Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Squirrels and the Economy

The squirrel population in our neighborhood experienced a nice boom during the past few years. While previously we had  6-8 squirrels permanently inhabiting our yard, now we have at least 20!

 I really love watching them playing and searching for nuts in the grass ( well, more like weed).

The apparent two fold increase in the population of our furry friends happens to coincide with the roughly 50% decrease in the motorist traffic in the area, which in turn seems to coincide with the stagnating economy.

Some  say they are quite tasty roasted. ( Just kidding, I cry for days  if I accidentally hit one... gulp.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Raw Diamond Rings - Fine Jewelry with a Primordial Taste

 " When Homo Sapiens unites with Mother Nature."

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Order yours on Etsy....
I like working with uncut diamonds. I guess we all have our favorite parts of our professions and if I had only one to pick, I would probably say: rough diamonds.

 What is that in natural, unprocessed diamond crystals, that attracts me like sunflower seed squirrels? I can't pick one feature, it is probably all of the following: 
- the hidden potential within, 
- the miracle of naturally formed geometric shapes, 
- the irregularities that break up and make each one of those crystals unique and exciting:  the perfection within the imperfect.

Diamond in itself is one of the miracles of nature. The chemical bonds in the diamonds crystal are arranged so perfectly, pointing towards the corners of a tetrahedron, that in our universe they are the hardest materials. 

...  Or contact me directly at ...

The origin of diamonds also has some mysteries. Some of the diamond crystals are thought to have born deep inside our planet, under immense pressure and heat. 

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... or check out this ring on Artfire!


Researchers of the field say, that certain diamond crystals that we put into our rings were born in the stars and  arrived to Earth with projectiles from supernovae. Without doubt, some diamond crystals are formed during meteor impacts.

None of the above is specific to diamonds alone, but when all of them applies to one material, that is truly a miracle of nature.

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In my designs I aim to achieve balance between  natural and artificial, calculated and random, organic and architectural.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Side Note: 165 Years After Semmelweis

I am deeply disturbed by the fact, that so many years after Semmelweis discovered the cause and methods of prevention of puerperal fever and worked out the basics of modern asepsis, modern healthcare institutions and professionals are still having trouble grabbing the concept.

Nosocomial infections kill approximately 100,000 ( one hundred thousand ) people in the USA alone every year! 

MRSA microphotograph
 So what?! one might say. Life is a risky business, let's move on!

 Back in Semmelweiss' time, in the mid 19th century ( 1841-1847 ) ONE in every FIVE -TEN mothers (range 5-30%), that gave birth under the guidance of doctors, died of puerperal fever. At the same time, only about ONE in FIFTY ( ~2%)  mothers, that delivered with help of midwives, suffered the same fate.

Are we much better off today?

MRSA - Methycillin Resistent Staphylococcus Aureus, one of the many killers.
Estimates ( since there is no  systematic  collection of data ) say, that about ONE in every TEN persons (10%) admitted to a hospital contracts nosocomial infection in the USA. Number are similar in many developed countries.

Of these, 100, 000 a year dies due to this infection, again in the USA alone. Sorry, I have no better data. The numbers are staggering, since we know the cause of these infections and we have an arsenal of antibiotics, disinfectants, regulations and best practice recommendations in place, none of which were available back in Semmelweiss' time. He had no idea about bacteria, let alone the availability of antibiotics, which came about 80 years after his discovery (see Alexander Flemming, 1928).

Wonder why?

Take a visit to one of the nearby healthcare institutions, and chances are that you will observe many, if not all of the following:

-Nurses and doctors with long nails and rings ( the original reason this post is written) .
-Plants potted in soil
-Personnel  commuting in work uniform ( meaning they take everything home and it is their responsibility to clean the clothes!!)

Come on! What would you choose if presented a choice: Life or a few days of homely comfort while in the hospital?

