The world's most complicated wristwatch - a century-spanning excercise in miniaturisation, craftsmanship and human imagination!

by Magnus Bosse and John Davis, June 30th, 2003

1. Introduction
"... As we celebrate mediocrity..." this phrase of Tom Petty's latest song 'The Last DJ' expresses pretty much of what I feel about the basic sentiment in today's society. Everything is done to fullfill minimal requirements - think of the service of your telephone company, your car garage, your washing maschine. Smallest modifications are advertised as major break-throughs - and barely one recognises these tricks as our world is already complicated enough (a fact that makes such procedures easy).
An our beloved universum of finest mechanical watches? This asylum for long overcome ideas, skills and craftsmanship? My initial hope when I entered this world was that I would find a clean and sober space, filled with creativity and a solid working morale... I realised soon that I was too much of a neophyte thinking like that.
That what the manufacturers like to describe with 'haute horlogerie' is often - too often! - marketing blabla. A new case here, of course bigger now, a new dial colour there. I always shake my heads each year at a certain booth at the Basel Watch & Jewellery show when I see crowds of people pressing their noses on a window where the latest exciting developement of a well known watch manufacturer is presented: a dial version!! Very rarely a real innovation, and then often purely market driven than originated from true horological concepts (in a sense of a company's guiding idea), are shown. I startet to think that this is how everything in the world may work.
Then, I discovered the small roads beneath the autobahns: small companies and independent creators and artists, truely ingenuous and spirited watchmaking artists! Eager to talk to you about their philosophy and ideas, happy to share their enthusiasm with others. I felt (& feel) like in heaven! This is the other side of the horological medal, shining bright, but not blinding the viewers. And the side where most of the new mechanisms come from (even if the 'big shots' in the industry claim them for themselves).
Paul Gerber is one of this rare breed. A modest, discrete man to talk to, but immensly enthusiastic about his creations. He is a champion of miniaturization: using a barely existent space, and putting there a complicated mechanism despite the world telling him, "it can't be done!". He fit an alarm function into the famous Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement without altering its height, a complication now produced by Fortis, and made the world's smallest wooden clock. He has also created his own line of wristwatches, introducing the first retrograde seconds in a wristwatch, and later, a double rotor automatic module. Both movements are build upon the basis of the ETA/Peseux 7001 handwound movement.
Paul Gerber was the man who dared to make out of an already exceptional movement, "the world's most complicated wristwatch". This article invites you to follow the history of a fascinating microcosm of gears, levers and springs, decribing what can be accomplished if the driving concepts are art and excellence, and a no-compromise strategy is followed. A story that sometimes meanders, but eventually finds a light at the end of the tunnel, and a great success at the end.

The Introduction
The History
The Challenges
The complicated Complications
The Interview with Paul Gerber