NEW DELHI/ BANGALORE (TIP): A few decades ago, watches in India meant HMT. It was a prize gift, the sort of thing that parents would promise to give their offspring if they did well in board exams or that would be handed down from father to son, typically at the son’s wedding. It’s ad punchline portrayed it as “timekeepers to the nation” and nobody suggested that was hype. But time’s up for the iconic brand that was launched in 1961 as part of the government’s efforts to build a modern India.

Like the Ambassador, another marquee brand of the licence-permit era, its clock has finally wound down. Saddled with losses for more than a decade, the government is set to shut down HMT Watches, which was restructured in 1999 to stop the HMT companies from bleeding. But little has changed. During 2012-13, the latest period for which data is available, the ailing public sector company had losses of Rs 242 crore on revenues of Rs 11 crore. Data in the government Public Enterprises Survey shows, the company employed 1,105, which included 181 executives. In contrast, Titan’s watch business reported sales of Rs 1,675 crore during the year.

HMT virtually had a free run since it was set up in 1961 and set up the country’s first watch manufacturing unit in Bangalore in collaboration with Citizen Watch Co. In fact, it claims many firsts to its credit — the automatic day-date watch to the first Braille and quartz watches. But it was the quartz watches that proved to be its undoing along with the entry of several new players in the 1980s, who brought in newer designs and more modern production techniques.

HMT is said to have been hobbled by slow decision making, often associated with PSUs. As a result, several attempts to boost the company’s performance including capital infusion didn’t work. During UPA government’s term, HMT Watches was referred to the Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises, which recommended revival. While the UPA refrained from deciding on the issue, the BJP government decided to go ahead with a tough decision.