None of the above objects can be properly sanitized and regarded as safe in a health care facility!
-You can wash your hands every minute, the bacteria under your nails and rings will be just fine.
-No amount of vacuuming and steaming  can make a carpet free of germs. 
-Soil in pots are the best reservoirs for one of the deadliest killers: anaerobe bacteria.
-Uniforms DO come in contact with patients and nosocomial strains and need aggressive cleaning, sterilization to prevent the spreading of these! You can't just walk in these clothes for day, then throw them into the perm press cycle with your kids shirts!

All of these objects facilitate the hiding and recirculation of these bacterial strains from patients to nurses and doctors back to patients. Every time they have a chance to contact some new antibiotic and develop resistance against it.

165 years after Semmelweis, we still do not understand the concept of asepsis!

No amount of hand washing ( which, I sadly observed myself on many occasions, is err... not always done properly at the right time) and Mom's best friend sanitizers can fight off the legions of killers that hide and attack from these places!

Let me just relate a story, that I observed at one of my previous workplaces, a cardiothoracic surgery.
MRSA in bacterial culture
The Institution had just completed the construction of a new, cutting edge operating unit. When they performed a few dozen of open heart surgeries at the new place, they noticed, that patients suffered more ten times more often nosocomial wound infections, than in the old operating rooms. After long months and many deaths resulting from these infections, they finally figured out the hiding place of the killer bacteria ( Klebsiella strain in this case). They were hiding in the insulation inside the roof structure and  walls. They had to tear the building to bones and re-do the whole insulation and stucco work.

One could be wondering if bacteria hiding under the wall was enough to kill dozens of people, what can those germs do that freely circulate between the rings, carpet, clothing, soil, recirculated A/C air  and weakened patients!

What does it look like when somebody gets infected with MRSA, these really pretty little creatures? ( Warning! Disturbing images!)

"Some patient advocacy groups say hospitals need to take better steps to prevent such infections, like making sure that health care workers frequently wash their hands and that surfaces and instruments are disinfected. And antibiotics should not be overused, they say, because that contributes to the evolution of resistance."

Let me add this: all the above are not enough if we cannot eliminate the hiding places of these bacteria from health care institutions.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What Is Hand Made? - Part 1

- Think Continuum, SHADES OF GRAY, instead of BLACK $ WHITE. -

For me handmade is a product, that is the result of the creativity, ingenuity, talent, skill, expertise and passion of one or a few artists or craftsmen, artisan (amateur, hobbyist or professional alike). Hand made products also need to be created with really significant amount of hands on work.The creator of handmade items finds great satisfaction in her/his work and proud of it! Creating something from raw materials, realizing an idea or concept is elevating and enriching to both the creator and observer, buyer. 

There are only very few items, that you can create only using your bare hands. An example: I can make a ring from a piece of grass: This is HAND MADE! I can also make a similar ring from a piece of wire: No doubt it is still hand made, but think about the awesome amount of tools ant other people's work to make that piece of WIRE, that I used! A few other examples of things, that you can create with bare hands: baskets , pottery , knapped items ( but for this you need a tool too, although that tool is not the result of human activity: another flint) jewelry from vegetation or feathers ( grass ring, feather necklaces, or leaves woven into head pieces...), mudhouse, sandcastle...

The rest requires some tools and materials, that had already been pre-processed by others. I mean, seriously, you would not expect me to dig and refine my own gold, copper, silver, cadmium, platinum and whatnot that I use for my jewelry? But on the other hand, you can rightfully expect me to put my own skill,  work and creativity into making my jewelry. 

I guess, by now it is clear, that the limits are not clear in the hand made market, just like in any other areas of life. We live in a University of CONTINUUM, determined by the laws of QUANTUM mechanics ( if that theory holds up at all).

When we go shopping for handmade, however it seems, that everything out there is claimed to be handmade and this plethora of hand crafted product sometimes makes it really hard to find real hand made items. If you keep the above "definition" in mind during shopping, it will help. It is important, that all criteria are fulfilled otherwise you just get a product with certain functionality and aesthetic values, but it will not necessarily be hand made.

By the time I got to this point in this post, I realized, this was  going to be a series again. Just too many thoughts, too little time, too slow typing.

custom jewelry, custom design, hand made, hand crafted, handmade, jewelry
From concept to realization
The first thing, that got me really seriously  thinking and moralizing about what makes a product hand made vs. mass produced , was a chapter in the book : "Making a Living in Crafts" by Larks Books. 

