A penchant for watches and coins got a man in his early college years to create a “coin watch” for himself. On a whim, he opened an HMT quartz watch to explore how it worked. A one paisa coin from the George VI era, with a hole in the centre was lying close at hand (yes he loved collecting coins too). He stuck the coin within the dial of the watch. Friends were intrigued by his work. And, it was then that Gaurav Mehta, founder, Jaipur Watch Company (JWC) realised the business potential of his “passion”. He made a couple of similar designs initially with his own set of coins and watches, put it up on sale on social media and started promoting it himself. At a time when social media marketing was not really the buzz word, Mehta received a call from a client who decided to buy all of these watches. “I had priced the watches at Rs 15,000 as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sell all of them,” says a beaming Mehta adding all four watches got sold. Since then, there was no looking back.
With a strong belief in the ‘Make in India’ initiative, Mehta built JWC as a brand in 2013 to cater to the niche market of the Indian society. “I had done a recce of how the companies in the Swiss market worked. It was important in order to understand the quality and the production style of these companies,” he says. Mehta took a tourist trip to venture in the production houses of Swiss luxury brands as there was no other route to go inside. “I realised that Swiss watches could prove to be too expensive,” he says.
Having no one in India, he went to the Hong Kong Watch Fair, where he discovered manufacturers who could produce the kind of watches he 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,” says Mehta adding how he visited his factory every few months to supervise the work. He even ensured to choose the best grade of everything that went into making the watches.
Move to India
But in order to make it a complete “Made in India” brand, Mehta decided to move the manufacturing to India. He leveraged the best craftsmanship traditions in Rajasthan for hand-engraving, gem-setting and other highly-skilled jobs. “Vivek Gupta, who once ran a huge concept store called The Big Door in Mumbai, was my mentor. He flew down to Jaipur to sign a deal to 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,” says Mehta recalling how Business Standard was the first to feature him in its column.
In 2016, JWC set up a manufacturing facility in Bengaluru because they wanted to make gold watches. Till date, Mehta travels to the factory to check on the work after conceptualising the designs in his Jaipur office and getting it vetted from the clients.
Mixing tradition with class
Believing in class and tradition that resonates with the Indian audience, JWC boasts of products created with innovation and a subtle hint of tradition. Their aim is to provide bespoke luxury watches to clients, which will remain as their family heirloom. “There is a much more matured clientele to which we are catering to. People are looking for something unique and customised that carries a taste of their personality in every product they own. A bespoke watch is exactly the same," Mehta says.
A recent example is the Liberty Watch created by JWC, where the client wanted to use his US Silver Eagle Bullion coin in a way that he could see the time through the coin and also the mechanism of the timepiece. “It was a challenge for us but we developed the product. The coin was sliced into two parts; the Eagle side becoming the face of the watch and the Lady Liberty side was embossed on the back. The case is made out of white gold. A beautifully textured white gold dial is visible once the case is opened. In order to see the time, a window has been cut on the coin, only on a limited part, without damaging the coin. A hand-made strap gives the watch a very unique look,” Mehta adds.
A bespoke watch showcases a part of the personality of the client. It can be a basic customisation by putting their names and initials to a complete watch made from scratch echoing the ideas of the client,” feels Mehta. The price range of JWC’s pret watches is Rs 15,000 to Rs 55,000 and that for the Bespoke is Rs 2.5 lakh to any amount of customisation the client requires.
The many challenges
The luxury watches market in India stands at Rs 10,000 crore currently, with Titan being the largest player in the segment. Getting into this market as a homegrown product has not really been an easy walk for Mehta with multi-brand stores not very keen on Indian-origin brands. Further he says, the kind of products the ancillary industries manufacture aren’t up to the mark, while the few bigger ancillary units who are there are 100 per cent export oriented and don't want to work with Indian brands as they don't believe the brands will utilise their products. That’s when a brand like JWC has to manufacture a lot of things in house since the support is not there from the market. To mention a few, they do their own "hands", "stone settings on dials" etc on the watches.
At present, JWC sells its prêt collection at a multi brand store in Delhi, also the only store that stocks them. They 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,” he says.
Mehta is all set to open its first flagship store in Jaipur and by the end of 2019 in Delhi. He is also hoping to spread to other metros by next year-end. And, why shouldn’t he? With a turnover of 55 per cent more than the previous year, and selling over 900 units annually, Mehta has mastered the art of selling luxury. His only concern is that he hasn’t been able to create someone like him who will understand the nuances of how the watches are to be designed and conceptualised, making him the only point of contact for his clients and JWC.