Abhinandan Indians! Your watch could now carry a piece of IAF history

Wrist action.
Wrist action.
Image: Bangalore Watch Company
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India’s fetish for military memorabilia has found its way into yet another commercial brand.

Bangalore Watch Company (BWC), a premium homegrown microbrand, yesterday (Sept. 10) launched its latest collection of watches, MACH 1, dedicated to the supersonic fighter jet MiG 21 Type 77. Even though aviation-themed collections are an international trend, this is a first for a brand to dedicate a line to a fighter jet of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

“The entire collection is a tribute to the MiG through its design features—the fin flash (the marking of the national flag on fighter jets), the crown modelled on the afterburner nozzle, and the dial inspired by the cockpit,” Nirupesh Joshi, co-founder of BWC, told Quartz.

The only other time a mainstream consumer brand paid similar tribute to the armed forces was when the Bajaj V15 was launched. The engine of the limited-edition motorcycle used parts of the scrap from INS Vikrant, a now-defunct aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy. Bajaj sold 160,000 units within months of the bike’s release.

This affinity for military memorabilia ties in well with the general euphoria over combat missions by the armed forces. In February, the IAF carried out strikes against terror camps in Pakistan after around 40 paramilitary personnel were killed in a terror attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama town. An IAF pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, became a national hero overnight after his plane was shot down by Pakistan and he was captured on the other side of the border only to be repatriated a few days later.

The 2016 surgical strikes by Indian forces across the border in Pakistan were made into a popular Bollywood film, Uri: The Surgical Strike, this year. The film’s dialogue, “How’s the josh (spirit),” became viral on social media.

Piece by piece

While the MACH 1 collection is an ode to the historic jet, the MACH 1X, with 21 limited-edition watches, in fact, uses material from a decommissioned MiG 21. The dials of these niche watches are made out of the MiG’s aluminium skin, modified through a complex process.

Joshi and his partner Mercy Amalraj began working on the drawing board in July 2018.

“The authenticity of the material was validated by performing a chemical composition analysis. This helped us to confirm that the material we acquired contains the same chemical composition of a MiG 21’s aluminium skin,” explained Joshi.

War-time hero

The MiG 21 played a crucial role in the 1971 India-Pakistan war and also played a key role in the 1999 Kargil War.

It was one of the first fighter jets in the world to be able to travel at twice the speed of sound.

“It was particularly legendary because the MiG 21 was meant to intercept incoming NATO fighters by Russians. It was a rocket that flew like an aircraft,” explained Col Danvir Singh, defence analyst and aviation enthusiast. “Many old-timers in the air force flew the fighter jet and have lots of memories associated with it,” he said.

The fighter jet was retired after four decades of service in 2013.

Six years after that, Joshi believes that India’s love for history and the growing affordable luxury segment are bound to make this collection a success. “We strongly believe there is an appetite for such watches. Why should watches only pay tribute to the US’s TOPGUN or the British Submarine Spitfire?” Why indeed.

Consistent with BWC’s previous collection, the MACH 1 will also have a waiting list, and the MACH 1X will be available only on request. While other watches in the MACH 1 are priced at Rs48,000-Rs53,000 ($670-$740), the company has consciously withheld the prices for the 1X.