There is the story about how a potter turned profitable. First she was throwing her own pottery and "painting" them. People liked her style and demand grew. So she outsourced the clay part to China and kept painting the pots... 

The question here: Are her pots still hand made? I have no problem with her not liking sitting at the wheel, but I can't really get the idea of mass produced pottery, hand painted. How does she keep up with the incoming mass of pots and kegs? Or how much of the paint work is hers? After a while does her involvement  get reduced to signing the stuff? Again, it is no problem to run up a business and start making money, but where is the point from where it cannot be called hand made anymore? Does this story really belong in this book, as a viable way of turning your hand crafts profitable?

So, what difference does the involvement of the worker-creator make?

Let's see a positive example here: I found this video:  The Making of Cartier Jewellery  through the blog of  Narelle . In case if you won't watch it, I tell you what it told me: The jeweler in this video, working for Cartier, hand crafted a bracelet  - timepiece. 

He spent about 1200 hours making the piece from scratch. Think about it: Based on 5 days a week, 8 hours a day schedule, he spent 30 weeks, more than 1/2 year of his life making this piece come true. 

He is obviously tremendously proud of his achievement, even though the design was somebody else's ( I don't know if the designer's time is included in total 1200 hours). His vision is to cover a piece in gemstones, that the metal in not visible. He is an extremely skilled, proud, visionary craftsman... he is probably reasonably satisfied with his life . Maybe even an artist on his own ( I don't know if he designs anything... just for the fun of it...that would qualify as art, but he may as well, with such a drive in him). All thumbs up!

Another one, still not a very bad one. It's story for me is, that many of us can be content to perform a job well, that does not require much creativity or very wide set of skills, as long as the physical and mental requirements of human being is respected and taken care of.  ( Side note: many of us is happy to live out their creativity, the desire to make things, the desire that is common in humans and make us humans in the first place.)

I had a trip to a Mercedes factory and realized how much hands on work goes into the making of our cars. But that still does not make Mercedes cars hand made.  Just as hand painting an ornamental line on a Rolls-Rolls does not make it hand made. Hand decorated at most.

Mercedes have realized, that monotony in job is cutting into their profits, so they made it a policy to rotate workers between tasks: Today you drive four screws into the driver side door 500 times a day, A few weeks later you are fixing up the rear bumper with lights... and so on. But this still does not make a car handmade.

Now let's take a trip to the dark side. The recent fallout from a very disturbing video made at an Australian slaughterhouse made me think: What made the person in the video hitting the half dead swine a hundred times with a steel pipe? Did that happen because the guy is rotten sadist ( as many comments would suggest), a potential serial killer - child molester - rapist - would be Jack The Ripper? 

Warning ! This video IS really disturbing : Warning ! This video IS really disturbing! .

There is another - IMHO more likely - reason for his acts, and that makes the guy as much a victim as the swine: He acted this way out of piety. 

WHOA ! How can you say that? Did you loose your mind?
No, I don't think I did. I think the pork beater lost it, because he has processed too many half dead, wriggling pigs in his life, and could not bear more suffering. I think he wanted to end the both of their - his  and the pig's - suffering and acted in this primitive, hysterical way. I think he wanted to beat the life out of that pork the quickest way, using the first tool he had handy, and beat all his frustration over his own f...ed up life and monotonous, not-satisfying job at the same time.  He may even saw his employer on that table, whaddaya know?

The other side of the coin is the report I read a few weeks ago in a paper, about a sticker ( is this right word for a professional, who goes to houses and kills the pigs and helps in processing the meat?) who was a balanced individual, proud of his profession (he should be, after all most of us eat meat, just like a million other creatures of Mother Nature). He would not trust anybody with cleaning his tools and has his own sausage recipe.

Can you imagine this person going into a rage,  hitting his pig with a steel pipe a hundred times in the head, just to end its struggle, like a madman? No, because he RESPECTS the PIG and HIMSELF.

