Frieda Dörfer – Guilloché

Frieda Dörfer studied gold smithing, watchmaking and jewellery design for 10 years before branching out on her own in 2014. I came across one of her unique pieces the other day and assumed she’d hand-engraved its surface and, being totally inept at using a graver in my own work, I was impressed with her accuracy. It turns out she’d engraved those precise lines using a 17th century contraption known as a guilloché machine.

So what exactly is a guilloché (pronounced gee-oh-shay) machine? Even if you don’t know what it is you’ve probably seen what it can do…


Yes, it engraves patterns of lines onto metal or in some cases currency paper, faberge eggs, fountain pens and antique cigarette cases. Also known as a rose engine, geometric lathe or engine turning machine it was invented when someone modified a wood lathe, replacing the standard blades that cut away wood material with 2 polished burs that removed a thin line of material from a metal surface. It became a popular look on metal long before the invention of plastic everything and it took great skill to execute, something Dörfer has learned with practice and patience. She operates the guilloché using both hands, one to turn the hand crank and the other to apply even, steady pressure onto the metal surface. To create evenly spaced lines that are equal in depth and without shadow she has to know when and how much pressure to apply, no easy task. If you’d like to see more of her captivating and unique pieces check out her website here.

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