Home   Machine Tool Archive   Machine-tools Sale & Wanted
Machine Tool Manuals   Catalogues   Belts   Books  Accessories

Watch & Instrument Makers' Lathes
- some general notes and a list of makers -

Although there are various designs of lathes intended for use by watchmakers, some dating back to the late 1700s and including specialised models - for example "fiddle" lathes,  "steel turns", Jacot, Swiss, Swiss Universal (also called the English Mandrel) Bottum and Dracip - more modern examples can generally be divided into two types: the lighter "Geneva" and  heavier "WW". The "Geneva"  version can be recognised by its round bed, with a flat machined along either the top (or, more commonly, the back) and nearly always supported on a single foot beneath the headstock. These lathes, invented in 1859 by Charles S. Moseley in the U.S.A., generally take 6 mm or 8 mm collet and were designed for lighter, very high-precision work. However, the "WW" (Webster-Whitcombe), is considered by many to be a more popular and versatile machine and is also of American origin, dating from around 1889. The centre height of the WW is usually 50 mm, though very occasionally 65, 70 mm and other figures are encountered. Of heavy construction, the bed is formed with a 37 mm-wide flat on the top and a 60-degree bevel along each edge, and carries a headstock spindle to accept 8, 10 mm or 12 mm collets (though odd, in-between sizes have also been discovered).
Amongst older exceptions to the above two types are a number of unusual and interesting machines including a range of fine Boley lathes, manufactured from the middle to late 1800s with either a triangular-form bed or an oddly compromise design (which did not catch on) where the bottom of the bed was semi-circular in form and the top triangulated or "bevelled" . Also available have been lathes with triangular-beds such as Glashutte, H.Strube & Fils together with unknown makes from the former East Germany and, though they might be considered as being too large, an unknown model from France and the Dalgety.
Larger than the WW type are what might be called "toolmakers' or "bench precision" lathes: these vary in size from the Schaublin 65 and 70 (the latter being the most popular and frequently-encountered machine in the professional watchmaker's workshop) to larger examples such as the Schaublin 102, American Watch Tool Company, Arrow, B.C.Ames, Bausch & Lomb, Benson, Boley, Bottum, Boxford, B.W.C., Carstens, Cataract, Cromwell, Crystal Lakes, CVA, Derbyshire, Elgin, Hardinge, Hjorth, Juvenia, Karger, Leinen, Levin, Lorch, Mikron, W.H.Nichols, Potter, Pratt & Whitney, Rambold, Rebmann, Remington, Rivett, Saupe, See (FSB), Sloan & Chace, Smart & Brown, T & L.M., U.N.D., Van Norman, Wade, Waltham Machine Works, Weisser, Wolf Jahn and (though now very rare), Frederick Pearce, Ballou & Whitcombe, Sawyer Watch Tool Co., Engineering Appliances, Fenn-Sadler and the "Cosa Corporation of New York." While useful machines in a precision workshop, these are outside the scope of this article but further information can be found here.
There have been not only dozens of makers of watchmakers' lathes but also a lot of "badge engineering" where dealers and distributors commissioned batches of lathes for themselves, a well-known example in England being George Adams of London who re-sold mainly German-made machines. This situation was compounded by a number of parts and accessories being interchangeable between makes - so it is entirely possible that a lathe has been "made up" from others, either casually over many years of ownership, or unscrupulously by a "dealer". However, it's very unlikely that the bed, headstock and tailstock will be from different manufacturers, but if they are, be wary.
Unfortunately no maker of a watch lathes has ever offered a proper handbook for their products but, happily, there is an excellent hard-back book available that does the same job: "
The Watchmakers' Lathe".  This is a long-established publication and, because most of these lathes were built along the same lines, and use almost identical accessories, the book is able to give instructions and guidance that applies to all types.
Below is a set of links in the Machine Tool Archive of to some makers of watch and instrument makers' lathes and their accessories - some rather common, such as G.Boley, and others very rare, like the O.W.T. and Reese. Watch Tool Company & Zwingenberger (Unknown makes)
stehman-jenks-stehman  (Boley)
……….. and others here