It is hard to argue against the necessity of mass production, against the slaughterhouses and car factories. But if we give in to the BUY MORE , BUY CHEAPER mentality, it will come back at us with full vengeance.

Good night, Children, sleep well... See you later.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ethical Diamonds? Green Gold? Conscience and Consciousness?

The following is my opinion. If you find  factual errors, please make a comment and I will correct. If you disagree or would like to add anything, please feel free to comment. In any other case, if you feel like, please comment.

I had been entertaining to express some of my opinion about man made diamonds vs. earth mined ones. About Green metals ( recycled ) and other serious issues. 

Yellow diamond, fancy diamond, fancy yellow diamond, natural diamond, radiant cut yellow diamondWhat is ethical and sustainable? We are easily made believe many things if authoritative sources (like CNN, PAID advertisements, etc.) say them loud enough. However the real world is not so simple.(I admit I am trying to recollect the timeline from my head, correct me if I am wrong!) Ten - odd years ago the disturbing facts about diamond mining and trade surfaced. It took about 6 years for the UN, miners and traders and involved governments around the globe to offer a solution, that is known as the Kimberly Process. By now, 99% of the traded diamonds bears the stamp of KP. Currently only Ivory Coast is under embargo, which has no significant rough production. And there is debate about the Marange region, nonetheless, diamonds from these mines get approval by KP.

Does it tell you, that the subhuman conditions, oppression, murder, rape and torture ended in all the diamond mining countries?

Does it tell you, that a Kimberly Certificate is all we need to sleep well?

Did the KP do in effect more than sanctifying the trade of all diamond?

What do we do about all the other pressing issues?

Will new 200000 pages long regulations and a few thousand new stamping offices  solve all injustice and suffering? Maybe we need longer and stricter Codes?

rultilated quartz
Which one is mined by child labor?
Now, if you read this far, please continue and read my personal opinion as well.

It is easy to put our revolting conscience to rest by buying synthetics or Canadian or Australian diamonds. I have no doubt, that well intending individuals make a difference and they, the consumers had a major part in regulating diamond trade and forcing DeBeers to give up its monopoly.

So public pressure is GREAT! But, think about this too: Those regions in Africa live off their natural resources. Mining for gemstones is the only possible source of some income for millions of families. Change to these regions will only come with better economy, more wealth, better education, etc. SO in the future, some of these regions will hopefully shake off the raging madness of militant hordes and dictators. Maybe.

I am not trying to tell you what is right or what is not, I am only trying to show the other face of the coin.

And what follows is the THIRD face of the coin: Do you have any idea about the carbon footprint of the synthetic diamonds and other diamond " substitutes" (Oh God! don't even get me  started on this) manufacturing process? I don't but I bet it costs  tons of C emission to punch a few grams of C into a diamond crystal.

Let me point towards the FOURTH face of the coin: Diamond mining in Arctic. No doubt, the residents of those regions in Canada get more in exchange of their natural resources then the starving millions in Africa. But read upon this controversy a little (use Google or something) and you will see mischief in every corner, despite all the good intentions of citizens and governments and yes, even mining Co's. Tribal lands purchased for a few bucks, rivers and hunting grounds destroyed, etc.

And we barely touched the issues concerning diamonds. What about gold mining? What about the mercury poisoning of our oceans due to the extreme poverty and almost zero regulation in many gold mining regions? What about the inhumane conditions in copper or silver mines? 

How many millions are made on slave labor in gemstone mines? Who is pocketing those millions? 

What is purchased on that money? Rolls Rollces made of pure gold? Books for the children that somehow  reach the age of school? Machine guns to keep the slaves from revolting? A cow to give milk and livelihood for a family? Knives to cut babies out of pregnant women? A few gallons of clean water for a family to drink and cook and bathe?  Maybe we should pickup our guns and go there and force all of those countries to start assembly lines for our newest breed of fancy-talking-networking-everpresent-privacy intruding cell phones? Or have them start accounting firms? Or WHAT?

Where is the truth? What is right? Shall you buy mined diamond or not? I certainly cannot tell. The only advice I can give is to READ upon everything you READ and then make an effort to CONFIRM everything you had READ so far. And it still will be murky.

