The André Zibach Reference 1582: The Prototype Gyromax Balance
The presently offered watch was the personal watch once belonging to André Zibach, the inventor of the Gyromax balance and celebrated regulator from Patek Philippe in the mid-20th century. It features a presentation engraving to Zibach celebrating his first 25 years of service at Patek Philippe. This watch was presented to Zibach from Patek Philippe management, possibly by Henri Stern himself.
While the archive states the watch was born with a standard lever escapement when made in 1947, the watch was soon fitted with an early version of the Gyromax balance believed to be the very first Gyromax prototype ever made by Zibach himself. The balance bridge and balance wheel were most likely modified by Zibach for proof of concept that his new balance worked accurately. Soon after, Swiss Patent No. 261.431 of 15th May 1949 and No. 280.067 of 31st December 1951 officially protected the Gyromax balance and to this day, the Gyromax is used on almost all Patek Philippe watches.
This watch is considered one of the most important pieces in Patek Philippe’s modern history by many collectors and historians. It encompasses all the innovation, tradition, and beauty of all things Patek Philippe, not to mention being a prototype belonging to one the most important mechanical geniuses of the 20th century.
André Zibach: The Inventor of the Gyromax Balance
André Zibach worked for Patek Philippe as a watchmaker upon completion of his diploma at the Geneva Watchmaking School. As a celebrated adjuster of chronometers, he won numerous awards from the Kew and Geneva Observatories starting in 1929 with a record for a pocket chronometer and another notable record in "single movements, wrist chronometers" in 1948.
Between 1950 and 1952, Zibach collaborated with watchmaker Eric Jaccard to construct a tonneau-shaped wristwatch movement with lever escapement, the Caliber 34S. This was the first of many watches he worked on that would take part in the Geneva Observatory chronometer timing competitions. By 1956, Zibach was appointed Technical Vice-Manager at Patek Philippe, and worked on a team that invented and improved the Gyromax balance. In the book Practical Watch Adjusting by Donald DeCarle, the author writes, "Mr. Zibach, the successful timer and adjuster, late of Patek Philippe, Geneva, has invented a Glucydur balance which has decided advantages, and known as the Gyromax balance. The advantages are two-fold; firstly, all the weight, in addition to the weight of the balance itself, is concentrated on the rim of the balance and not partly on the rim and partly on the screws normally screwed into the side of the balance. Secondly, and the most important, the effective weight of the balance can be altered without adding timing washers or altering the weight of the screws."
Zibach was also responsible for preparing and regulating chronometer watches for observatory trials, one of the most difficult tasks in the fields of watchmaking. During his tenure at Patek Philippe, Mr. Zibach regulated the movement of the celebrated J.B. Champion watch, certified by the Geneva Observatory, sold at Christie's Geneva in November 2012 for a record CHF 3,779,000.
The adjusters, or regleurs, earned celebrity status within the chronometric timing era of the mid 20th century. A brand’s reputation was put on the line based on the success of their individual regleur’s performance. As the ‘Olympics’ of the watchmaking world, the superheroes of the time for the regluers, and Zibach was one of the best.
In an article from the Swiss Journal of Horology in 1950, where Zibach was highlighted, it was written:
“From every point of view, each of the manufactures of precision timekeepers hopes that his adjuster will obtain at least one record per yer, but it is impossible for all the adjusters to live up to this desire. However, each of them will try his best, not only will he put all he knows into the adjustment of his timekeepers, but he will follow them day by day with anxiety and attention, happy to lose sleep if there is any variation of rate for which he can find no explanation. Is it surprising that adjusters who deal with Observatory work sometimes suffer from nervous exhaustion and become cantankerous and crusty, finally becoming disgusted with their profession?”
Zibach lived in a world of life or death based on precision adjustment. Not only did he succeeded in his work, winning multiple competitions, he excelled.
However, Zibach also knew how to think outside the box and he took his theoretical knowledge and brought it to a new level with the development of the Gyromax balance. The adjuster knows all the variations that effect the timing keeping of a watch including the effects of “shocks, changes in position, variations of temperature and barometric pressure, clearance of the balance spring at the curb pins, defects of poise of the balance and spring, the effects of the maintaining impulse, and friction, etc.” Zibach was a master of variables and his personal watch encompasses his personal spirit of watchmaking, the drive of Patek Philippe to remain number one, and the soul of watchmaking in its unending drive to make the perfect mechanical timepiece.
This important watch was last sold Christie’s Geneva, Patek Philippe 175 Anniversary Sale, lot 53, November 9, 2014.