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Archive for February 21st, 2023

HOW TO BEAD A ROGUE ELEPHANT The Musings Of A Jewelry Designer: Morality

Posted by learntobead on February 21, 2023

The Tennessee River

You Motherf — — -, you Motherf — — -, “ he shouted at her. One curse word after another.

There we were — three of us — crammed into a small office. Seated on three seats in front of a desk, knees nearly touching. The director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Division, in Atlanta, Georgia, was particularly angry at our 9:00 am meeting that morning. He unloaded on my boss. It was relentless. After about 15 minutes of this, I cut in and said that where I’m from, this kind of language is very inappropriate. He told me to Shut Up!, and continued his barrage.

In the early 1980s, I was a policy planner for the Tennessee Department of Health and Environment. One of my responsibilities was to carry out a CDC grant to the Department. The purpose of this grant was to interrelate all the Department’s health data with its environmental data, and determine if living near a toxic waste site (Superfund site) was hazardous to your health. Tall order, bad data, weak data, microscopic parts per billion data. Highly unlikely that any scientific statistical analysis could show any relationship. But I had some success. In two parts of the state — Clinton, TN outside Oak Ridge, and New Johnsonville and Waverly, TN on the western leg of the Tennessee River.

The issues for us at that time were preventing unnecessary severe illness and death. The question: should our initial findings trigger either state or federal action to investigate these areas in more detail. To me, this was a moral question. To the federal representatives, not so much so.

Jewelry designing, on the surface, seems so divorced from moral quandaries. Spending time selecting and arranging beautiful things, well, we shouldn’t have to think about ethics. Ethics shouldn’t contaminate what we do. And, yet.

Design is choice. The choices could be about colors. Or materials. Or techniques and how they should be implemented. Choices might focus on silhouette or customer type or customer desires. Choices might be made to be sensitive to a certain situation or context.

Making choices means that you pick something over something else. The choices made could be rational, meaning that you have weighed the options, and one is factually better than any alternative. The choices could be moral, meaning that the choice will unquestionably and without any doubt or circumstance serve the designer and the wearer or buyer more appropriately than any other choice and without harm. The choice could be ethical, meaning that the choice will enhance any moral judgement about whatever transpires. The choice could be ethical from a business sense, meaning that the choice results in the designer going away happy and the wearer or buyer going away happy, as long as no one gets harmed, whether they actually were served better, or not.

Because designing jewelry involves making choices about materials, techniques, and how the pieces are introduced publicly, design poses, by its very nature, moral, ethical and business ethical judgments. That’s the rub. Even surrounded by extreme beauty and rainbows of color and sensual objects, I have found that moral dilemmas pop up often, even in my bead store, and even in situations involving my jewelry.

Sometimes, morality with design is simple and straightforward. I make a custom piece for someone. Say, the piece breaks where the beadwork is connected to the clasp. Who is responsible for fixing it? With each custom piece I make, the client gets a Certificate of Authenticity. On the Certificate, it states that repairs not due to negligence on the client’s part will be repaired up until 6 months after purchase at my expense. After that that point, it is the client’s responsibility to pay for repairs.

We do a lot of repair work. On one repair, for example, the bracelet was created using a technique called micro-macrame. The original artist was extremely talented, using very thin bead cord, almost like threads, with very tight, closely placed knots. The bracelet was made with 8 separate cords, all of which had to be brought down through 2mm beads and encased in macrame knots. The bracelet had broken and needed to be redone from one end to the other. The repair eventually required 8 hours to complete. Expensive for the customer. Before I began the repair, I mapped out what needed to be done. I reviewed this with the customer. I very clearly told the customer that my talent was noticeably less-than that of the original artist. She approved my going ahead with the repair anyway.

Morality and ethics come up in small and large ways in the jewelry design business. But, usually with less drama than I experienced at the CDC and Tennessee Department of Health and Environment, but with drama and concerns nonetheless.

The CDC contract with Tennessee specified that a type of statistical analysis called regression analysis be done. I had been hired during the second year of the contract. I knew from the start that regression analysis — a type of parametric statistic — would be inadequate to the task. It is not robust enough and powerful enough to analyze bad, very small numbers data. Environmental data usually include things like parts per billion. That’s a small number.