Because: IF WE DON'T EDUCATE OURSELVES, NOBODY WILL and our sons and granddaughters will live in hell, here on Earth.

In conclusion, please allow me to emphasize: I have no idea whether or not you should buy mined diamonds or synthetics, glass or emerald, recycled plastic rings versus gold. All I would like to ask from you is to be aware of the MULTIPLE SHADES of TRUTH and become more EDUCATED and more  INCLUSIVE as opposed to be more EXCLIUSIVE!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Diamond or Not Part 3: The Sources of Beauty

"If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is!" 
I intend this series as a practical guide for those who are - quite understandably - confused by the wide and wild variety of diamonds "diamond substitutes" and "diamond simulants". 
I don't even try to cover all the names, that advertisers put out there in their attempts to stir the already murky waters. 

All I am trying to do is to help you make informed shopping decision based on common sense. This - our  Common Sense  - is what is the target of various marketing efforts; most of which  are legitimate, reputable  and sell fair quality products. The difficulty for the consumer is to select products they are going to be happy with. 
Before we continue I prepared a few lists of  commonly used minerals, (trade) names, term  and concepts, that can be confusing and without full understanding, may lead to a regretted purchase.


The 4Cs
We are all familiar with the 4Cs of diamond buying. This sounds like a great and simple list of things to check. We are relieved when tough decisions are taken off our shoulders by easy to do methods, that will lead us infallibly to good decisions.

However, we are all (well, most of us) conspiracy theorists deep in our minds  and I would like to urge you to call upon that guy in your head, because the 4Cs can easily be abused to make inappropriate purchase! Does this mean the 4Cs are tools in  a conspiracy to get your money? No way, but they suggest that  value determination is easy and quantitative. Furthermore - in order to make it easy - the 4Cs are only a very limited set of value determinants put into a particular order, that does not necessarily reflect on the needs or goals of most buyers.

In light of the above, we can re-phrase our motto: "If it sounds too easy, it probably is".

So for now, let's forget about the 4Cs  and examine from a scientific viewpoint, what are the parameters, that determine the beauty of diamonds in particular and most gemstones in general.

We find gemstones beautiful, because what they do with the light. They take light, spin it around, bounce it off, break it up into elements - colors - swallow some of it and throw the rest back at us. We can say, that we enjoy the byproduct of the struggle of  gemstones with light. What we see is what the gems spits back at us! The parts that it does not want, make us delighted!

Ironically, in the places where gemstones  were born, there is usually little or no light. However some research say, that diamonds - particularly black diamonds - are the products of supernovae. Go figure...

However, diamonds and gemstones are not born ready to be set in a ring!  Their beauty has to be uncovered by skillful craftsmen, lapidary artists and diamond cutters. Here I offer my apologies to mineral enthusiasts, who find beauty in the rough, uncut form of gemstones and minerals. There is infinite beauty to be found in the natural formations, colors and inside structures of unprocessed or partly cut crystals! I am just focusing on a particular area in these postings, that's all.

In short, what does the cutter do? He/she creates light reflecting surfaces by removing material from the  crystal.  The cutter's selection of the part of the material and the geometry of the reflecting surfaces will ultimately  determine how successfully the gem will process light.

I think this is the time to review the 4Cs:

While the particular order in which these qualities are presented does not seem to bear much importance, I think that it is important!

So let me rearrange the above list:


And now let's see what is behind each of these qualities, that determine the value.
Please note, that I use the word "value" quite often and we need to be clear about what is value as opposed to price.

Value is determined by the user. Price is determined by the market.

Value is the combination of qualities in an item, that makes us happy to own it. Some of these qualities are :

It is obvious, that most of the above are very subjective; what one person finds beautiful may be ugly for another. Some people find manual transmission very useful, while others would never drive a stickshift car. And so on.
Even Price is subjective, to the extent, that many items on the market are subject to bargaining: what some of us finds reasonable price, others will find too high or too low!

To be continued....

Diamond or Not Part 2.: The Most Important Characters in The Game.

