Strap on aviation history, get this watch made of metal from MiG 21 jets

Topics Watch | Indian Navy

A newly minted Indian watchmaker, Bangalore Watch Company, is building watches imbued with a slice of India’s aviation history. The company, run by a husband-and-wife team, is set to launch a collection of 500 watches along with a special edition of 21 watches called the Mach 1X, which will come with cockpit-inspired dials made of metal from decommissioned MiG 21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force.

Founders Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj, former technology consultants who had earlier worked in Boston and Hong Kong, returned to India in 2016. By 2018, they had bootstrapped their watch company and got it up and running. 

Nirupesh Joshi, who used to frequent the Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger Lecoultre watch boutiques in Hong Kong, says he found that best-selling classic watches had a couple of common threads. “They all had great stories backing them,” he says.  

The world over, stories are what watchmakers, small and large, chase in order to fortify their product-marketing strategies. Panerai watches, a brand from the Switzerland-based Richemont Group, did that successfully with historical anecdotes on how its timepieces were used by Italian frogmen or navy divers during World War II.

Newer brands like Fonderie 47 uses parts from the AK 47 rifle to turn them into luxury watches. Again, Romain Jerome has used everything from material from the Titanic to the Berlin Wall and the Apollo Space Shuttle to make its fine watches — all with a view to excite and enthral collectors. 

Joshi and his wife felt that India was bursting with stories which could be adapted to watches. The Russian-designed Mikoyan-Gurevich supersonic jet and interceptor craft, commonly known as the MiG 21 Type 77, is a piece of aviation story that figured prominently in the 1971 India-Pakistan War. The plane was retired in 2013. 

Founders Nirupesh Joshi (right) and Mercy Amalraj, former technology consultants who had earlier worked in Boston and Hong Kong, returned to India in 2016. By 2018, they had bootstrapped their watch company and got it up and running
Joshi, an aviation buff, decided to buy pieces of metal from the decommissioned MiG fighter jets that he could infuse into his watches so as to lend them a piece of history and make them into a story worth telling. Eventually, he found the organisation that had purchased the retired Russian jets and bought a one-foot by two foot slice of skin from a plane. The metal was, essentially, aerospace-grade aluminium. 

He went on to cut circular pieces from this metal at his design lab and use them as dials for a limited edition series of 21 watches that will be available online from this month. 

Bangalore Watch Company retails online, as do many small, independent watchmakers which wish to keep their balance sheets free from heavy real estate costs and distributor commissions. 

Says Pratik Dalmia, founder of Regalia Luxury Retail, which sells high-end Swiss watches such as Bovet, “Creating a brand is a painstaking effort, but there is a definite audience for unique objects which tell a story rather than just sport a label.” 

Swiss watchmaker Rec does just that. It makes watches from recycled Spitfire aircraft, Porsche 911s, Ford Mustangs, and even Mini Coopers. 

However, there is one million dollar question that any buyer of watches such as these will have: How does one know that the alloys used are genuine and their provenance authentic? 

Joshi says that his company got a lab certified by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) to do an electron composition analysis of the metal used in the Mach 1 X watches. Once it checked out as genuine, the metal was anodised to prevent oxidation and decay. All this took about a year to pull off. 

Joshi’s firm sells approximately 700 watches a year. Designed in-house, they range in price from Rs 30,000 to Rs 55,000. The watches with the MiG dials will be priced higher. And he has customers across the board, he says, some even from Tier 2 towns. Around 35 per cent of his clientele are overseas.

So does he want to pursue that holy grail of all watch-makers and make his own movements? Not at the moment, says Joshi, since he feels the movements he uses are competent enough in the segment in which he operates. "In-house movements is something of a cliche because you do see aftermarket high-grade automatics being used in top brands such as Omega, Cartier, Breitling and many others," he says. 

The company gets high-grade Swiss Sellita movements and Japanese Miyota movements that are used in Citizen watches.

What next? A special edition of watches built with parts from an INS warship perhaps? Joshi smiles, and asserts that India’s land, air and sky are teeming with stories waiting to be told.



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