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Watch & Instrument Makers' Lathes
- some general notes with a list of
manufacturers and useful accessories -

A book on the detailed use of the
watchmaker's lathe can be ordered here

Do you have a watch lathe of an unrecorded make? If so,
the writer would be most interested to know about it

Click here for Watchmaker Lathe Accessories

There are several 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. However, more modern examples can generally be divided into two groups - the lighter "Geneva" and heavier Webster Whitcombe (WW). 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" is considered by many to be the more versatile of the two - and hence the more popular and valuable. 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 ones to take 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 over-sized, 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 not to a particular make or specification, but balancing the condition, the range of accessories included and, of course, the price.
Among exceptions to the Geneva and WW types are a variety of unusual and interesting machines, including a range of fine lathes by G.Boley, these being manufactured from the middle 1800s to the early 1900s with either a triangular-form bed or an "in-between" 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 one of the most popular and frequently-encountered machines 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, Bergeon, 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 they are outside the scope of this article - but further information can be found here.

Unfortunately, although there have been many genuine makers of lathes for watchmakers, a lot of "badge engineering" went on where dealers and distributors commissioned batches of lathes for themselves. A well-known example from England was 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 being the "English" Rawco and Telco. This situation was compounded by several parts and accessories being interchangeable between different makers - so 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.
Another well-known distributor of tools for watchmakers was Hirst Brothers & Co. Ltd. of Oldham, Manchester and Birmingham. In their earlier catalogues, lathes by Wolf Jahn were branded as "Roscoe" when of the lighter "Geneva" type and "Lancaster" when of the heavier American WW design. Unlike other companies, Hirst Bros. did not try to disguise these facts but stated them clearly in print.
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, like this interesting "portable" type, or a selection of three from what used to be East Germany and others with odd design features or a strange mix of specifications quite at odds with more conventional types.
Unfortunately (and surprisingly) no maker of watch lathes has ever offered a proper handbook for their products; 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 provides instructions and guidance that apply to all types.
Below is a set of links in the  Machine Tool Archive to makers of watch and instrument makers' lathes and their accessories. Some, like G.Boley and Lorch are common, but others very rare, e.g. Accuro, Froidevaux., O.W.T. and Reese. (mostly-re-branded imports) (Albert Froidevaux) Watch Tool Company & Zwingenberger Instrument Machine Tool Plant A.J (Australia) (Argentina?) (France) (Unknown makers) (not confirmed as a maker) &T Jones Jacob
http://www.lathes.couk/Meisterklasse (East German) (almost certainly just a dealer) by Thos. Haulton of Johnstown, PA USA (makers unknown) (Friedrich Schubert)
Stehman-Jenks-Stehman Instrument Factory Manufacturing (by Boley) (Italy)
The following "unknown makes" have been found, some of which border on being a small "
bench precision" type: (difficult classification)
If you own an unlisted make of watchmaker's lathe, please do get in touch

Manufacturers and Brands
Should any reader have a lathe from those below marked with the maker's name shown in red, 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)
Ames ((USA)
ARS (France)
J.A.Bradshaw (possibly just a dealer's marking)
Bergeon (Swiss)
Boley (German)
Boley-Leinen (German)
Boston Watch Company (C. S. Moseley-designed lathe circa 1858)
Bottum (USA)
Bourke (Australia)
B.T.M. (UK)
Cardinali (Argentina?)
Cataract (Hardinge - USA)
Chet (France)
C.L.H. (UK)
Coronet (UK)
R.Cowles ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Derbyshire (USA)
E.H.J. (E. H. Jones machinery dealers and commissioners UK)
Elson ((USA))


Faneuil Watch Tool Co. (Rivett)
Favorite (Swiss)
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)
Hazemeyer (Holland)
Hopkins - Patented 1872 (Van Norman - USA)
Horia (Swiss)
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)
J.E.Kampe (U.S.A.)
Gustav Klett (East Germany)
Lancaster Special (by the Faneuil Watch Tool Company circa 1899 for sale by the L. C. Reisner jewellers' supply house  of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Lancaster - a re-branded Wolf Jahn WW Type sold in the UK by Hirst Brothers & Co.
Lampert - (USA) - also a manufacturer of collets
Lanco (Lane Cove - Australia)
Leffel & Mulholland ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Leinen (German)
Levin ((USA))
Lorch (Lorch Schmidt)

Manhora (French)
Marshall (USA)
Moseley (USA)
Nordan (Denmark)
Olin (Charles Olin of O.W.T. - USA)
O.W.T. (Ohio Watch Tool Co.)
Panerai & Figli (Italy)
Paulson (USA)
Peerless (USA)
Pennant (USA ?)
Perton (USA)

Prazima (GDR)
Picard (Henri Picard et Frere) - probably only a dealer
Pultra (UK)
Reese Thos. Haulton (USA)
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)
Roscoe - a re-branded Wolf Jahn "Geneva" Type
sold by Hirst Bros. in the UK

