When passion rules the game:

Paul Gerber's revolutionary new Cal. 33 watch

by Magnus Bosse
March 30th, 2005

The technology for modern mechanical timepieces has reached a remarkable perfection. The current development of the Swiss lever escapement allows easily for accuracy within standard Chronometer norms (such as COSC) even by mundane 'you find me everywhere' calibers, water resistance is not an issue at all, and service intervals have settled between convenient 3 to 5 years. On the other hand, the role of a modern, mechanical wristwatch is changed completely: from a technical device that makes you independent from publicly displayed time (church tower clocks for example) to a statement of wealth, style and personality. The main technical function of a watch, displaying the time that is, consequently has vanished into the background (which does not mean that modern watches do not display correct time!). If you glimpse on the recent advertising campaigns of the major watch houses, this observation enjoys utmost support.
So why do some watch manufactures take the efforts to develop and produce in-house movements? Several reasons come to mind: Displaying independence and uniqueness (beneath some economic/production reasons a great selling argument), but also, a bit more rarely, improving timekeeping, reliability and serviceability of the timepieces in question. Most of the calibers developed still rely on the Swiss lever escapement, for good reasons. The perfection reached with this escapement design is astonishing and leaves only very small room for improvements. Therefore, less than a handful of manufactures dared to leave common roads and presented innovative, unconventional and exciting escapement mechanisms: Ulysse Nardin (Dual Direct Escapement in the Freak) and Omega (George Daniels' Coaxial Escapement). But all of these mechanisms still allow a critical force to appear: the compressing force!

Paul Gerber (above) is one of the master watchmakers in the world who is not interested in the watch as a luxury item or a fashion statement. He is interested in the watch as a highly demanding technical challenge, an amazing microcosm and a very rewarding playground. Throughout his entire career, Paul always was interested to push the limits a step further and to develop what seems to be impossible. This attitude has been recognized by many renowned watch producers who rely on Paul's expertise to develop new complications. One of his most remarkable masterpieces was the world's most complicated wristwatch, the ultra complicated Piguet/Muller/Gerber watch, which was presented on this website recently (click here).
The significant improvement of mechanical timekeeping was the initial impetus Paul Gerber had when he decided to develop a completely new escapement mechanism that does away with compressing forces. Not only that, Paul Gerber also set new standards for the phrase 'in-house' and thought carefully on the complication of a moon phase display. You already realized it: we are right in the middle of the story!

Welcome to my impressions about
Paul Gerber's revolutionary new Cal. 33 watch

The concept of new Cal. 33 movement:

Let's begin with the fundamental concept of the new Paul Gerber movement: The lack of compressing forces in action. So why is it so important to avoid these troublesome forces? Just make an experiment: Imagine you are working in your garden, just finished with harvesting a huge bunch of spring potatoes. All your potatoes are now collected in a huge wooden box. Now, how to get the box into your house? Try to push it - almost impossible! But, how about pulling the box? Yes, this might work. Now you already got the difference between compressing forces (push) and diverging forces (pull).
The latter ones are the forces Paul Gerber employed in his new Cal. 33 to drive the escapement. To enable the exclusive use of diverging forces, Paul Gerber had to separate the labour between impulse and stop. Consequently, the pallet wheel is separated into two coaxially located specialized wheels (resting wheel (1) and impulse wheel (2)). Three ruby stones, placed on the one pallet (3), act on the pallet wheels: the pallet’s two resting-rubies (4a, 4b) act on the large resting wheel (1), whereas the impulse-ruby (5) drives the balance (not shown) via the impulse wheel (2). This layout eliminates compressing forces and operates only with diverging impulses.

The complete sequence can be divided into entrance and exit positions. In the entrance position (left image), the pallet wheel rests because the entrance resting-ruby stops the resting wheel. The hairspring is tensed and drives the balance to swing back. This causes the entrance resting-ruby to release from the resting wheel. The pallet wheel springs forward with a small jump, driven by the power of the mainspring, until the resting wheel is stopped by the exit resting-stone.
Now, the exit position follows (right image) and the balance swings back again, and the exit resting-stone releases the resting wheel. Then the impulse wheel drives the impulse-stone, which in turn drives the pallet and the balance. This movement is manifest with a great jump of the second’s hand. The pallet turns until the entrance resting-stone blocks the pallet wheel again. From here, the whole sequence starts again – 10.800 times/hour, because the movement carries out 21.600 beats/hour.
But it is not only the escapement which really makes us speechless. Paul Gerber also thought about the display of the moon phase. The moon is, as you all know, one of the very few astronomical companions of mankind with a great influence on our lives: For example, our calendar is adjusted after the moon. Now, moon phase displays are common standard, and you might ask what may be the fuss about it? Well, all good things are three, and here we are: (1) the moon phase is displayed by a globe which spans the movement plane three-dimensionally, (2) it is accurate up to one day in 128 years and (3) it can be set at any time without damaging the movement's mechanism.
The movement itself is finely tonneau-shaped in order to perfectly fit the also tonneau-shaped case. This is getting rarer and rarer in today's world of standardized movements. Paul Gerber tried to follow as much as possible established watch making traditions. One central rule says that the case follows the shape of the movement. As perfect example of form follows function (Louis Sullivan, Chicago School).
Now, after we have discussed the concept, now let us go a step further and take a deep look into Paul Gerber's atelier in Zurich to get an impression of in-house manufacture in the truest sense of the word. Please follow me to part 2!

Part 1 - Paul Gerber's new Cal. 33 movement
Part 2 - Pure in-house manufacture
Part 3 - The new Cal. 33 watches