Watchmaking: A Machinist’s View

November 22, 2017 2:48 pm

Old-world craftsmanship combines with precision machining on a vertical machining center and Swiss-type lathe to produce some of the only U.S.-made mechanical wristwatch movements.

Article From: 11/1/2017 Modern Machine Shop, Matt Danford, Senior Editor

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Hunched over his desk and peering through an eyepiece, Cameron Weiss pays little attention to the machine tools in the next room. The Swiss-trained master watchmaker is usually far too busy polishing, burnishing, fit-checking and assembling the hundreds of pins, gears, springs and levers that go into the mechanical “movements” powering each luxury timepiece.

That’s not to suggest Mr. Weiss doesn’t appreciate the critical role these machine tools play in realizing his dream: to build his own brand of wristwatches, one based unapologetically on his own artistic ideals. Just as emblazoning his family name across the face implies a certain aesthetic, the label “Los Angeles, California” implies a deep-seated desire to restore prestige to a domestic industry that largely collapsed with the advent of cheaper, more accurate quartz movements in the 1960s. For Mr. Weiss, restoring that prestige means not just assembling the parts here, but making them here, too.

brass bridge workpieces after profile machining in a 16-station custom fixture

Brass bridge workpieces have just undergone first-side profile machining on a 16-station custom fixture employing Mitee-Bite Uniforce double-sided clamps. These low-profile devices enable mounting brass workpieces directly adjacent to one another and provide full access to the top faces.

Cameron Weiss assembles a watch with machined hand tools

Many of the hand tools Cameron Weiss employs to finish and assemble watches are machined in house by Grant Hughson, his machinist partner.

steel watch casings

Not all production is in house. Steel watch casings require too much capacity, so they’re cut on an L.A.-area shop’s turn-mill to a specific finish for handwork.

an in-process workpiece and a finished watch

Bridge components must be cut from particular portions of the square brass workpieces depending on the particulars of the movement design and the width and spacing of Geneva stripes like the ones visible here.

Grant Hughson, a machinist, watching his work on a screen

Grant Hughson, machinist, developed a microscope camera system to easily see everything going on inside the tight workzone of the shop’s Tornos Swiss Nano Swiss-type lathe.

microscope camera

The microscope camera fits in a sleeve that’s installed in one of the gang-slide toolholders.

Swiss-type lathe workzone

The Swiss-type workzone is tight, but it provides the flexibility and the capability—particularly in the form of two high-speed milling spindles—to turn around tiny, delicate parts quickly.

prototype fixtures laid out on a table

These first- and second-operation prototype fixtures for bridges and main plates mount to modified Capto quick-change tooling blocks (top right) to ensure precisely repeatable mounting. Holes machined into two opposing corners during the first operation are left accessible for second-operation probing routines, which use the hole locations and the angle of a diagonal formed between them to calculate offsets.

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Article From: 11/1/2017 Modern Machine Shop, Matt Danford, Senior Editor

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1 Comment

  • Schaffer

    Great article. Another manufacture, Shinola, is doing similar work on machining centers in Detroit. I think they import their movements, but case, cover and works are assembled in Detroit.

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