Saturday Features

Timekeepers

  • Watch sales might not have dipped as smart watches and phones become a part of the everyday, but the complex art of repairing watches certainly has
- Abijeet Pant
Since its invention during the First World War, where it played a crucial role in synchronising strategies on the battle field, the wristwatch has seen many an evolution in the past century; and each new technology has sparked concerns of whether the classical mechanical and quartz watches were going obsolete

Sep 9, 2017-Sujan Khadgi spends much of his day in a miniature world. A loupe over his right eye and a pair of tweezers clutched between his fingers, today Khadgi is busy trying to fix a mechanical watch he has been working on since the morning. A traditional watch mechanic who specialises in repairing mechanical and quartz watches, 40-year-old Khadgi says it is a special joy when one of these watches is brought in by a customer. “The size of the little parts makes the mechanics so complicated and if you’re not concentrated and dexterous, you’ll do more harm than good,” he says, “Every watch feels different than the last, which is why, every watch I am able to fix feels special.” 

For the past 24 years, Khadgi has been repairing watches out of his tiny shop in Ason. It took him eight months to understand the basics of watch repairs from his brother and several more years of practice to perfect the craft. “In the late 80s and through the 90s, business was booming,” he says, “Watches were essential, and watch mechanics even more so. That isn’t the case anymore.”

According to Khadgi, even though wrist watches remain relevant and popular, the watch repair business has seen a sharp downturn in the past decade or so. This he pegs on one of two reasons, “Watches these days are either really cheap—hence disposable—or they are expensive—hence well made. Watch-making has come a long way and they just don’t breakdown as often anymore,” he says. 

If once Khadgi needed hours, even days, to figure out the nuts and bolts of the pieces he was working on, these days customers who do come in are seldom looking for more than just replacing their batteries or wristbands. 

“It is just not as lucrative anymore,” Khadgi confirms, “This business has been supporting my family for two decades but now I am seriously considering closing it altogether. I am thinking of trying my hand in Qatar instead.”

***

Since its invention during the First World War, where it played a crucial role in synchronising strategies on the battle field, the wristwatch has seen many an evolution in the past century; and each new technology has sparked concerns of whether the classical mechanical and quartz watches were going obsolete. That debate has become increasingly louder in the last decade as smartphones, and more recently smart watches, have changed how people interact with time.

But despite the increasing popularity of smart and fitness watches, classic wristwatches remain popular as fashion accessories and as status symbols. According to Janardan Adhikari, sales manager at Timex Nepal, wristwatches, particularly ones manufactured by premium brands, remain popular as ever. In a conversation with the Post, he confirmed that watch sales grew by 24 percent in the last fiscal year at Timex, after the company expanded its online presence and business-to-business sales.

According to worldwatchreport.com, a digital luxury group intelligence research company, worldwide consumer interest in luxury watches has been growing at the rate of 10 percent annually and has doubled since 2012 with Asia accounting for 68 percent of the growth.

Watch sales might not have dipped by much in the market, but watch repairs certainly have.

Sitting in his 22-year-old shop at Purano Baneshwor, Ram Nageshwor Shah—a watch mechanic—is watching the clogged traffic outside, brooding over how the neighbourhood has changed in the 30 years that he moved here from Sarlahi.

“Back then it never was this crowded,” he says, “But business was good!”

When at its peak, Shah says, his store would attract anywhere from 30-50 customers each day—enough for him to not only sustain himself in the Capital but raise his three children comfortably.  “It took me more than two years to become really good at watch repairs,” he says, “But once I did that, there was no shortage of customers. Now, repairing watches is much simpler, and cheaper. Could I raise my children from watch repairs alone today? I don’t know.”

In order to meet the shortfall, Shah has now begun selling watches alongside continuing his passion for repairing them. He, admittedly, sells more watches than he fixes.

This kind of diversification will be key if watch mechanics are to realign themselves with evolving tastes and technologies, according to Mahendra Shakya, a wall clock distributor in Ranjana Galli, New Road.

Shakya’s own experiment with the clock business began 23 years ago. At the time, he helped his father run a grocery store while also featuring for the Boy’s Sports Club in the national A-Division football League. Then, while on a trip to India, he decided to purchase wall clocks and sell them in Kathmandu for a profit.

“Everyone has to choose a career path in life, and I did mine too. Now I enjoy it as much I used to enjoy playing football,” he says, sitting in his store that is decked with clocks ranging from the size of large televisions to tiny bed-stand alarm clocks.

When Shakya first opened up his shop, wall clocks and watches were coveted luxury goods within the reach of few people.

“Those clocks were often gifted from foreign countries. They were imported and expensive.” Shakya recalls, “Today, a simple wall-clock can be bought by putting aside your lunch expense; say, Rs 200. Back then too, it would cost Rs 200. But Rs 200 used to be a handsome sum of money.”

Shakya says that when eventually cheaper clocks and watches began to flood the market, he had to keep evolving to stay afloat. As a result, he began importing clock parts and assembling them in Kathmandu at a cut price.

“The prices of clocks that we assemble are marginal when compared to similar imported ones. This way, not only are we creating an advantage but are employing and supporting local mechanics,” he says.

Shakya remains adamant that watches, and clocks, will never go out of fashion, as long as businesses continue to evolve with the times. If the demand for watches were on a wane, he says, they’d have become obsolete already.

“While it might appear that the younger generation have become so accustomed to using smartphones, watches have always found a way to rebound,” Shakya muses, “Besides, we live in a time when we are becoming busier by the day. Time has become valuable in a way it

never was before. And as long as time is so highly valued, clocks and watches will remain essential. We just need to keep finding new ways to innovate and to reach out to customers.”

Published: 09-09-2017 08:53

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