Reporter 429, 18 January 1999

Testing times for voluminous valve and tiny trinkets

Gerald Ratner famously expressed serious concerns about its quality and a technician in the Materials department has been busy trying to find out if he was right.

In a bid to develop standards for the jewellery industry, chief technician Austin Wilson's metallurgical machines have mangled over a million pounds worth of bracelets, brooches, bangles and other valuable pieces.

Major retail outlets are beginning to demand that their jewellery should meet minimum standards. The department is working on the problem with Gallery & Abbeycrest - the largest jewellery manufacturer in Europe.

"There is so much variation in design and style that no-one knows what the minimum standard should be. We are trying to quantify their engineering properties so that different products can be compared," Mr Wilson said.

The World Gold Council's Dr Christopher Corti is a leading advocate of the introduction of global standards, and recently visited the department. "Ours is still essentially a craft-based industry but it is important to promote the concept of jewellery design from an engineering perspective," said Dr Corti.

"If you buy a car then you know it has been tested and compared to central safety standards irrespective of its manufacturer. A similar series of standard tests for jewellery would help to guarantee its quality."

Dr Corti said that the Materials Department's testing procedures were ahead of anything he had seen in the USA and that they should form the basis of the new standards.

The impressive range of trinket trashing techniques include bracelet twisting, crushing lockets between powerful rubber fingers and stretching necklaces until they snap.

Mr Austin says he does not wear jewellery himself, and has little sympathy for the miles of gold chain that have been through his hands.

"It's quite fun really. The most expensive things we've tested were a set of heavy gentlemen's bracelets worth several hundred pounds each - well they were until we sent them back in pieces."

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