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Paul Gerber: The Answer Man
New Models

Paul Gerber: The Answer Man

Friday, 27 November 2009
By Meehna Goldsmith
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Meehna Goldsmith

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5 min read

The concept of the impossible does not have a place in the universe of Paul Gerber. In his workshops in Zurich, he translates the most fantastical horologic ideas into functioning mechanics.

Where seemingly insurmountable obstacles leave most masters scratching their heads, that’s when Gerber rubs his hands together and rolls up to the workbench. For example, in 1992 when a collector desired his watch, the famed Louis Elysée Piguet Grande Complication, claim the title for most complicated in the world (at the time), he entrusted Gerber to achieve this feat—without altering the dimensions of the watch! Over the course of eleven years, Gerber somehow found the space within an already packed 6.4 cubic cm to add a one-minute flying tourbillon and a flyback split second chronograph with jumping minute counter, among other refinements. For his work on this piece, Gerber earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2003. “It just happened,” Gerber modestly states about his achievement. “My customers drive me to create new ideas. I find it really satisfying to fulfill a customer’s wishes.”

Though quietly fulfilling customer wishes, Gerber nonetheless couldn’t escape the notice of his peers. He was given the prestigious Prix Gaïa in 2007 in the Craftsmanship and Creation Category. The award honors a gifted and skilled contemporary watchmaker.

Watches at fair prices

A customer who frequently knocks on Gerber’s door is the illustrious Dr. Ludwig Oeschslin, the man behind the Ulysse Nardin watches, the Freak “Trilogy” astronomic collection and the Perpetual Ludwig. As custodian of Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH), La Chaux-de-Fonds, Oeschslin needed funds to restore the astronomical clock made by Daniel Vachey of Saint Louis, which was acquired in 2001. He sparked upon an idea to offer a museum watch as a souvenir to help finance the project. Though known for his complex creations marked by their ease of use, Oeschslin presented a prototype of a simple automatic watch with an annual calendar. But since it was Oeschslin, there had to be more to it than that. Of course, there was. The calendar was intuitively placed on one line at 3 o’clock, as in written correspondence. Most impressively, the mechanism only contained 9 moving parts, proving elegance doesn’t have to be complicated.

I try very hard to create interesting watches that deliver quality and function.
Paul Gerber

Now that Oeschslin formulated the concept, he turned to the wizardry of Paul Gerber to further develop, prototype and produce a functioning timepiece. To provide the necessary torque required for powering the calendar plates, Gerber employed the ETA/Valjoux calibre 7750, an upgrade from the original movement Oeschslin chose. Certainly, a base chronograph movement should utilize the inherent function. However, no counters are to be found on the dial side. Flipping the watch over reveals Gerber’s clever solution: a 30-minute disc operated by a mono-pusher chronograph button, as delightful as it is functional. Gerber subscribes to a very simple watchmaking philosophy. “I try very hard to create interesting watches that deliver quality and function,” he says. “Most important for me is to deliver a watch at a fair price.” So, when Oeschslin established the firm ochsundjunior to realize his timekeeping notions, he engaged Gerber to build his first product, the “anno cinquanta”, an annual calendar that runs rings around traditional presentations of the complication. Dots in concentric circles circumnavigate the dial to represent months, date and day, and there are even dots to indicate am and pm.

A top “Haute Horlogerie” house

Though many manufactures claim completely in-house movement construction, a peek into Gerber’s atelier confirms the assertion. Gerber constructs the dials, hands, the settimana calendar module and the entire anno cinquanta movement. Under his own marque, Gerber calls the new movement he built Calibre 41. A powerhouse with enough juice to run for 100 hours, this calibre also incorporates Gerber’s invention of a micrometric regulator that works via an eccentric screw. His iteration of the watch will have a quick adjusting date with an option of handwind or automatic and the option of one or three rotors. “I developed this movement so I could add different complications in the future,” Gerber says. In fact, he plans to add a complication where the push of a button interchanges the seconds hand from a sweep to dead seconds motion. Though Gerber hasn’t yet designed a dial that meets his creative standards, when he does, you can be sure it will bring a smile to your face.

At his atelier, Gerber employs four fulltime watchmakers plus himself. And, not to be forgotten is the remarkable woman behind the man. “I also have my wonderful wife Ruth who helps me with the office side of my business,” Gerber makes sure to mention. Gerber’s own line of watches include the Model 33 with a beautiful three-dimensional moon or a sub second display, the Retrograde, and the Retro Twin with two rotors. In addition, he has a Pendulet with Tourbillon, a desk clock designed to highlight the grace of Gerber’s own one-minute flying tourbillon mechanism.

Calibre 33 Moonphase with 3D moon © DR
Calibre 33 Moonphase with 3D moon © DR

Whether you’re a top haute horlogerie house seeking to untangle a knotty problem or a customer with dreams of a special piece, Gerber can most certainly provide an answer. Moreover, this savvy timekeeping swordsman will come up with a sally that will not only take you by surprise, but certainly exceed your expectations.

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