It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I brought you a review of the HMT Pilot, an extremely affordable (under $50) hand-wound watch out of India. That post garnered a lot of interest, and to this day I still get inquiries as to where, exactly, I picked the watch up, as people wanted to get their own. Today, we’ll have a look at a slightly different model, the Janata.
First off, it’s probably worthwhile to talk a bit about HMT. HMT stands for Hindustan Machine Tool and is owned by the government of India. The company got its start in 1953, and began producing watches in collaboration with Citizen in 1961. For a year, HMT employees lived in Japan, learning how to manufacture the watches. They then returned home, and the first watch came off the line in 1962. While production levels have fallen off significantly from their heyday, the brand is still making new watches. If you want a bit more of a history lesson, check out this page.
So, then, given the Citizen link, it’s not a surprise to learn that the movements inside of HMT watches are more-or-less Citizen movements. Some changes have occurred over the years, and the movements are branded as HMT. For example, in the Janata we were sent over, it’s using the caliber HMT 0231, which is based off of the Citizen 0201 movement (for a visual comparison of the movements, check out the linked article one paragraph up). It’s a simple hand-wound movement, and given how long it’s been in production, there really aren’t any surprises with it. It just plain works. Given they’re running with old tooling at this point, longevity may be a concern, but I’ve not had the watch long enough to speak to that. Frankly, at the prices these are available for, it’s a moot point, really.
That covers what’s tucked away inside the slim case. On top, you’ve got a high-dome acrylic crystal, which is in keeping with the vintage roots of the model. Under that crystal is a bright white dial with polished indices and a sword-style handset. Branding is kept to a minimum, as is the additional text (just giving you some basic info on the movement). All in all, it makes for a wonderfully subtle timepiece.
This particular model came paired with a plastic (I hesitate to call it rubber, though it does have a softer feel) strap that gives the appearance of a stitched leather strap. This I can only imagine is to help keep costs down, as I don’t know that this watch has any measure of water resistance. That said, the strap works, and at the price this watch goes for (which we’ll cover in a bit), you’ll have plenty left over to find another strap.
As you might expect, this is a watch that absolutely disappears on the wrist when you strap it on. All of the elements just add up on this to make for an extremely light watch that, due to the thin case, disappears under a cuff with ease. Sure, it’s smaller than modern tastes may normally go for, but I think that lends itself to less casual situations more readily (aka: you can wear it with a suit), or a trip in to the office.
While the Seiko Orange Monster is normally our default recommendation for a “starter” automatic, the stuff from HMT that I’ve reviewed makes a great case for these watches being an alternate for a starter mechanical watch, especially if you’re looking to get one for a smaller wrist (say, starting kids out with a mechanical). While the technical merits of the watch pale to the Seiko, and the styling is subtle (some may say plain), you can’t argue with a mechanical watch coming in at around $50, that’s for sure.
If you’d like to pick up your own Janata, or perhaps some other HMT model, you’ve got a few options. The first would be a trip to India for a factory visit. With plane tickets being what they are, though, perhaps I’d recommend that you check out the ebay stores of our friend Fateh (here and here), where you can see all of the HMT models he has on offer. Just tell him that WWR sent you!
- Brand & Model: HMT Janata
- Price: ~$50
- Who’s it for?: Someone who’s looking for a mechanical watch for a smaller wrist
- Would I wear it?: Not frequently, but yes – this is a piece that would get in the mix
- What I’d change: Perhaps some options on the strap would be nice – not everyone will care for the plastic one
- The best thing about it: Just how compact and affordable the piece is.