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Luxury & Brands
December 03, 2017

This Jaipur-Based Entrepreneur Blended His Passion For Coins And Watches

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

Gaurav Mehta talks to us about his tryst with the world of timekeeping and numismatics

He nurtured his childhood interests to carve out a career and a company for himself. Today, the 33-year-old Jaipur-based entrepreneur helms an enterprise that successfully combines his longstanding love for both coins and watches. And his ‘baby’ — Jaipur Watch Company — is talked about for being the first Indian home-grown bespoke watch brand. It is one that literally puts money on — and into — time. And in its own way, it follows the ideology of ‘Make in India’ by celebrating the country’s craftsmanship through its unique timepieces.

I meet Mehta at his hotel on a visit to New Delhi — he too has air-dashed to the capital around the same time. In his room, my eye is drawn to the many watches that are laid out on the bed. The shapes and colours of the wrist candies stand out against the pristine white linen. Later, the passionate watchmaker takes me through the details of each piece — explaining their unique features with knowledge and confidence.

We soon take a metaphorical walk through time, as he revisits long-held dreams that made him deviate from the road that his studies had ordained. For, after an initial education in finance and a master’s degree in risk management from the UK, Mehta reconnected with his cherished passions. He firmly believes that every moment of history has its own story to tell — and this is what the first-generation entrepreneur attempts to do through every bespoke watch dial that he creates.

The youngest of three siblings — he has two older sisters — Mehta admits to being the pampered one. Growing up, the lad was loved so much that his every reasonable wish was fulfilled. He recalls, “We are a close-knit family. By the time I was born, my parents were well settled. You can say that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I got a motorcycle when I was in class nine; I was the first one to get it in my class. But there were limits — like no smoking, no partying or getting drunk and more — lines which I could not cross. And I did not! As far as my career was concerned, my father would have liked me to become a CA like him, but he never pushed me into doing what he wanted me to do. He let me do what I wanted to.”

When I ask him what was one of the earliest watches he owned, he is quick to reply, “My mother made me buy a Timex from a shop in the old city, as the owner was dad’s client. I also recall the time my grandfather had gone to Switzerland and he bought five Omegas for his five grandchildren without realising their value. I must have been around 12 then. One day I wore the watch to school and my teacher admonished me for wearing something so expensive. I still have that piece with me.”

It was on his return from London after a stint with an investment broker that he connected deeper with his old interests. Touching on his childhood fascination for coins, he states, “Ever since I can remember, I had a box filled with a variety of coins — the collection just kept growing. I used to think that I was a great collector, till I met some veterans. They told me that my collection had to have a focus. The coins had to be from a particular era, kingdom or country. I decided I would horde British-India coins as they were easily available compared to the currency of foreign countries. I have always been fascinated by antiques.”

Apart from coins, Mehta has always been drawn to tickers. He emphasises, “At that time, most watches were mechanical ones. I used to like the sweep second hands which moved silently. One fine day, I managed to open one watch and see the beauty of its mechanism. And that had me completely hooked. One wheel powered a second and a third and that is how the entire mechanism moved. From then on, whichever watch I got, I would open it, just to see how it works. Slowly, over the years, I learned how to open a watch and put it back together.”

When he got his first stipend in London, he bought a watch with it. He laughs, “People normally send their first salary home. But, I had been looking at that particular watch for some time. And that purchase made me realise how much I liked watches. I still did not take my interest seriously as I thought it would sound illogical to tell anyone that I wanted to start my own watch brand. I returned to India and lived in Mumbai for about a year and a half. I used to visit the HMT showroom in the Air India building. I started buying pieces at low prices of rupees 600 to 800. And my collection grew.”

Call it serendipity, but one day, a few years ago, he was sitting with a watch, his coins lying next to it. He remembers, “I opened the watch, realised its hands were positioned at a slight height. I took a one paisa coin, stuck it there, and began to wear the watch. People who saw it asked me where I had got it from. I realised I could probably make money out of these watches. I decided to do some research — because liking watches and making them are two different things altogether. And selling them, a third! And I would have to to start a business from scratch. I was already married at that time. So, it was a joint decision.”

His wife, Pratibha, was extremely supportive even when he told her that for the first two years there would be no money coming in. “Luckily, there was no pressure to run the house, as we lived in a joint family. At the back of my mind I knew that I had a home to live in, food on the table. My father found my idea ridiculous. ‘I don’t have money to waste on this idea,’ he told me. But, like every dad, at the end of the day, he told my mother that I could use one of our properties as an office. I sold a BMW that I had bought from my earnings for the initial capital, and approached my friends who put their money on me, not the business. My research continued through all this. I went to the Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair and knew that this was where I could make a start. I still had to zero in on a supplier, designs and, most importantly, a coin.”

The choice of the coin was not based on design requirements but on its availability for he needed 500 good-quality coins to start. Mehta states, “My priority was to create watches of international standards. And the coins had to be perfect. I had zoomed in on a King George VI coin, which intrigued me because Albert Frederick Arthur George’s reign was the one where India witnessed its transition into a free country. But, it took me eight to nine months to find the right coins. I realised that to run a brand, I needed a collection to begin with — even if they were variations of one design.”

Sourcing the coins is always a task. Mehta underlines, “We procure the coins from a variety of sources – numismatists, personal collectors and auctions all over the world. The process of watchmaking begins with selecting the right coins, even as we work on the design. It takes about a month or two to get the desired quantity and quality of coins and it takes about four to five months to come up with one brilliant piece.”

When his first batch of watches arrived in Jaipur, Mehta was faced with the problem of selling. The first few went through word of mouth via friends and family members. He states, “I turned to Facebook, posted ads there, and soon got a call from Vivek Gupta in Mumbai, of The Big Door, a collectibles store. He liked the product and offered to sell my watches at his store. He introduced me to the ways of the business; we did a trunk show that gave me the confidence to face the future with courage. We were soon selling 50 to 60 watches a month. That gave me the money to launch new models. I approached the Taj and Oberoi groups, saying we wanted to retail with them. I always knew that there was a story in my products. I like minimalistic simple watches, and mine became conversation starters. The packaging had the antique effect — and with the story card and the coins, the idea caught on.”

When I ask him what prompted the name Jaipur Watch Company, he points out, “Jaipur is a beautiful city. Even foreigners have heard about it; they relate it to palaces, art and history. I hail from Jaipur so what better way to salute my city than by giving my brand its name?”

Mehta designs the bespoke watches and draws inspiration from a variety of sources. As he explains, “What helps me in my work is that I am easily accessible to clients who soon become friends. They are happy to pay to customise their watches. We want the customers to come to us with ideas that we can craft into reality. We like to work with them on the idea right from its inception. Once the sketch is ready, they can choose what materials and components they are looking for. In my head, I design one bespoke watch a week. Even our prêt collections are limited editions. I cannot sell 10,000 pieces a month. I am not keen on going down that route.”

And this is what he believes luxury is all about. He says, “Personalisation is the ultimate luxury. It is something special, only available for you. It makes you feel unique. You may spend 70 lakh rupees on a car and feel good about it for a day. But soon, your neighbour may get the same car — and it is a let-down. That is why the butler service was introduced in hotels. And that is how bespoke tailoring came about. I have just transferred that thought to timekeepers.”

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