The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Engine turning (guilloché)

 

The mechanical engraving of an intricate and repetitive pattern onto an underlying surface using an engine turning machine.

 

Status Endangered (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Craft category Metal
Historic area of significance London and Birmingham
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 16th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Engine turning is the mechanical engraving of an intricate and repetitive pattern onto an underlying surface, usually precious metal, using an engine turning machine.

Ornamental turning, mostly on soft materials such as wood and ivory, dates back to the 16th century but engine turning grew as a specialism distinct from this during the 18th century. Engine turning makes use of a fixed tool as distinct from ornamental turning machines which cut patterns using a rotating tool.

Engine turning can be used on its own or underneath translucent enamels on items such as cufflinks, watch dials and cases, pendants, boxes etc.

 

Techniques

There are two main types of engine turning each used depending on the shape of the item being decorated and the type of pattern required. Rotary turning uses a rose engine to form patterns in the round. Linear turning using a straight line engine forms patterns that are based on a linear motion. Both use a hand cranked machine operated at slow speed with a fixed cutting tool applied to the work by hand pressure.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Shortage of equipment: The manufacture of engine turning machines came to an almost complete halt in the mid-twentieth century. Many machines were melted down for the war effort, and so those machines which survive today tend to be quite old. There are very few spare parts available, so people need engineering skills in order to make what the parts they need.
  • Market issues: Engine turning is extremely time consuming and is therefore very expensive for consumers. It is very difficult to make a living from engine turning – most people do it part time. It is difficult and unfair to encourage people into a craft with no money.
    Changing tastes: Although it is possible to design in a very contemporary way, there is a perception that guilloche is very old fashioned.
  • Methods of working: Historically, engine turning was done in a trade-work context, with engine turners doing the work for other people. Today, there is very little demand for turning for others and the trade work is disappearing, so craftspeople either need to find new ways of turning alongside other things, or become designer-makers who make the whole item. Furthermore, engine turning is horribly unforgiving which can put people off, especially on gold and silver trade-work – very easy to ruin a piece after many hours of other people’s work.
  • Public awareness: There is little public awareness of engine turning.
  • Training issues: No one has an apprentice. The Birmingham Jewellery School has a couple of machines and someone comes in to show show the students what can be done.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual makers:

Businesses employing two or more makers:

 

Other information

Status: It is likely that engine turning was always niche trade and was never very big. The craft is considered to be ‘endangered’ and is probably doing better than it has been – not in terms of total numbers, but in the fact that there are a few younger people involved.

Number of skilled craftspeople: There are probably 6-7 craftspeople doing engine turning on a trade-work basis for other people, although many of them are nearing retirement age, and some firms are doing it in-house, such as the watchmakers Charles Frodsham & Co Ltd. and Roger W Smith. There are also some amateurs who have machines and use them.

References

  • Engine turning – a blog about engine turning and guilloche engraving machines, their restoration and use
  • Matthews, Martin, Engine Turning 1680-1980