Manufacturers and Brands
Should any reader have a lathe marked with the maker's name shown in red, below, the writer would be pleased to hear from you. Perhaps an example of each will, in the fullness of time, be found
Genuinely high-quality Watchmakers' lathes were manufactured and branded by, amongst others:
Adams George
American Watch Company (C. S. Moseley-designed lathe circa 1859)
American Watch Company (A. Webster-designed lathe circa 1859/60)
American Watch Tool Company (Webster-Whiitcomb improved-design lathe of 1889 - the WW model)
Boston Watch Company (C. S. Moseley-designed lathe circa 1858)
Cataract (Hardinge)
R.Cowles USA) (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
E.H.J. (E. H. Jones machinery dealers and commissioners)
Elson (USA)


Faneuil Watch Tool Co.
Gem (Gem Glorious)
Gentil (Star Lathes, Switzerland)
George Adams (re-branded Boley and Lorch, etc. and cheaper imitations under his own label)
Hardinge (Cataract)
Hammel, Riglander & Co.

Haskett (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)

Hopkins - Patented 1872 (Van Norman)
Jackson (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
R.H. St. John (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Jones (J & T Jones UK)
J.E.Kampe (U.S.A.)
Gustav Klett (East Germany)
Lancaster Special (by the Faneuil Watch Tool Company circa 1899 for sale by a jewellers' supply house L. C. Reisner of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Lampert - also a manufacturer of collets (U.S.A.)
Lanco (Lane Cove)
Leffel & Mulholland (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Lorch (Lorch Schmidt)
O.W.T. (Ohio Watch Tool Co.)
Panerai & Figli (Italy)
Perton (USA)
Picard (Henri Picard et Frere)
Reece (USA)
Rivett (sometimes marked Rivett Lathe Mfg. Co. and, possibly, Rivett Lathe & Grinder Co.)
Rivett Lathe & Grinder Corporation Type 1R
ROFB (Royal Ordnance Factory Birmingham)
Scomea (Société Commerciale d'Outillage et de Mécanique d'Aviation)
Shaller (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Sloan & Chace
Star (R. Gentil & Co. Company of La Brevine in Switzerland)
Stehman Jenks & Stehman Lancaster PASteiner
Tribby (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Webster-Whitcombe (WW)
D.M. Williams
C.V.Woerd (possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Wolf, Jahn
Van Norman (sometimes branded Hopkins)
ZDZ (Poland)
Continued below:

Boley WW Type lathe from the 1920s

The much lighter "Geneva" pattern Boley with a flat-topped bar bed

A Boley watchmakers' lathe with triangular bid circa 1865

Not a design that caught on: the unusual Boley with a semi-circular base to the bed and a triangulated top.

An English-made BTM "Geneva" pattern watchmakers' lathe (note the bar-like bed with, in this case, a flat at the back) complete in its maker's fitted wooden box with a range of useful accessories. The item top left in the box is that most valuable of extras - a compound rest, used to hold a cutting tool manipulated under the control of screw-feed slides.

Boley Lathe No. 1b. A "WW" pattern lathe of a heavier pattern, admitting 230 mm between centres, and  with feet at both end of the bed. On this model the compound slide was fitted as part of the standard equipment.

Another Boley but this time equipped for production work with quick-action levers fitted to the collet closer, compound slide and tailstock. The tailstock also has an indexing 6-station toolholder and the cross slide toolposts at front and back.

A later type of  Boley & Leinen "Reform" lathe, manufactured from the early 1950s. The mouth-watering outfit was listed as the No. 77/X1V and contains virtually everything a skilled watch-repair man could wish for including, top left, a second headstock fitted with a permanently mounted (and hence very accurately aligned) faceplate with three clamps.


