Although there are a number of designs and types of lathe 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 the lighter "Geneva" and heavier "WW" types. The "Geneva" 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, 6.5 or 8 mm collets and were designed for lighter, very high-precision work. However, the "WW" (Webster-Whitcombe), is considered by many to be the more versatile of the two - and hence the more popular. Also American in origin, the WW dates from around 1889 and usually has a centre height, in standard form, of exactly 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, a 60-degree bevel along each edge and carries a headstock fitted with a spindle to accept 8, 10 mm or 12 mm collets (though odd, in-between sizes have also been discovered).
Of all the very many types and models made, experienced users of these lathes generally concur that amongst the very best in terms of quality and usability are those WW models fitted with ball-bearing spindles made by the American companies Levin and Derbyshire. The lathes are robust yet not oversize, made to the strictest standards and are able to run continuously at very high speeds with absolute reliability and also, if necessary take deep cuts. However, many users are certain that lathes with plain "cone" bearings can, when correctly set up, perform just as well - hence, when buying a used lathe, the choice often comes down to not the particular make, or specification, but balancing condition, the range of accessories included and, of course, the price.
Amongst exceptions to the Geneva and WW types, are a number of unusual and interesting machines including a range of fine Boley lathes, manufactured from the middle 1800s to the early 1900s 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 slightly larger 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 types being the most popular and frequently-encountered machine in the professional watchmaker's workshop), the Pultra 15/90 and 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.
Not only have there been many genuine makers of lathes for watchmakers, but also a lot of "badge engineering" where dealers and distributors commissioned batches of lathes for themselves - a well-known example from England being George Adams of London (who sold and re-branded mainly German-made machines) and G.Boley who offered their "bevelled-bed" model for re-badging by importers - two examples of this being the "English" Rawco and Telco. This situation was compounded by a number of parts and accessories being interchangeable between different makers - 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.
In addition to known and recognised makers, a surprising number of watch lathes have been discovered bereft of any identification. Quite often, just a single example is found, examples being this interesting "portable" type, three unknown from the former East Germany and some with odd design features or a strange mix of specification quite at odds with more conventional types.
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 lathes.co.uk Machine Tool Archive to some makers of watch and instrument makers' lathes and their accessories - some common, like G.Boley and lorch but others very rare, e.g. Accuro, Froidevaux., O.W.T. and Reese.
http://www.lathes.co.uk/AF (Albert Froidevaux)
http://www.lathes.co.uk/American Watch Tool Company
http://www.lathes.co.uk/Andra & Zwingenberger
http://www.lathes.co.uk/Beijing Instrument Machine Tool Plant
http://www.lathes.co.uk/Bourke A.J (Australia)
http://www.lathes.co.uk/East-German (Unknown makers)
http://www.lathes.co.uk/Prazima (East German)
http://www.lathes.co.uk/Taihang Instrument Factory Manufacturing
http://www.lathes.co.uk/Telco (by Boley)
http://www.lathes.co.uk/vector (if you have one, please do email the writer)
In addition a number of unknown makes have been found, including the following - though some border on being the size of a small "bench precision" lathe:
If you own another unknown make of watchmaker lathe, please do get in touch
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 (UK)
AF (Albert Froidevaux - Switzerland)
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)
J.A.Bradshaw (possibly just a dealer's marking)
Boston Watch Company (C. S. Moseley-designed lathe circa 1858)
Cataract (Hardinge - USA)
R.Cowles ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
E.H.J. (E. H. Jones machinery dealers and commissioners UK)
Faneuil Watch Tool Co. (Rivett)
Gem (Gem Glorious)
Gentil (Star Lathes, Switzerland)
George Adams (re-branded Boley and Lorch, etc. and cheaper imitations under his own label)
Hardinge (Cataract) (USA)
Hammel, Riglander & Co. (Europe)
Haskett ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Hopkins - Patented 1872 (Van Norman - USA)
Georg JACOB (Germany)
Jackson ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
R.H. St. John ((USA) - actually a specialised "dental lathe"
Jones (J & T Jones - UK)
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 - (USA) - also a manufacturer of collets
Lanco (Lane Cove - Australia)
Leffel & Mulholland ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Lorch (Lorch Schmidt)
Olin (Charles Olin of O.W.T. - USA)
O.W.T. (Ohio Watch Tool Co.)
Panerai & Figli (Italy)
Pennant (USA ?)
Picard (Henri Picard et Frere)
Reece ((USA) by Thos. Haulton of Johntown, PA)
Rivett (sometimes marked Rivett Lathe Mfg. Co. and, possibly, Rivett Lathe & Grinder Co.)
Rivett Lathe & Grinder Corporation Type 1R
R.W. Roberts (UK)
ROFB (Royal Ordnance Factory, Birmingham, UK)
Scomea (Société Commerciale d'Outillage et de Mécanique d'Aviation - France)
Shaller ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Sloan & Chace (USA)
Star (R. Gentil & Co. Company of La Brevine in Switzerland)
Swartchild ((USA) - just agents, not manufacturers)
Tribby ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Vector (Germany) .. A copy built in China as well
C.V.Woerd ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Wolf, Jahn (Germany)
Van Norman (sometimes branded Hopkins) USA