Instead, I substituted a nonparametric statistic, and one that I had developed a few years earlier, for the analysis. Using a mapping program, I divided the state of Tennessee into roughly 7 x 7 mile squares. I allocated the health data and environmental data to each square. Then I ran my nonparametric statistic, I had called this ridit analysis, on the data. Nonparametric statistics are perfect for bad, small numbers data. They do not establish whether there is a strong correlation between variables. They identify the chances something weird is happening and deserves more attention.

I found something. I thought that was good and would be well-received. But obviously not.

I am just a bad boy. I keep pointing out these moral issues because they bother me, and I get frustrated when they don’t bother other people — at the least, bother them enough to result in some changes in behaviors and procedures.

Many things have happened in my jewelry design world. I always get concerned when materials used or techniques used in creating any piece of jewelry are somehow misrepresented in terms of value, durability or price.

For example, this situation happens more than you would think. On one occasion, the first thing the customer said as she laid out all the beads and findings on the counter in my shop: I am a jewelry designer from New York. There in a pile on the counter were Austrian crystal beads and ones which were metalized plastic. There were sterling silver, silver plated and stainless steel beads and findings. Low end tiger tail wire. Some elastic string. I only do higher end, she reassured me, and I already have crimp beads I purchased from Michael’s.

I started to point out some inconsistences: metalized plastic, tiger tail and elastic string are not durable products. Sterling will stay silver, silver plated will not. Some crimp beads are manufactured differently than others. Crimp beads cut right through tiger tail wire and elastic string. The plating on metalized plastic chips off after little wear. I was trying to be helpful. But she would not have any of it. She almost cupped my mouth to silence me. I am a jewelry designer from New York, she repeated. I know all this stuff, probably better than you.

I make a quarterly trip to Michael’s to see what they are selling. They change out their lines about every three months, and it’s important to me to know what they are selling. At one point, they were selling a brand of plated findings. On the package label, it said “S. Silver.” It didn’t say sterling silver, but their customers might assume as much. Another time, they had packages of 2” head pins at 10 cents each. The label said .925, indicating that these were sterling silver. A foot of raw sterling silver at that time sold for $6.00. Two inch head pins in my own store were selling for $2.25. How did Michael’s get down to 10 cents?

On a visit to Claire’s at the mall, there was a rack of earrings. In English, the sign said “sterling silver.” In Spanish, the sign said “silver plated”. The earrings were $5.99 a pair.

A competitor of mine was selling Greek raku-fired clay beads as gemstones. He had a whole routine worked out. He told customers these needed to be weighed and sold by the gram. The result: something that should have sold for about $1.00 ended up costing the customer $25.00.

Michael’s sells a beading needle kit with a needle threader in it. Beading thread is like a typewriter ribbon — flat — and the eye of a beading needle is a rectangular slit. You can get the needle threader into the eye, but after you thread your thread through the threader, it won’t pull back through. It will never pull back through. I can just picture how many of their customers struggle with pulling the thread back through, then give up, and never take up this wonderful bead weaving and jewelry making craft again.

If you go on Etsy or Ebay, or many places online, you will see a lot of turquoise beads for sale. In most cases, they are not turquoise. They are either magnesite or howlite dyed turquoise. But none of them say that. People think they are buying real turquoise.

One supplier of mine sold chasing hammers, with a metal head stapled with only one staple to a wooden handle. As soon as you tried to hammer something, the head flew off the handle. I called this to the attention of the supplier. The supplier never fixed the problem and to this day, sells the same, dangerous chasing hammer.

And I can go on and on.

But, I want to go back to the CDC, Tennessee and the early 1980s. The science folks at this division of the CDC misrepresented regression analysis as the right method to use. They surely knew it was not. Why were they so resistant to changing the method to something they surely knew would be better in this situation?

Clinton, Tennessee is down wind and down river from Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge is where there is a lot of radioactive waste. It is the home of a federal facility that has dealt with, for decades, radioactive materials. The cancer rate in Clinton was hundreds of times that of the state average. A few of us took a trip to Oak Ridge.

It turns out that when you mix federal waste with other waste, all of it is considered federal waste. Federal waste is regulated by the US Department of Energy. Local waste haulers were mixing non-federal waste with federal waste, then driving it to the river’s edge and dumping it. If it were all non-federal waste, this would have been illegal in Tennessee. Dumping in the river, at least at that time, was not prevented by USDE regulations and procedures. As federal waste, Tennessee could do nothing but watch. As we did. We watched near the river’s edge as an unending line of waste trucks were lined up waiting to dump their waste into the river. We felt our options for any further investigation and mitigation were limited.