"If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is!" 
I intend this series as a practical guide for those who are - quite understandably - confused by the wide and wild variety of diamonds "diamond substitutes" and "diamond simulants". 
I don't even try to cover all the names, that advertisers put out there in their attempts to stir the already murky waters. 

All I am trying to do is to help you make informed shopping decision based on common sense. This - our  Common Sense  - is what is the target of various marketing efforts; most of which are legitimate, reputable  and sell fair quality products. The difficulty for the consumer is to select products they are going to be happy with.

Before we continue I prepared a few lists of  commonly used minerals, (trade) names, term  and concepts, that can be confusing and without full understanding, may lead to a regretted purchase.

I plan to update this list as I see necessary. However if you see or hear a term or an expression, that you would like to see here, or you feel it needs explanation, please feel free to contact me, or propose in the comments section!

A rare, fancy deep orange yellow diamond of ~ 0.7 ct.

Diamond: Carbon (C): is a mineral that has a very simple chemical composition; C. This means nothing else, but that diamond is the element carbon. More exactly an allotrope of carbon, a structural variation of crystallized carbon. Wikipedia has a lot to offer on this topic for those who are interested : .

CZ or Cubic Zirconia: :zirconium dioxide (ZrO2), CZ should never be confused with zircon ( see below ), because CZ in commerce is exclusively man-made, or laboratory grown, inexpensive, colorless and frequently cut and sold as diamond (downright crime) or "diamond simulant", which is perfectly legal - see my previous post. Natural CZ is extremely rare, practically non-existent. The process is continually improving, but there is considerable variation between products! Any man made thing is only as good as the process and the maker ( the laboratory in this case).

Zircon: zirconium silicate (ZrSiO4): a gem quality mineral, frequently mined, cut into beautiful gemstones and prized by jewelry and lapidary enthusiasts. It can be found in a wide variety of colors and certain varieties can be very valuable. It certainly is not an inexpensive gem if good quality.

Moissanite: silicon carbide (SiC). A mineral, that so far has been only found in meteorites, in the form of extremely small crystals, However, similarly to CZ, it can be grown under laboratory conditions and cut into gemstones. The process is patented and currently only a couple companies produce it.It has many advantageous features, that we are going to talk about later. Good quality Moissanites are produced by Charles and Colvard and Moissanite Co. However, there are "generics" out there and even the original products have different qualities.

As a general guideline, even controlled processes result in differing quality products, therefore "good deals" should be very carefully questioned and examined!

The use of any of the following terms is legal. It shows compliance with the law about the proper disclosure of the nature of the product. Since I am not a lawyer, I do not take responsibility for proper description of the law, nor I can take the to research and discuss all the bylaws, not even dissect what products are regulated and what are not. The point is, that as long as a merchent honestly tells what it sells, it should be OK.

IF the buyer can properly interpret the disclosures!

"Diamond or other gemstone SIMULANT": This is a term, that deserves a separate paragraph. Simulant means, that the stuff is intended to appear to the unsuspecting observer as something else. Quite often clear or colored glass or plastic is used to simulate gemstones, including diamonds. However synthetic or laboratory grown or man-made minerals can also serve as simulants ( of diamonds or other valuable gemstones ). I still have a nice blue plastic "gem" that was sold by an - otherwise reputable - seller as Swiss blue topaz. No need to mention, that the reputation of that seller has gone with the wind in my eyes.

More interestingly, often natural gemstones are used as simulants: In these cases - without proper disclosure - exhausting the concept of criminal activity! An example can be spinel, that is often sold as (more expensive) ruby or sapphire. Again, that is a crime. Tourmalines sold as emeralds, and even wilder examples can be listed here, since the average consumer is not a trained gemologist, for many, a superficial similarity in color along with the word of the seller is enough. Often only the grandchildren find out , that the family treasure, Granny's huge ruby ring is a piece of garnet, worth maybe $200 or less.

Therefore a simulant has nothing to do with the simulated, chemical and physical properties are different, : the similarity is superficial, often the color is not even close!

OK, it is getting late, TO BE CONTINUED!