This paper presents the design, optimization and manufacturing of a novel micro-fabricated load cell based on a double-ended tuning fork. The device geometry and operating voltages are optimized for maximum force resolution and range, subject to a number of manufacturing and electromechanical constraints. All optimizations are enabled by analytical modeling (verified by selected finite elements analyses) coupled with an efficient C++ code based on the particle swarm optimization algorithm. This assessment indicates that force resolutions of ∼0.5–10 nN are feasible in vacuum (∼1–50 mTorr), with force ranges as large as 1 N. Importantly, the optimal design for vacuum operation is independent of the desired range, ensuring versatility. Experimental verifications on a sub-optimal device fabricated using silicon-on-glass technology demonstrate a resolution of ∼23 nN at a vacuum level of ∼50 mTorr. The device demonstrated in this article will be integrated in a hybrid micro-mechanical test frame for unprecedented combinations of force resolution and range, displacement resolution and range, optical (or SEM) access to the sample, versatility and cost.