5. Interview with Master Wachmaker Paul Gerber

After all that we have read we want to hear from Master Watchmaker Paul Gerber directly about this masterpiece which set his life's pace for 11 years. The interview was conducted in German in Mr. Gerber's atelier in Zurich, Switzerland on March 1st, 2003.

Magnus Bosse (MB): Mr. Gerber, how do you feel after finishing the world's most complicated wristwatch?
Paul Gerber (PG): Well, first of all: I'm happy that this is finally over. It took several years, and I feel like having a holiday now!

MB: What would you consider the greatest challenge during the construction of this unique piece? The Tourbillon, which was your first one? Or the Rattrapante?
PG: The implementation of the Tourbillon since it costs me quite an effort to work with the milling cutter on this watch. It was the first non-reversible engagement in an already superb movement. I was very delighted that this worked out well. Then, the next that came from Lord Arran, the Chronograph. This was where I fooled myself: I thought it was much easier to do, but I never before made a Chronograph. In contrast to the Tourbillon which could be made as a whole block which then could be placed in the movement, the Chronograph had to be designed around the movement with only very few points to fix wheels, levers and gears. So not the Chronograph itself was difficult, but the special situation that forced me sometimes to split a lever into two because I had to bypass other movement parts somehow.

MB: The watch itself is not only the most complicated wristwatch in the world, it is also a unique piece. That means that you could not allow yourself any mistakes. What technical resources did you use?
PG: Yes, first I had to measure the movement since there simply were no plans. After that I made drawings by hand and by CAD. But I felt not comfortably to rely on that. Therefore I made a prototype plate with the exact dimensions of the movement. After the Chronograph mechanism worked well there I dared to modify the Piguet movement and transferred the Chronograph.

MB: Did you make all parts by hand or did you use modern methods like CNC?
PG: I'm a strong believer in the concept 'the more precise you start, the more precise the product will be'. Therefore I did all construction work using CAD programs (I do all my constructions exclusively with CAD now) and cut all parts with a CNC machine. This to ensure best possible precision from the beginning. But most of the work comes afterwards: adjusting, fitting and finessing, all that is a pleasure to view, this needs much more work than the basic cutting of parts.

MB: The Piguet Minute Repeater/Sonnerie movement which is the basis for this timepiece is now more than 100 years old. Did you try to construct the Chronograph with respect for the movement's age?
PG: After Lord Arran requested the Chronograph I looked whether it is possible to fit it. I realized it is, and then I tried to create a Chronograph that reflects the tradition of Louis Elysée Piguet. The complete movement should be one entity, but of course I cannot be sure that Mr. Piguet would have made the Chronograph the same way I did (smiling). He would have integrated the Chronograph from the start, I guess.

MB: If you think about the movement- would you call it a completely new movement, an integrated construction or a base movement with added modules?
PG: Since I tried to integrate 'my' complications I would not call it a modular construction. Let me classify it like this: the Tourbillon is more integrated into the movement; the Chronograph has more a modular characteristic. Please let me express here my deepest respect for the impressive work Louis Elysée Piguet demonstrated with his movement!

MB: With all these complications that were added much later than the movement's construction much more power was required. How did you take care of this?

PG: I was happy that the Piguet movement already had a splendid power reserve of 36h. But already my first modification, the Tourbillon, made it necessary to implement a stronger mainspring. The Tourbillon adds 2 or 3 additional wheels with bearings, all this needs energy. Now the watch has a power reserve of a little bit more than a day. But also during the finessing of the Chronograph parts I had to achieve the least possible friction to minimize loss of power, but still enough to guarantee that the Chronograph works smoothly. A tricky challenge since I could not optimize it on the prototype, I had to do it on the movement itself!

MB: Did you put better ruby bearings in the clockwork?
PG: No, the existing is of optimal quality.

MB: I've seen lubrication plans for many contemporary movements. I assume that none such exist for the Piguet movement. Additionally I believe that the oils that were available a hundred years ago were not of the same quality than the ones used today. How did you decide about which oil you could use for a bearing?
PG: A difficult question! At Louis Elysée Piguet's time the oils were mostly animal fats obtained from a sheep's claw for example. They got thicker after already half a year, and after 2 years they were rancid. Nowadays, synthetic oils are used. To decide which one to use I can trust on the experience I have from my restoration work I did for an auction house. Basically, you use 5 different oils. If you cannot really decide which one would fit I always opted for the thicker one. The higher the pressure in a bearing, the thicker the oil has to be. This to prevent that it is pressed out of the contact surfaces. It is very helpful to learn the fingerprint of a movement designer. Piguet is in the tradition of the Geneva school of watch making with perfectly hardened steel and beautiful polissage. So the oil is held in place well since a good polissage is a powerful barrier for the oil.

