Rose Engine Lathe. What is it? What does it do?

The Rose Engine Lathe is a mechanical tool that evolved from the geometric lathe around 1790 and functions to engrave circular and curved designs in metal. Used in jewelry design as well as printing patterns impossible to replicate on stamps and money, making them difficult to forge, the Rose Engine Lathe is the only machine of its kind that can engrave in curved geometric shapes.

Image By Brian Jackson.

John Jacob Holtzapffel is currently cited for starting a company, Holtzapffel & Co, that leveraged updates to the geometric lathe inventing and creating one of the first, if not the actual first, Rose Engine Lathes.

Read History of the Lathe from Egypt to the Rose Engine Lathe.

How Does a Rose Engine Lathe Work?

The Rose Engine Lathe utilizes a series of spherical gears rotated by the force of a large spindle that is hand or foot cranked. The gears are postioned on a rod and at the end of the rod is a chuck. The gears and the chuck rotate together. The entire unit will rock slightly depending on what gear the artist is using.

The artist will then use hand pressure to apply a cutting device, or bit, against the metal that is set into the chuck. (In the picture above the chuck is out of the image to the right) As the artist hand cranks the rose engine lathe the chuck rotates as well and rocks slightly. If the artist presses the bit against the metal with his/her hand while hand cranking the lathe the engraved pattern can bend and curve depending on the artists settings.

Artistic Design for Royalty

Below is a famous Faberge Egg, a new one hand crafted each year by Peter Carl Fabergé for the Tsar of Russia Alexander III, and then his successor Nicolas II using a rose enging lathe and enamel as the base layer of the egg.


Image By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Early watchmakers used the Rose Engine Lathe to produce light bending ornate designs on almost every component of pocket watches and wristwatches. You will not though, find hand crafted engraved art on a watch less than $5000.

Build Your Own Watch is very proud to offer hand engraved art using a Rose Engine Lathe on your watch's rotor as a premium upgrade. There are very few Rose Engine Lathe machines in the United States and even fewer artists who know how to use them.

Rick Bell Meets The Artist

The story how Rick Bell met the Cincinnati Rose Engine Lathe artist is amazing.

Fillling an old wharehouse that used to make this or that, with opaque windows up the formed concrete walls, a Rose Engine Lathe machine artist named Michael Dorsa has been making custom enameled jewelry for years.

Michael Dorsa makes jewelry using one of two Rose Engine Lathes he owns and operates. His work is available at Findlay Market, the oldest open air market in Ohio, and online here

Rick happened to be at Findlay Market one day shopping (Our newsletter friends know why he was shopping!) and he wanted to get a gift for his wife. He came across Michael's booth. The patterns on the jewelry instantly made a connection in his mind with watchmaking without even realizing what he was looking at.

When Rick spoke with Michael's assistant she told him he uses a Rose Engine lathe, Rick flipped! He asked to meet the artist right there on the spot. When Michael showed up and met Rick, he took him to see his machine room.

Rick was floored to see these early 1900's Lathe's in action, imagining the watch's they may have cut over the years. He asked Michael if he could cut the rotors on our movements. Michael agreed, and the relationship was born.

Michael went through several iterative designs for our Rotors, and since the Lathe is designed to cut circles, he had a custom chuck created to hold the rotor in the Rose Engine. The end result is two wonderful guilloche designs to choose from for your Series 1 Watch's rotor, Barely and Sine Wave.

Build Your Own Watch very Proud to offer our clientelle the premium option to have your automatic watch's rotor hand engraved by an American artist on a Rose Engine Lathe.

When you have your rotor hand engraved by an artist using a Rose Engine Lathe you are aquiring a one of a kind gem that most watch enthusiast do not have in their collection.

Guilloche Rotors-800.jpg

Hand tooling is not a dying art. Like cursive writing and string music, hand tooling is the mechanical core function of how things work; like wavelengths and hand eye cordination, made by hand relying on nothing but a hand crank and artistic eye. Like, The Movement of your automatic watch.

The Rose Engine Lathe represents America's begininng and future; we are great builders and designers. Build your own watch and you too can feel the connection and ownership American craftsman have felt for years watching their beautiful creations last for generations.

Introducing Rose Engine Lathe Artist, Michael Dorsa.

Michael Dorsa from Rocker Box Productions

Digging into the Nuts n' Bolts. Literally.

Build Your Own Watch is the first watch company to provide the option for you to hand assemble your own watch. We provide the compenents and video instruction, you provide the tools and fun while assembling your own custom watch.

As a premium option have your watch's rotor hand engraved by a local artisan using a Rose Engine Lathe. Learn more about the Series 1 Watch and see how your watch could look using our online configurator.

Thank you.

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