Tucked away in the bylanes of Nizamuddin’s market area, watchmaker Javed Khan sits on the wooden rickety stool in his small shop. As Khan tries to open the dial to fix the hands of an old watch, he makes sure that the delicate metallic strap remains intact. What is unique about this 60-year-old man is that he possesses more than 100 antique Swiss watches. Some of them are automatic and others are hand winding machines that became out of production around 1970s.
Javed Khan’s shop in Nizamuddin stocks some rare Swiss watches with automatic self-winding mechanism that dates to the 30s. Khan not only collects these watches but also repairs and sells them. While most of his customers are foreigners especially the ones from Thailand, Khan feels that Indians have also started acknowledging the value of antiques and approach him mostly for repair work.
“I started at a time when it was impossible to live without watches but today people don’t care as they have mobile phones that have replaced things of sentimental values like watches. Now only the rich and the educated are crazy about antiques and they are the ones who value them,” said the watchmaker.
Khan belongs to an educated family. He left school after eighth grade to chase his passion for watches. He was fascinated to learn the trade after he saw his tenant working late nights repairing watches. In three to four months, he became an expert and got his first job at the age of 16.
“I would hide my school bag and go to his repair shop while my parents made futile efforts to send me to school. I was adamant as a child and they too saw my passion for watches,” said Khan, who lives in Okhla.
For decades, Indians who wanted foreign watches either bought them abroad or patronised smugglers. Swiss watches too found a way to enter India under cover but the 1975 Emergency saw a ban on all such imports consequently adding to the antique value of the Swiss watches that were suddenly much more in demand.
“I used that opportunity. Before 1970s, I was like any other watchmaker in town but it could be said that I cashed in on the ban and started working with collectibles and rare watches. As Swiss watches went out of production, they became antiques,” said Javed.
A quick glance at Khan who rests his frail stature comfortably on his wooden chair could hardly suggest that he belonged to a family of nawabs of Rampur and is presently the only supplier of Swiss-made old watches. People from Lucknow, Aligarh, Pune and other parts of the city make an occasional visit to his shop to glance at rare Swiss brands like Nino, Henri Sandoz, Titoni, Favre-leuba, Titus, Roamer and even Rolex and Omega with automatic self-winding mechanism that date back to 1930s. Royal white pocket watches painted in silver are amongst his most prized possessions.
“People say that I am a nawab, but repairing all these watches, sitting in this box-sized room, do I look like a nawab? Most people started devaluing watches with the advent of mobile phones in 2000 and that is when I became relevant by collecting bygones. I am a nawab of antique watches,” said Khan while unpacking one of the HMT Citizen Japanese watches.
Priced three times less than the original showroom cost of the watch, one can grab a deal starting from as low as Rs 800 which can even go up to Rs 45,000.