Interview with Master Wachmaker Paul Gerber
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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'.
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.
article could only be realised with a lot of people helping and supporting
us. We want to thank especially:
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.
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.
designed the Tourbillon animation and helped in the description of the
complication. He is running an excellent technical watch website.
is photographer, interior designer and webdesigner. He sacrified many
weekends for the HTML formatting of this article.
very special 'thank you' to Patrick Jaggi of the watch
SA in Paudex. He made the professional analogue/digital transformation
of the Minute Repeater sound file.
The complicated Complications
The Interview with Paul Gerber
Bosse / John Davis ©
Mai 2003 Last update10 December 2006