A timekeeper's tale

The HMT Heritage Centre and Museum in Bengaluru will elicit nostalgic stories from people and also strike an inquisitive chord

To most people, the name HMT is synonymous with classic watches. But not many might know how it touched every aspect of people’s lives during Independent India’s nascent phase of industrialisation.

In 1953, Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) was established with the first factory in Jalahalli, Bengaluru. Over the years, by collaborating with world leaders, it pioneered in building watches, tractors, lamps, printing machines, dairy machinery and primarily, mother machines for factories. Then it morphed into an engineering marvel and ramified to establish units across India and overseas.

It’s said that there was a time when every factory in India had at least one HMT machine and every household had at least one HMT product. 

The HMT Heritage Centre and Museum (HCM) is set within the erstwhile bungalow of the company’s chairman. Spread over acres of lush greenery, it offers ample walking space, a souvenir shop and children’s play area among other facilities.

At the entrance, a timeline of major milestones, accolades and awards achieved by the company are showcased.

Explanation

Muralidhar T R, an employee of HMT for over three decades, comes forward to explain the display.

In collaboration with the world-renowned Citizen of Japan, HMT established India’s first watch-manufacturing unit with its township in Bengaluru in 1961.

“There was a Specialised Watch Case Division (SWCD) factory here. About 3,000 employees worked at one time,” Muralidhar says.

The most memorable landmarks of HMT can be seen in the delightful photographs — the first wrist watch by HMT, the first batch of wrist watch being presented to the then prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962, people in queues, thronging to buy HMT watches, the 50 -millionth watch presented to the then president R Venkataman in 1988, and the 100-millionth watch being presented to the then prime minister Atal Bihari
Vajpaye in 2000.

After serving for over 50 years, before its closure in 2016, HMT sale record stands at about 110 million watches!

Through its interpretive galleries, the HCM strives to unfold the diversified aspects of the company.

The Time Art Gallery showcases the range of HMT watches that were made for every mood, occasion and generation.

Representing the Indian citizen was ‘Janata’, the first exclusive range of indigenously made watches by HMT.

It then began launching wristwatches for men and women with all possible common Indian male and female names — Tarun, Jawahar, Latha, Supriya...

Being attractive and durable, the watches soon gained an iconic status.

Watches from hand-wound mechanical ones to the elegant quartz ones — both analog and digital — were manufactured. Evolving with times and technology, HMT consistently created vibrant pieces that symbolised youth and dynamism

They were multi-functional time machines and did more than just telling time — with fourth hand showing day/date, displaying the current phase of the moon, with night visibility for pilots/armed forces.

Embellished with sandalwood, silver, gold and gemstones, the watches even became prized possessions.

Pocket watch with a gold chain that is high in demand till date is also on display.

Braille watches for the visually impaired that came along with descriptive Braille catalogues and specialised watches for nurses can be viewed in the gallery.

Besides the wrist watches, HMT made clocks, too. Among their momentous masterpieces are the unique floral clocks and tower clocks. The Machine Tool Gallery showcases prototypes and photographs of the machines utilised in making watches.

It illustrates that manufacturing a watch involves working with tiny parts that demand precision and patience. Special-purpose machines, precise tools, jigs, fixtures and accurate measuring instruments were used.

Precision and patience

You can pick up on how the stainless steel or brass watch case is made right from the raw material, marvel at the evolution of dials and their manufacturing process, and also go over the stage-wise manufacturing of the main plate, which is an important part of a watch, all in depth. Assembling the components is elucidated too. The photos of employees engaged in work clarify that discipline is essential in such a workplace. “The whole area should be absolutely dust-free,” Muralidhar specifies.

On display are the complex machines that perform specific functions. For instance, the SIP coordinate-measuring machine is used for measuring distances between coordinates of holes in the main plate and other parts.

“Even the slightest discrepancy like a fraction of a millimetre can lead to improper running of gears. This machine is accurate,” Muralidhar points out.

It is specified that a machine called Balance-O-Matic did the activity that was earlier carried out by 10-15 employees.

Machines used for cutting hair-spring to the required length, checking torque of the main spring, assembling small components, embossing, printing, grooving and a host of other tasks can be seen in the gallery.

For better understanding, each machine’s details — name, purpose, where was it purchased from, year of purchase — are displayed. In short, the gallery is meant to analyse watch-making at its best.

The Tractor Gallery is filled with models of tractors and working models of circuits of tractors.

Tractors from 25-75 HP were manufactured by HMT. Types of bearings including the ones supplied to Indian Railways find a place in the gallery.

Besides the Machine Tool Unit, the HMT Food Processing Machinery Division in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, is a running entity. The HMT Machine Tools Complex, Bengaluru offers short-term and long- term training programmes for those interested.

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