Schaublin (Switzerland)
Schumer (Friedrich Schumer) Germany
Scomea (Société Commerciale d'Outillage et de Mécanique d'Aviation - France)
Shaller ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)

Sloan & Chace (USA)
Swartchild (agents)
Taihang Instrument Factory Manufacturing

Tribby ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Unitor (Italy)
Vector (Germany) A copy built in China as well
Waltham (USA)
Webster (USA)
Webster-Whitcombe (WW)
Whitcombe (USA)
Wiskum (USA)
D.M. Williams
C.V.Woerd ((USA) - possibly only a patent and never manufactured)
Wolf, Jahn (Germany)
Van Norman (sometimes branded Hopkins) USA
ZDZ (Poland)
Zimmerman (USA)

Watchmaker' or 'Instrument-maker' 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 a 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 strongly 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:
Accessories: (many of those below are illustrated here)
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 (or triple) with 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
Chuck - conventional (but high-precision) 3-jaw or 6-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
Except where they are special-purpose, today "chucks" are usually called collets:
Chucks - "wire" for holding round material
Chucks - "fir tree" or "ring" used for holding the inside diameter of jobs
Chucks - "step" or "disc" used for holding the outside diameter of jobs
Chucks - "box" with four or more screws through the body to hold jobs
Chucks - "brass split" (sometimes called the jewel type) to fit inside larger steel collets
Chucks - "button" or "crown" usually in sets of 10 for holding watch winders
Chucks - "carrier" for driving work between centres
Chucks - circular-saw type
Chucks - emery wheel
Chucks - "lantern" in bronze or steel,
Chucks - "wax" used for holding parts using hot wax and other glues
Chucks - wood screw for turning wood and ivory, etc.
Chucks - blank end for the user to adapt as necessary for special jobs
Chucks - "step-up" for holding larger diameters
Chucks - balance, for holding the balance wheels used in watches
Cutting tools - as large a selection as possible
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 or catch plate  - for turning work between centres
Drive dogs - fastened to the work and "caught" by the catch plate and so turned with the spindle
Dividing attachment - mounted on the headstock spindle or a milling slide
Eye glass on adjustable holder
Filing rest in single or double-roller types
Fixed steady and travelling stead (the latter rare on watch lathes)
Jacot Drum
Lapping attachment
"Mandrel" - this has the appearance of a spare headstock with a "faceplate" attached and, as it is very accurately made in one piece, used for super-precision work
Micrometer-adjustable boring head
Milling slide
Pivoting attachment
Pivot polisher
Rose cutters
Screwcutting Attachment with a set of changewheels
Saw table - either a simple type to fit in the T-rest holder or a more complex universal version for mounting on the lathe bed
Sinking tools
Spindle - high-speed grinding and miller-cutter holding spindle--often attached to a vertical slide
T-rest - the basic device to rest a tool against. Available in standard and tip-over types and with different lengths of T
Tailstock chucks - also known as "drill stocks" and available with flat heads, V-heads and chuck-type
Turning arbors - finely-made and often hardened bars to hold work. Can also be had in sets with very fine tapers of various diameters onto which jobs bored with a hole can be pressed and so securely held
Topping or "rounding up" tool
Tailstock; many types including the basic sliding spindle and screw and lever-feed types - but also ones adapted for special work and, equipped with a capstan attachment, for production work.
Tip-over or simple sliding T-shaped Hand-rest,
Universal Faceplate and Pump Centre,
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 second-hand watchmaker's lathe has no drive system or even a 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, high-quality  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.
Amazingly, no maker of a watch lathe has ever offered a proper instructional handbook for their products. 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..

An early American-made Moseley lathe of the
"WW" type with parts as annotated by the maker.

1. Headstock Spindle              2. Throat pin                        3. Loose bearing            4. Loose bearing pin
5. Adjusting nut                      6. Front bushing                   7. Rear Bushing             8. Front inside shield
9. Rear inside shield               10. Front outside shield       11. Rear outside shield
12. Pulley                                13. Pulley Hub                    14. Pulley screw            15. Draw-in spindle
16. Draw-in spindle wheel      17. Frame                            18. Index pin                  19. Bolt
20. Spring                                21. Eccentric                       22. Lever                        23. Pointed Centre
24. Spindle                               25. Spindle Button             26. Spindle Binder         27. Frame
28. Bolt                                    29. Spring                           30. Eccentric                  31. Lever
32. Slide                                   33. Pivot Screw                   34. Pivot Screw             35. Post
36. Lever                                  37. T graver rest                  38. Shoe                         39. Shoe bolt
40. Bolt pin                              41. Bolt washer                   42. Bolt spring               43. Bolt nut
44. Bed                                    45. Base                               46. Base bolt                  47. Bolt washer
48. Ball nut

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 bed 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. This 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 or "dogs".

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 manufacturer of watchmakers' lathes to have survived into the 21st century.

Click here for Watchmaker Lathe Accessories

A book on the use of a  watchmaker's  lathe can be ordered here

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

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