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Ahead of his time

June 12, 2005|Kent Black

Garo Anserlian has boldly gone where no watchmaker has gone before. The 47-year-old native of Lebanon has been making watches since he was 10, prospering in a family tradition that has taken him from Beirut to two stores in the foothill village of Montrose, just northwest of La Canada Flintridge.

In the 21 years that he has been plying his trade at Executive Jewelers, he has become the watchmaker of choice for engineers who work at the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "They are very particular about their watches," he says. "If a watch loses four or five seconds a day, they know about it."

In the fall of 2003, two of his engineer customers, Julie Townsend and Scott Doudrick, came to him with a proposition. Would Anserlian make wristwatches for the Mars Exploration Rover team? The Rover was set to land in a few months, on January 3. Because Mars spins more slowly on its axis than does the Earth, its day is 39 minutes, 36 seconds longer. Although the more than 150 project engineers had their computer programs set to Martian time, they had no way to check it when they went to the cafeteria or the gym. Experiments and projects were timed to the Martian clock, so it was critical that they keep track of the other planet's day.

Anserlian made several attempts, and finally discovered that if he adjusted the weight on the balance wheel of a Seiko, Citizen or Orient mechanical watch, he could achieve the almost 40-minute slowdown. He made prototypes for Townsend and Doudrick, and within a few weeks he had orders for about 120 watches. To cover the costs of the modification, Anserlian tacked on 15% to 20% to the price of the $150 to $500 watches. Patriotic and "proud to be part of the Mars mission," he has added a picture of the red planet to the watch faces and is designing a dual movement watch that shows both Earth and Mars time because, he says, "the engineers were on the televised press conferences wearing two watches. "

And they looked a little geeky?

Anserlian, watchmaker to Martians, just shrugs.

--K.B.

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