watches like his for them, then news spread by word-of-mouth and he had others knocking at his door. Gradually, he found himself flirting with the idea of bringing together his love for antique coins and watches. Jaipur Watch Company, set up in 2013, has since grown to span a wide segment of watches beyond its USP of coin watches: bespoke watches; hand-engraved watches; the ones with hand-painted dials; watches studded with feathers and precious stones.
The watch brand is not just named after the city Mehta comes from, but also draws from Jaipur’s craftsmanship heritage and its long history of royal lifestyle that merged history and luxury like no other. Mehta has now expanded his business to include a manufacturing base in Bangalore, where his team creates bespoke gold watches as well as manufactures timepieces for other brands. While a Jaipur Watch Company’s prêt watch can go from Rs 16,000 to Rs 55,000, its bespoke watch sells for anywhere between Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 24 lakh (his most expensive watch, which was studded with baguettes and sapphires).
Considered a maverick in the world of Indian luxury, Mehta portrays an easy demeanor. On the Sunday that I caught up with him for a conversation, he is togged in a Jaipur waistcoat over a white shirt and blue denims. He drives in, not in a fancy car but in a cab driven by one of the women drivers of Priyadarshini Taxi Service, Mumbai’s only women-led cab company, “because the drivers are far more sincere and polite,” he smiles. He talks about his motivations, fighting perceptions, and the best of his bespoke collection.
When you set up Jaipur Watch Co. your idea was to concentrate on creating luxury coin watches. How did you think of marrying your two passions—coins and watches?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t opening up watches to see how they functioned. Over the years, I have collected several vintage watches including HMTs and Omegas. I remember opening up an HMT quartz watch to explore its mechanism. A one paisa coin from the George VI era, with a hole in the centre (during World War II, the coins minted in Britain had a rather large hole in the centre to save the treasury some money) was lying close at hand. On a whim, I stuck the coin within the dial of the watch. Compliments and enquiries poured in. Eventually, I made and sold watches studded with antique coins, which we continue to source from antique shops, auction houses and numismatic societies. The coins had to be uncirculated ones, preferably with no scratches on them. Even today, I make sure that each coin is usable. Of course, eventually, we expanded into creating all kinds of watches.
What were the initial days of setting up the Jaipur Watch Company like?
Well, I had the tough task of raising capital for an idea that seemed weird. I went to my dad with the idea and he said, “You kindly find your own way” (laughs). So, I sold off my car and my first business of risk management and insurance, to raise the capital. I googled to check how watches can be made and travelled to Switzerland, where I took those touristy watch factory visits. I realized that Swiss watches could prove to be too expensive.
Since I found no one in India, I ended up going to the Hong Kong Watch Fair where I discovered at least 700 manufacturers who had the ability to produce the kind of watches I wanted. I chose to work with an industry veteran, a 75-year-old gentleman who had been in the business for the past 50 years. I had to negotiate with him to make 300 watches in six designs, with 50 pieces of each design, a tough task because China believes in mass producing.
China is also known to produce cheap quality products... That is why I visited his factory every few months to supervise the work; I also chose the best grade of stainless steel, crystal, the best of movement. Ultimately, I moved the manufacturing to India because we wanted it to be a completely ‘Made in India’ brand. Also, we have the best craftsmanship traditions in Rajasthan, which we leveraged for hand-engraving, gem-setting and other such highly skilled jobs. Two years ago, we set up our factory in Bangalore, India’s tech capital, because we wanted to make gold watches. What has the market been like for Jaipur Watches, particularly given the perception that Indian luxury watches do not match up to Swiss quality. It was very difficult initially to convince people to pay Rs 2 lakh for an Indian watch, especially in the discerning bespoke market. But tailored watches have a huge potential in the luxury market and India is slowly growing beyond the ‘brand’ phenomenon. People are willing to experiment and pay an extra dime for something that resonates culturally with them.
In those initial days, I found a mentor in Vivek Gupta, who once ran a huge concept store called The Big Door in Mumbai. He flew down to Jaipur to sign a deal sell our watches at the store. He advertised ‘Jaipur Watch Company at The Big Door’ in newspapers, hosted a three-day event, threw a party. At one point, we were selling 25 to 30 watches a month through The Big Door. We then moved to Taj Khazana and within three months, we were in 12 outlets of Taj Khazana.
You aren’t widely available in multi-brand stores. How do then you reach your market? Multi-brand stores aren’t too keen on Indian-origin horology brands. We do sell our prêt collection at Gangaram Watches in Delhi, the only multi-brand store that stocks us. We also sell through stores at The Oberoi Group Hotel. For bespoke, clients have to come directly to us and that is a deliberate strategy. People come to us via our website; tourists who come to Rajasthan also approach us directly. It is largely word-of-mouth. Most of our sales are offline as customers want to get a feel of the product. At times, clients have a basic idea about the product they desire and we have to flesh out that vision. We are now working towards setting up our first store in Jaipur. What have been your experimentations in the bespoke watches segment?
Recently, we made a watch using the lost art of hand-engraving, an art we can trace back to pre-historic times. It was used for stone carving, in metal statues and for weapons owned by the princely states.
Our artists recently spent two-and-a-half-months, hand-engraving a wristwatch with metal inlay work. The dial consists of skeletonised ETA 6498 Movement, which has been further skeletonised in a ‘jaali’ pattern, inspired by Indian temples. The centrepiece showcases a hand-carved figurine of Lord Ganesha seated on a lotus flower. We also have a Lord Shiva watch in this collection.
In the Sovereign Gold Watch we made for a client, we embedded a gold sovereign coin from the British India era. It is intricately carved with a hand-engraved texture on the Bezel, an embossed back and a Swiss movement. The significance of year 1911 is engraved on the watch back—the 1911 Durbar was held at the Coronation Park to mark the succession of an Emperor or Empress of India and was the only one attended by the sovereign, George V.
The Sparkling Flower Watch we made for a client has flower petals studded with diamond baguettes. A reverse diamond setting on the dial, specially crafted curved hands and the movement of petals with every movement of the wrist define that watch. The Obama Watch was made for a fan of the former President of the United States. Barrack Obama. He commissioned Jaipur Watch Co. to create a 18 Ct Gold watch. Apart from Mr Obama’s face, the central design draws from the Great Seal of the United States. It is the official coat of arms of the U.S. Presidency and also appears on the American Presidential flag.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.
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