Jeweler and watchmaker Garo Anserlian first started working on timepieces over 40 years ago, and his work has followed him from Beirut to Montrose — but Anserlian never expected his work would one day be connected to another planet.
Since 2004, Anserlian, owner of Executive Jewelers and Executive Clock Gallery on Honolulu and Ocean View avenues in Montrose, has created custom mechanical watches that are based on a day on Mars, which is 24 hours and 39 1/2 minutes.
Even as new technology has offered other options for the scientists and engineers who were the original customers for the special watches, Anserlian said his Mars connection has brought him new business from collectors and space enthusiasts.
Anserlian said that when engineers from nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory first came into his shop in 2003 — before the landing of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers — he didn't believe their request.
"These engineers, they are very particular, they need their watches to work perfectly, so I thought they must be joking," he said.
A day on Mars, or "sol," is, measured like time was on Earth before time zones — by judging the sun's highest point and making that noon.
With the martian day roughly 40 minutes longer than Earth's, that meant after Curiosity's successful landing last August, JPL team members had to head into work 40 minutes later each day, no matter how disconnected from Earth schedules that took them.
Nagin Cox, a tactical uplink lead for Curiosity, said that after the initial 90-day period of team members living fully on Mars time, the rover team shifted to a "modified Earth time" schedule for efficiency's — and sanity's — sake.
"It's hard on people to literally live on Mars time," she said. "We basically try to ensure that people sleep at night."
Cox said that for the roughly 100 engineers at JPL working on one of the two active rovers, Mars time is prominently displayed on computers and clocks in the facility, and applications for smartphones can keep track as well.
But for a tactical lead like Cox, who is often moving between teams, there's no substitute for having the time easily at hand.
"Our phones, like everyone's, are password-protected, so it's much faster to flip your wrist. There's no password on your wrist," she said.
Cox said that the prices of digital watches capable of keeping Mars time have dropped significantly since 2004, so mechanical watches like those made by Anserlian are rarely sported by new team members.
Anserlian said sales of the watches, which range from $75 to $500, have slowed over the past few years, but he still receives orders, the last being from New Jersey in September. He added that, overall, the attention has helped his shop.
"A lot of people say, 'We heard about you, you worked for JPL," he said. "That brought me a lot of business, a lot of popularity."