Watchmaker’s Lathe – Made in China?

When I was in watchmaking school I had access to some of the best lathes made today. We had a Schaublin 70, a Schaublin 102, and 16 Horia lathes all with just about every attachment available. I learned to use them all and I got spoiled. We were manufacturing parts and making our school watch, so we needed quality lathes, and we used them heavily.

In my shop currently, I use an old american watchmaker’s lathe. It was the owner’s grandfathers and has been a part of his family for more than 70 years. It was probably well taken care of when his grandfather used it, and when his father used it. Since his father got out of the trade it has been used by other watchmakers with no attachment to it and it hasn’t been cared for as well as it could have been. It is free of rust and dents and since I serviced it, it runs pretty good, but it is really lacking in the attachment department. I mostly use it for cutting out broken balance staffs, re-burnishing pivots and some tool manufacturer and it suffices, but it doesn’t “shine.”

I would love to be able to make some custom pieces but in order to do that I would need some better equipment (face plate, 3 jaw chuck, cross slide, larger collet selection, drilling tail stock, large stepped chucks, etc). It is also lacking when I need to re-bush a watch because it doesn’t have a face plate. The lathe has a selection of about 12 collets (the largest being about 3mm), a couple of wax chucks, and a balloon chuck. It has a tail stock but there is no drawbar for the tailstock and no drilling attachment. It has a T-rest but no cross slide. The motor is attached to the base and sits about 5 inches behind the bed so it is hard to get a burnisher back there to polish pivots the way I feel most comfortable. Perhaps the most annoying feature is the variable speed pedal from a Foredom flex-shaft tool for speed control. It is hard to get good surface finish when your lathe doesn’t turn at a consistent speed.

I would love some new attachments, but I would really like a high-quality lathe.

I read about an ebay seller who is selling Chinese made watchmaker’s lathes on timezone the other day. The article is here. chinese lathe I realize these aren’t going to be Horia lathes, but I would love to know how good (or bad) they are. As you can see from his eBay store you can get a lot of lathe for under $1000. (I don’t know how much he charges to ship from China). The one person on timezone who actually purchased one says it’s not too bad. I don’t know what that means, but he doesn’t give a good enough review for me to risk buying one yet.

I shared some information about the lathe with fellow members of AWCI and I got bombarded with all kinds of remarks from individuals who have no experience with this lathe. They feel (without experiencing the lathe) that there is no way it could possibly be well made and that I would much better off spending my money on a quality lathe at this point on my career. For many of them, this means an american made lathe like the one they have been using for the last 40 years. Unfortunately I don’t have the $30,000 it would take to buy a fully equipped lathe like I had in school. I could start with the basics and build from there but my problem is that the lathe isn’t really going to generate very much revenue so I have a hard time justifying a large purchase. Especially since I am salaried and my income wouldn’t change even if I was using the lathe to increase productivity or generate custom products.

Lucky for me I know a watchmaker, whose opinion I trust, who is doing some experimentation and research about this product. When I know more, I’ll add to this post.

If you have any information about these lathes or recommendations for other lathes, let me know.

For more discussion on lathes and some links to different makers visit this thread at timezone.

If you would like to help me purchase one of these lathes so I can give a formal review please donate to my blog. Every little bit helps.


7 Responses to “Watchmaker’s Lathe – Made in China?”

  1. 1 Patrick February 22, 2008 at 12:53 am

    I use a Marshall American Lathe and Horia Turn but over a year ago, I came accross a guy whose father imported one of these Chinese lathes direct from the manfacture years ago to evaluate but the father later passed away and never tried it. So I purchased it in new condition from the son for cheap as I was curious more than anything else. And then a few months ago, I noticed the ebay seller with these same lathes and I ended up buying some accessories from them. The son didn’t know anything about the Chinese manufature but mine does have a name plate with Chinese writing which I’m wondering would give a clue to the actual manufacture.

    Unfortunately I have not had the time to try it out because I want to break it down first to clean and oil as mine has been sitting around for some time. My first impressions though is that it looks to be made very well and the headstock and tailstock line up perfectly. I wouldn’t compare it to Schaublin, Horia or Levin quality but for the price, I am impressed. Even the accessories like the tool rest, compound slide and milling attachment appear to be made very well. But the real test will be how well it makes chips and longevity (quality of the materials). And as far as I can tell, these Chinese lathes are identical to the German Vector lathe so it appears they are importing the same lathe.

    I plan on getting my Chinese lathe running very soon so I’ll definitely let you know how well it works.

  2. 2 Horst March 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

    From all I know, dont touch.

  3. 3 Kirk March 26, 2008 at 7:34 am

    Too bad the chinese lathe isn’t made on the same pattern as the WW.

  4. 4 Kirk March 26, 2008 at 7:37 am

    I bought a set of the larger chucks because Sincereclocks said they are 8 mm. The chucks fit into my Levin lathe but not my Peerless.
    The threads are not 275 tpi so I let them sell me a draw bar to match their threads, it came too short but they made me another one.
    The quality seems fair but I wish they would make them on the universal, WW pattern. He seemed interested in doing this and asked many questions, in the end, he said it would be too big of a project for them to make the parts WW type threads.

  5. 5 Jim Campbell April 5, 2008 at 7:04 am

    My 80 year old father is closing his watchmaking/repair business. He is interested in selling all of his equipment which includes a G. Boley lathe with all the attachments, several thousand watch crystals, four drawers with jewels, stems,staffs,main springs, etc. If you have any interest, I have photos I could send to you via email and then give you my dad’s cell number. He lives in southern Wisconsin. His goal is to find someone who will take care of his “babies”. Unfortunately none of his sons have an interest in this line of work. I am 57 and now realize what an artisan my father is. I can be reached at 502.386.4015

  6. 6 Robert E. De Barth December 11, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I would like to share my experience about lathes. Being in the typewriter business for over 60 years we make many parts using small machine tools. One of my favorate lathes is G. Boley lathes made in Germany. We own several
    Boley lathes and have one on our Web site for sale. Also the Levin and some other German lathes are about the best there is. We have a Chinese made milling machine and some of the tools they make. We find them to be made well considering the cost. However, we find the castings a little rough and on same tools we have replaced bearings and modifyed some of the controls. The Boley we have for sale has a 16″ bed and steel pulleys on the head stock, a compound cross feed, and drilling lever. If you can justify the cost the best tools will enable you to do the best work.— Robert E. De Barth

  7. 7 David Pierce December 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    The Chinese lathe is also marketed under the name Vector. I own one that was sold under the name Sincere. The quality of the lathe and its attachments is excellent. It will produce a finish on a turned part that is as smooth as a ground finish. The spindle is concentric to + or – .000050 inches which is as good as any other cone bearing lathe I checked out. When I purchased the lathe it came with the cross slide and collet holding tailstock for $450.00. in addition to that I purchased the vertical milling attachment, T rest, sensative drilling attachment, spring loaded pulley and their motor. The only drawbacks I had were: it came with a bastard thread for the collet holder, which I had to retap, and an acceptance that it is a watch lathe; not a clock lathe. It is designed to produce tiny high precision parts and should never be used for large parts or heavy cuts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: