Building trust is the biggest challenge faced by Indian luxury brands: Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj


IT professionals Nirupesh Joshi and Mercy Amalraj belong to small towns in Tamil Nadu and unlike many people, they never received watches as part of their family heirlooms. However, both of them loved the 'time machine'. While working in foreign countries, they couldn't help but notice the fact that luxury watches made their way to people's hearts through unique stories.

The couple thought of replicating this in India and that gave birth to their dream, 'The Bangalore Watch Company' in 2018.

The duo was at Manoramaonline Techspectations 2023 digital summit in Kochi on Friday and spoke at length about their dreams, struggles and challenges that Indian luxury brands face, and more. The session was moderated by luxury watch magazine WatchTime India's Editor-in-Charge Preetika Mathew.

Expectations from luxury brands

If you call your product a luxury brand, consumers expect something specific, rare and unique from you, said Mercy Amalraj, as she spoke about managing expectations. “If you offer something that 1,000 other people have, people accept it. They want a guarantee, unique material and something special,” she said. This urge to seek uniqueness guided them to create each of their products such as the watches inspired by cricket, meteorites and various Indian success stories.

The challenges

“India is a nation of trust deficit,” said Nirupesh, as he spoke about the challenges faced by those who wanted to create an Indian luxury brand. Building trust was the biggest obstacle. “We had zero experience or background in luxury watchmaking. And therefore, it was tougher (for us). But, we built it slowly, offering quality products,” recalled Nirupesh.

He said that India lacks a conducive ecosystem for a product like a luxury watch brand. “Putting the right team together to do something audacious like this is the other challenge. Just like how one would explain to customers, we had to do the same to hire the right people too,” said Nirupesh.

The India stories

When Nirupesh said ‘Your watch is entirely unnecessary?’ the audience couldn’t guess what he was getting at, as a watchmaker himself. “It just serves the vestigial function of telling you what time it is. Your phone, washing machine and car clock can give time. Yet, wristwatches have an emotional connection with us,” he said. “It could be your grandfather’s watch, a watch your spouse gifted to you for your anniversary or the one you bought with your first paycheck. This emotional connection is what makes them relevant.”

The couple noticed that in foreign countries, watch companies do storytelling that makes these emotional connections stronger. “Stories of watches that went to the moon, or the ones on a plane from the second world war and more. We realised this around 2015, and this was also the time when there was an announcement that HMT watch company was shutting down in India. We realised no watch company was doing story telling from India with high-quality watchmaking. That’s when we started thinking about the possibility of starting a watch company in India, with stories to tell,” said Nirupesh, who brought out watches inspired by stories of the Indian space programme, cricket, meteorites and more.

Growth of homegrown luxury brands

Preetika Mathew, who opened the session, gave the audience some interesting insights into the growth of Indian luxury brands. “Revenue from luxury goods in India is valued at Rs 625 billion in 2023 according to Statista. The market's largest segment is luxury watches, which is valued at Rs 179 billion in 2023. In 2021, the Swizz watch export to the country grew by 61 per cent compared to 2020.”

She also had an interesting insight to add. “At the end of the day, both luxury watches and others give you time. But what's the story the time tells you? That's what is unique about luxury watches.”

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