Watchmakers" or Instrument-makers' lathes can be very valuable, especially if they are in fine, original condition and complete with lots of accessories. Buying just a basic lathe with bed, headstock tailstock and T-type tool rest can be false economy - there are lots of these about, at attractively low prices, but the real value is in the extras that allow the lathe to be used as a miniature "machining centre" - as originally intended - to cut, for example, wheels (gears), mill small parts and hold tiny, awkwardly shaped mechanisms for repair and restoration. Because there is considerable competition for accessories, if your basic lathe has to be equipped one part at a time much time, effort and money will be expended - hence, if you can, find a fully-equipped lathe; this will be a much better investment and a lot easier for you, or your heirs, to sell.
If you are looking for one of these machine I would strong recommend advertising for one. There are thousands sitting unused whose owners will never get round to advertising them - a "wanted" advertisement might just encourage them to get in touch:
Typically, the most valuable watchmakers' or instrument-makers' lathe would still be in its original wooden box with a wide range of equipment including as many of the following as possible:
Compound slide rest - screw-feed or lever action
Collets - a set of around 20 "Wire" (often called "split chucks"),
Collets - "Wheel" type in a set of 5 or 6
Collets - "Ring Step" type in a set of 5 or 6
Box Chuck
Chuck conventional 3-jaw Self-centring  (sometimes called a "Universal Chuck") in ring-scroll (knurled ring round the outside) and key-operated models,
Chuck conventional 4-jaw Independent
Cutting tools - as large a collection as possible
The following "chucks" mounted on collets:
Chucks - balance
Chucks - box type with screws through the body to hold jobs
Chucks - brass split type (sometimes called jewel type) to fit inside larger steel collets
Chucks - button or crown usually in sets of 10
Chucks - carrier for driving work between centres
Chucks - circular-saw type
Chucks - emery wheel
Chucks - lantern in bronze or steel,
Chucks - wax
Chucks - wood screw
Chucks - wood turning
Compound Slide Rest
Drill chuck for headstock or tailstock use
Drilling plates - self-centring (a disc with a ring of holes each formed with a coned face to self-centre work)
Drive Plate
Eye glass on adjustable holder
Fixed steady
Jacot Drum
Lapping attachment
Pivoting attachment
Saw table
Sinking tools
"Mandrel" - this has the appearance of a spare headstock with a "faceplate" attached and is used for super-precision work
Micrometer-adjustable boring head
Milling and Grinding Spindle,
Pivot polisher
Pivoting attachment
Filing rest in single or double-roller types
Rose cutters
Screwcutting Attachment with a set of changewheels
Sinking tools
T-rest - the basic device to rest a tool against. Available in standard and tip-over types
Tailstock chucks - also known as "drill stocks" and available with flat heads, V-heads and chuck type
Turning arbors
Topping or "rounding up" tool
Two types of Tailstock (sliding spindle and a lever-feed spindle),
Tip-over or simple sliding T-shaped Hand-rest,
Universal Faceplate and Pump Centre,
Vertical milling slide,
Wheel-cutting attachment with division plate (to cut what the laymen would call cogs or gears but which are known to the watchmaker as "wheels").
Drive systems
Even when fully equipped it is not unusual to find that a watchmaker's lathe has no drive system or even motor. However, this is rarely a problem for the easiest and cheapest solution is to use either the motor from a sewing machine or, preferably, a proper "Parvalux" unit - the latter available in 1-phase, 3-phase and DC types with speed ranges spanning 0.2 to 10,000 r.p.m. The motor can be bolted in place behind the headstock and driven by a special Swiss-made round belt that can be flipped easily from groove to grove, there being no need to make up the type of hinged countershaft that a larger lathe would need. The writer can supply Parvalux motors their controller and the special belting
Unfortunately no maker of a watch lathes has ever offered a proper handbook for their products but, happily, there is an excellent hard-back book available that does the same job: "
The Watchmakers' Lathe".  This is a long-established publication and, because most of these lathes were built along the same lines, and use almost identical accessories, the book is able to give precise instructions that apply to all types.

A Swiss-made Bergeon Model C of the "Geneva" type. This example is fitted with a compound slide rest to hold the cutting tool, a lever-action tailstock and, to assist with very small work, a magnifying glass held on an articulated arm. Bergeon is the only indigenous Swiss manufacture of watchmakers' lathes to have survived into the 21st century.

Home   Machine Tool Archive   Machine-tools Sale & Wanted
Machine Tool Manuals   Catalogues   Belts   Books  Accessories

Watch & Instrument Makers' Lathes
- some general notes and makers -