They said it couldn’t be done. But in the sleepy little town of Montrose,
California, nestled in the hills surrounding JPL, master watchmaker Garo
Anserlian of Executive Jewelers is perfecting a timepiece for hundreds of
Earthlings bound to Mars’ irregular day. Past the glass cases of what looks
like an ordinary jewelry store is a workshop where watches are losing 39
minutes a day.

Rover controllers have to monitor Spirit (and soon, Opportunity) all the
time; this doesn’t just mean 24 hours a day " it means 24 hours, 39 minutes
a day. The martian day is longer than Earth’s, but this minimal variance can
amount to physical and mental fatigue. Every day, team members are reporting
to work 39 minutes later than the previous day.

"Everything on this mission is based on local solar time on Mars," said
Julie Townsend, Mars Exploration Rover avionics systems engineer. "From
home, during the mission practice tests, it was very difficult to constantly
translate Earth time to Mars time."

Townsend and her co-worker Scott Doudrick, a systems engineer on the
project, set out to find a solution for this otherwordly problem. The pair
began to ask watchmakers to tackle the challenge but each one turned them
away, saying that it couldn’t be done unless they placed a large order
(10,000 plus) for quartz-controlled watches; they insisted that attempting
to convert mechanical watches was not possible.

A neighborhood store located on a strip of distinct specialty shops "not a
chain store in sight " Garo’s workshop is far from a cookie-cutter assembly
line. Tables covered with disassembled watches and clocks seem to mirror the
intent watchmaker’s mind; taking things apart and fixing them is, for him,
second nature.

"When I do something I like to know the maximum about it," he stressed.
"This is not just a hobby, it is my career."

A man who found his passion at the age of eight, an underling to his father,
now guides his own young apprentice, nine-year-old son, David. Clearly
enamored of his father, David relayed his own novice clock-making prowess
and declared that he would one day take over the store. When he does inherit
the business, he will have benefited from his father’s finely honed skills,
acquired under master watch and clockmakers in Switzerland and Germany.

Garo acknowledged that the Mars watch request is the strangest he has ever
received. It took him about two months to design, fine-tune and streamline
the process that would keep the watch on Mars time.

"Since I was a young child I’ve put my heart into making very precise time
pieces, now I was being asked to create a watch that was slow on purpose "
it was going to be a challenge if it was even possible," Garo said. "I spent
more than $1,000 trying to figure this out " damaging watches, trying
different parts, just searching for a way."

Watchmaking is a careful process that involves very small parts and wheels.
In order to make the watches useful to the Mars Exploration Rover team, Garo
had to physically attach additional specific lead weights thus precisely
altering the movement of the wheels and hands on certain existing
famous-maker wristwatches. Working on the 21-jeweled self-winding mechanical
wristwatches was sometimes frustrating.

"At one point my helpers and I looked at each other and said "’forget it,
we’re wasting time and money.’" But Townsend and Doudrick wouldn’t let him
quit. The two came by his shop every week, assuring him that his highly
anticipated watches would be a valuable asset to the team.

Garo finished Doudrick’s watch first and after initial testing, discovered
that it was off by no more than ten seconds in 24 hours Earth time " an
amazingly accurate feat for an entirely mechanical watch. Now, when the
store is fully staffed, the experts can retrofit and thus create about ten
watches per day. After he accommodates all rover team members who wish to
own a custom-made Mars watch, he will market his patented rarity to the

Garo watched with million of others as mission control described Spirit’s
near-perfect landing. But his connection to the mission was personal.

"I felt proud; I got goosebumps," he said. "I saw that some of them had two
watches on and I thought, one of them was mine! I was proud as an American
that it landed and secondly that my watches will be used."

Used, indeed, by a team of scientists and engineers who looked to a truly
old world craft for a solution to a very modern problem. And like the rover
team, that faced countless challenges and criticism, Garo gets to say, "I
told you so" to those who said it couldn’t be done.