MB: You are a well-known perfectionist. You made several parts multiple times until you were satisfied. What was your stimulus?
PG: For me my life only then has substance if I don't stop to learn. And I'm constantly learning! And if I look back to a part after a time and have ideas how to improve I think: Why not? It’s worth it! But I have to admit that sometimes these modifications cause many more. Just think of the Tourbillon: I wanted to change the cap jewel from ruby to diamond. Too bad that I could only get one with 1mm diameter instead of the 0.7mm of the ruby! Consequence: I had to make a new cap jewel plate, a new regulator as well as a new top bridge for balance onto the Tourbillon cage. Sometimes I feel like my own victim! But I think the result speaks for itself!

MB: And which part did you optimize most often?
PG: The coupling lever! This part combines a pretty bunch of functions, it is engaged by the column wheel, it transports the intermediate wheel, it has to engage/disengage the jumping minute mechanism, and finally, it comes from a completely different side than usual (due to the base movement). I made it 3 or 4 times from scratch!

MB: Do you think this watch will be ever be 'finished'?
PG: As well as I know myself - I'll find something I could improve, I'm sure! And if I show the watch to someone else also this person might find chances for improvements. You have to know that I first had to get it working without thinking about the finish.

MB: Is it difficult for you to hand the watch over to Lord Arran after all these years?
PG: Yes and No! Right at the beginning of a task I decide for myself: Is this something I do for myself or for my wife, or is this a work I'll earn my money with? I stick to this decision, and I never sold a watch that I made for myself - I simply could not stand this! In this case it was clear from the beginning: This is not my watch. On the other side: This question is a bit misplaced here since the Ultra complication will be my companion for my whole life! It is a very complicated watch, and it would not make sense to give it to another watchmaker for a service.

MB: What did you learn during the construction of this watch?
PG: It was a true study from Alpha to Omega. It was my first Tourbillon and my first Chronograph. But I made finicky works before, and that made me confident that I'll master the challenge.

MB: The development of this watch is observed on the watch enthusiasts discussion fora on the internet. Do you visit them?
PG: Yes, I'm very interested in them. But there is one issue: My English is too bad to understand the discussions completely...

MB: Mr. Gerber, thank you very much for this interview and for the time you spent explaining this magnificent watch to me!
PG: I have to thank you and the watch aficionado community for the interest in my work!

6. The authors

Magnus Bosse is 36 years old and lives in Vienna, Austria. In his professional live he is working for a specialised agency of the United Nations.

He came in contact with fine timepieces with a vintage DUGENA gold wristwatch he bought for 1 € at a flea-market in Germany. Ever since then, he is fascinated about fine mechanical timepieces. In this view they represent an exciting world of craftsmanship, human creativity, history, design, mechanics and luxury

Magnus runs his own watch site 'Ornatus-Mundi' [lat: beautiful harmony] and moderates the official Blancpain watch forum since April 2003. He is a frequent contributor to the watchdiscussion fora 'The Purists' and 'TimeZone'.

John Davis has been studying horology since 1997 when the astonishing fact that the mechanical watch is not dead was revealed to him by an in-flight magazine article on Breguet. After studying on his own and with a generous and talented watchmaker/mentor in San Francisco, he graduated from the WOSTEP partnered Watch Technology program at North Seattle Community College. He continues to write articles for International Wristwatch and ThePuristS.com.


6. Acknowledgements 
This article could only be realised with a lot of people helping and supporting us. We want to thank especially:
Lord Arran is the initiator and the spiritus rector of the whole project. Without his knowledge, ideas and support this project never would have been realized. Without his trust in the two master watchmakers Franck Muller and Paul Gerber the world would not have seen this ultra complicated watch.
We want to thank Lord Arran especially for his decision to give us the opportunity to write the world's first presentation of the completed watch you can enjoy here. His support is without example.


Paul Gerber (www.Gerber-Uhren.ch) not only made this marvelous piece, he also spent countless hours with Magnus in the atelier discussing the watch. He opened and scanned his complete picture archive to provide us with the most significant images and videos. He was never tiered of answering our questions, even if our watches indicated 'time to go to bed'. After all, he let Magnus take all the pictures he wanted.


Volker Vyskocil (www.ClockWatch.de) designed the Tourbillon animation and helped in the description of the complication. He is running an excellent technical watch website.


It's not me, but he is also a nice guy.André Gutzwiller (www.visuweb.ch) is photographer, interior designer and webdesigner. He sacrified many weekends for the HTML formatting of this article.

A very special 'thank you' to Patrick Jaggi of the watch manufacturer Blancpain SA in Paudex. He made the professional analogue/digital transformation of the Minute Repeater sound file.

The Introduction
The History
The Challenges
The complicated Complications
The Interview with Paul Gerber
Magnus Bosse / John Davis © Mai 2003 Last update10 December 2006
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