The kind of global spotlight watch collecting enjoys today, as a passion outlet, is unprecedented. Social media, of course, has played its part in this by disseminating information, building communities and helping brands market new releases and limited editions of all kinds. From James Bond to Monopoly to Range Rover—we’ve seen it all. However, a small batch of watches made in the German Mecca of watchmaking, for a group of Indian aficionados? Who would’ve thought; yet here we are.
Nomos Glashütte, the German watchmaking brand famously inspired by the Deutscher Werkbund and Bauhaus design, has created a 25-piece limited edition for J9—an Indian group of watch collectors who are pretty serious about what’s on their wrists. As a member of this small community, I am thrilled to see the Nomos ‘J9’ edition come to life. The watch is essentially Nomos’ Club Campus 38, with a California dial (featuring a mix of Roman and Arabic numerals) but with several little touches through which we made it uniquely our own.
Who Are J9?
Our group J9 has a cryptic sound to it, but it actually started as Honest Watch Talk. A few of us knew each other from different watch groups and felt the need for a forum where we could discuss everything to do with horology with an open mind and genuine commitment to the passion. We wanted to learn, share and appreciate. The group was formed around 2016 and a little while later, an accidental keypress in a member’s back pocket inadvertently changed the name of the mobile messaging group to, well, J9. It stuck around as a joke for a while before eventually turning into our identity, and it’s a story that’ll never stop being amusing for all of us.
We’re about 50 members today, predominantly in India, in a private group where we discuss everything from new releases and potential acquisitions to retrograde mechanisms and the next big independent watchmaker. The combined knowledge and exposure of the group means we’re able to get diverse and informed opinions from a group of people who care deeply about horology in a way that transcends mere status-signalling. By meeting regularly, we have formed strong personal bonds too. So getting a custom timepiece that symbolises this horological obsession and human connection was, naturally, the logical next step.
The Road To A Customised Nomos
“I’m happy choosing this watch over more expensive or celebrated pieces in my box because there are 24 other like-minded people who have this timepiece,” mentions Sarat Bhogavalli, J9 member and entrepreneur from Bengaluru. “Every time someone asks me about this watch, I tell them about our camaraderie.”
The first time we seriously considered working on a special group watch project was in February this year. We floated a questionnaire in the group, to gauge interest and get a sense of the kind of watch people preferred as J9’s first. The consensus was for a modestly-sized watch, without a date feature, which could be worn every day. It was a preference befitting enthusiasts who like to think of themselves as purists.
When deciding on the brand, we had to be pragmatic regarding what was achievable. This meant a few different things. One, it had to be a brand that has done customised, limited editions in the past. Two, they should be willing to make a small batch of watches for a collector group in a country that isn’t exactly hot on the global collecting map. Three, they would have to be well-respected in the minds of collectors. And lastly, we had to find someone in contact with the brand to present our case.
Nomos, with its playfully elegant designs, niche appeal and in-house movements, ultimately checked all boxes and was the unanimous favourite among all brands we considered, which were a mix of luxury brands that offered good value and micro-brands with tight design. We were returning from an outstation get-together in April, when this conversation resumed with more vigour. Nursing horological hangovers and revelling in the fact that fellow J9ers flew in from across the country for the event, we wanted our own watch. And it had to be a Nomos.
The Making Of The J9 Edition
Ethos is Nomos’ exclusive retail partner in India, so we reached out to Ethos’ CEO Pranav Saboo, with what we had in mind. From thereon, Ethos became the bridge between J9 and Nomos, and Saboo’s resolve as an Indian watch lover to support the collecting community ultimately saw this passion project through. How proactively we were supported certainly speaks volumes of Ethos’ intent and the kind of enablers they want to be in the Indian watch space.
J9’s request to Nomos was to subtly include Devanagari elements and use the brand’s signature colour accents to create a timepiece that was discreet and special. Given the group’s name, we also wanted something related to ‘9’ to stand out. The brand proposed the Club Campus 38 with a manual-winding Alpha calibre as the base on which we could build further. Of all Nomos collections, Club Campus is the most playful, which meant it would be a good canvas for the J9 watch. The design collaboration process was iterative and considered feedback, constraints and ideas from each side. Three months and many renders later, we finally arrived at the design we now see before us.
It was important to us that the watch appear different from the brand’s regular collection. At the same time, at no point or angle could it be anything but unmistakably Nomos. This is why, from a distance, this looks just like any other Club Campus with a splash of Nomos orange. But as with everything to do with these tiny machines, the devil is in the details. The minute and second markers on the periphery of the dial and sub-dial, respectively, are in Devanagari. The stark dial, which Nomos calls ‘siren white’ is reserved only for special models. A ‘9’ is etched on the crown, also in Devanagari—one of the most special touches incorporated by the Nomos design team. And on the caseback, apart from J9, we wanted to engrave ‘India’, as a matter of pride and a sign of change.
All these details collectively included everything we’d hoped for from a special watch for the group and we were good to go. It was Indian, but not obviously so. It was a Nomos and obviously so. It was for J9, but looking at it face-on, you’d never know. Eesh Dewan, one of J9’s founding members, an imaging industry consultant, agrees. “This was simply the best way to keep the Devanagari discreet and more enjoyable.” He expresses, “I feel it’s much better than Devanagari dial watches from other brands.”
Welcoming The Nomos J9
Now that the highly anticipated watch is on our wrists, I can’t help but feel a sense of collective achievement. Because, as I said before, an international brand doing a fully customised, limited edition for a small group of Indian collectors is unheard of. One of our most vocal and passionate members Aman Kathuria, who is engaged in the steel business by day, shares a similar sentiment. “Our J9 watch is the amalgamation of German watchmaking and Indian watch collectors’ ambition,” he declares. “This is a stepping stone for Indian collectors, announcing their humble beginnings in the global watch community.”
The watch itself makes quite an impression at first glance. Credit for this can be attributed to the glossy, radiant siren white dial, which can trick you into believing it is enamel. The brilliance of the dial ensures that the Devanagari text doesn’t catch one’s eye right away. It bears mentioning here that not a single person who has seen the watch, without knowing its background, has managed to catch that the smaller numerals are in Devanagari. Each time it had to be pointed out. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I love that subtlety, and so do my fellow geeks at J9.
An overall quality of execution is what we’ve come to expect from Nomos—solid build and the perfect balance between restraint and flourish. This is actually my second watch from the brand. I had bought into their idea of design, value and commitment a long time ago. And both my Nomos watches now serve distinctive roles in my collection. As all timepieces should be, this one is meant to be worn as a daily companion, and its proportions—38.5mm in width and 8.5mm in height—allow it to wear excellently on the wrist. The Club Campus is versatile enough to slip under a shirt cuff or accompany one to the beach, thanks to the textile strap and 100m of water resistance. Few can combine funk and elegance in a watch like Nomos, and because of how well-rounded this watch has turned out to be, I can picture it with me on many future adventures.
A Symbol Of Community And A Shared Passion
The bright shade of white, in particular, has won over everyone in the group. It is the members’ favourite attribute combined with how well the neon orange pops against it. These tangibles aside, what really injects life into the watch is the soul of a community of people that have come together solely because of their shared love of timepieces. Each glance at the watch reminds me of the friends I’ve made because of J9 and it puts a smile on my face. I’ve always said that timepieces are a lot more than just glitz and glamour, and there is no better example to embody this than the J9 Nomos.
A new chapter for the watch enthusiast community in India, at large, is on the horizon. Because it’s clear we’re evolving and how!
Cover image courtesy: Sarat Bhogavalli (@mrpaminreverse)