Time and again

Published: Nov 25, 2012, 09:43 IST | Phorum Dalal |

What happens to the old, winding watches that find themselves in the discard pile of your Diwali cleaning, or the grandfather clock that has been lying in the attic gathering dust? There is an army of watch experts scattered across the city who will scrunch their eyes, unassemble more than 25 minute parts and set the seconds hand ticking once again, finds Phorum Dalal

No taxi will take you to Mumbadevi, madam. Take a shared taxi to Dava Bazaar and walk it up,” a taxi driver informs me outside Marine Lines station. After squeezing eight people into his Maruti van, the rickety vehicle speeds across some of Mumbai’s busiest streets — dodging passersby, cars, dogsand handcarts.

A watch contains more than 25 minute parts which include springs, wheels, barrels, screws and plates. Pics/Bipin Kokate

After a sweaty walk through Zaveri Bazaar that still seems to be in the colourful stupor of Diwali, I reach Tambakanta building, a gigantic structure. A narrow stairway leads me to shop 55, which is the workshop of Shri Sai Watches, a company that deals in vintage repairs.

A watch repair toolkit or a punch box contains different screwdrivers that are used to open watches, put screws and make holes in straps. Other tools that are used in the process include tweezers to hold minute parts and an air pump to remove dust particles

Seven heads seated at individual desks pore over an array of 20 to 60 year-old watches, be it a Seiko, HMT, Omega, Rado or Tissot. This is the reconditioning process, I later learn, which includes dial-repainting, case buffing, polishing, and cleaning the parts with petrol and a readymade solution containing carbon, ammonium, water and shampoo. The parts are then dried under a yellow light for three to five minutes and reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle.

What is vintage?
Owner Jagdish Junjur is not available when I visit, but his time-keeping army is more than willing to talk. I learn that the first thing they do when they receive a vintage/ antique timepiece is to put it through a verification process which studies the machine, stamp and serial number of the watch. “Did you know each watch has a unique serial number? Andaaze se hum bata sakte hai ke ye ghadi kitna chalegi. We identify China-made fake parts, and just by the exterior you can make out if the piece is genuine,” smiles 55 year-old Sadashiv Basa, the head repairer, who has been working with these watches for 40 years.

Anand Rane, 63 year-old owner of Paresh Watches at Parel (E) checks a watch. According to Rane, he prices the watches according to the eye of the buyer. Some, he says, refuse to pay too much for an old piece. Pic/Datta Kumbhar 

Later, over the phone, Junjur explains, “When a piece is over 20 or 30 years old, it’s vintage. A unique, single piece design is an antique.” The 27 year-old watch expert is the third generation owner of this outfit and deals in pre-owned watches and clocks that he purchases from dealers and people who want to sell. “In 1972, Omega had come out with an edition only for the soldiers who fought in the Indo-Pak war, and we have a few of these pieces,” says Junjur, who has three centres — Worli, Mahim and Mumbadevi. Out of curiosity, I ask how much these pieces would cost. “Anything between Rs 35,000 to 60,000,” he says.

Workers use a tweezer to handle tiny parts. A watch has at least 25 parts, including the balance wheel, which plays the role of the pendulum in a clock, the spring, which winds a watch, and wheels, that keep the hour hand, second hand and minute hand ticking.

Sometimes, Junjur gets pieces whose spare parts are unavailable. “We ask dealers and seller to put the product on hold. We buy it if we can get the spare parts. Parts of a watch that doesn’t work can be sold off,” says Junjur, who does not believe that a ‘dead’ watch is an omen.

Thirty nine year-old Irshan Sheikh holds the spring of a vintage watch with a tweezer. To get a magnified view of the parts, workers use eye pieces, which place less strain on the eye

Not ‘old’ stuff
A BSc in Mathematics, Junjur had no interest in watches until he visited the store, began to understand the business and the value of these beautiful pieces, two years ago. He is now looking at expanding his market to European countries. “We are getting in touch with dealers who have markets abroad and we are also looking at international buyers.”

Irshan Sheikh, who has been in this industry for 15 years, puts the parts in the automatic cleaning machine. The parts are cleaned in petrol and a readymade solution containing carbon, ammonium, water and shampoo alternately

Junjur says the Mumbai market has become interesting. “Foreigners are more interested in buying what Mumbaiites call ‘old’ stuff. Today, people want to wear something that nobody else owns, and they want it to be stylish. But, there are exceptions and many people are now understanding the value of vintage collections,” he says.

After all the parts are thoroughly cleaned in the automatic cleaner, they are kept under a yellow light to dry 

As I pick up a watch that has just been given a new lease of life, I think of all the second chances we miss just because we think the right time is gone. The truth is, we have to make the time. Just like these repairers do — one tick at a time.

Sadashiv Basa’s job is to okay each watch that is repaired by other workers, after which it is mounted on the auto winder for at least eight hours. The auto winder confirms that the spring in the watch is getting wound with the rotating movement of the machine. This is why an automatic watch stops working if it is not worn for a long period of time, because the winding is dependent on our hand movements

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