In New Johnsonville and Waverly, the adverse maternal pregnancy outcomes were 300 times the state average. These included miscarriages, still births, premature births and maternal deaths. It could have been a lousy doctor effect in these largely rural areas. Or something else. There was a Superfund toxic waste site next to the river in New Johnsonville. Toxic waste could have been contaminating the water supply.

We sent a report to the CDC, and in two days, two project officers rushed to meet with us in Nashville. In a large conference room, we all sat at the end of a well-worn wooden table. I was about to explain what we had found and propose some options for further investigation. Before I could get a few words out, the lead project office said stop what we were doing. Return to regression analysis. Cover up anything we had found to date. Yes, he used the words, Cover Up. They left immediately to return to Atlanta. I told my boss that You can’t use the words cover up and professional in the same sentenceYes you can, she retorted.

And, if that wasn’t awkward and unpleasant enough, the director of the Environmental Division of the CDC demanded our immediate presence in Atlanta.

One of my competitors, another bead shop in Nashville, a husband and wife team, does a lot of things which, to me, are morally wrong and unethical, but maybe not from a business ethics standpoint. I don’t know. But this competitor always gives me a lot of things to marvel at and talk about.

I had arranged a precious metal clay certification workshop at my store. The instructor lived in Wichita, Kansas. The wife drove from Nashville to Wichita and knocked on this instructor’s home door. She said she was driving through and had a lot of Czech glass beads for sale. Would the instructor like to look at her stuff? The instructor let her in.

Rather than show any Czech glass beads, the wife immediately went into influence and persuasion mode. She explained, quite untruthfully, how their shop was much more sophisticated than ours, had a better student clientele, and, in almost demanding terms, told the instructor that the certification workshop should be held there. The instructor ushered her out the door.

On another occasion, I was holding a bead weaving workshop in the store at the end of June one year. The instructor was from California. A few weeks before the workshop date, the husband from my competition phoned her. He asked her for her flight information. He told her he would pick her up at the airport. Of course she found that odd, and declined his invitation. He sent out a notice to his customer list announcing her workshop at his shop. Even though the workshop was at my shop. And the weekend of the workshop, he parked his car in the lot outside my shop. He kept his headlights on. It seemed like he was there to take names. Some of the participants even went out to his car to say Hello. Creepy.


My boss and I drove down to Atlanta. At 9am, we found ourselves in the office of the Director. And his tirade began immediately. It lasted almost 30 minutes, at which point, we were ushered into a conference room.

On one side of the table sat several CDC staff members and a transcriber. My boss and I sat on the other side. They ordered us to change the methodology to regression.

I said, No. Regression is not sufficient, given the study they were paying us to do. Look at how much we already uncovered using my methodology.





The lead project office stood up and went to the blackboard. He wrote out the regression formula and sat down.

I went up to the blackboard. I erased the regression formula and wrote the ridit formula. I sat down.

The project officer was back up at the blackboard, and re-wrote the regression formula.

I got up again.

This went on until 12:00 pm noon. We took a break for lunch.

In the world of the absurd, lunch was absurd. One of the most absurd things I’ve ever been a part of.

We all went out to lunch together, as if we were buddy-buddy colleagues. We sat around a large round table. The talk was friendly and covered several topics, none of which related to this project-in-question or any health care or environmental topic. Lunch lasted 1 hour.

Back to the CDC offices. And the conference room. Lunch a distant, forgettable memory. Until 4:00pm, it was the same. Project officer up to the board, then back down. And me back to the board, then back down.

Meeting over. No words exchanged. My boss and I got back in her car and headed to Nashville.

Nothing got said. Nothing ever gets said. Whatever transpired gets ignored. Downgraded. Diminished in importance.

That was true in Atlanta, and that is very true in jewelry world.

Swarovski sells crystal beads made in Austria, and allows crystal beads made in China to carry the same Swarovski label. But there are obvious quality differences: not as bright, more misshapen pieces in a package, holes drilled off-center, finishes which should be permanent flaking off to the touch.

Toho sends their lower quality beads to China, they get repackaged and sold in craft stores like Michael’s. But all under the Toho label. Just like the high quality ones produced and packaged in Japan and sold in bead stores.

Sterling silver is supposed to have copper in the alloy, but manufacturers sometimes substitute nickel for copper to keep the cost down. But both get labeled .925 sterling silver (92.5 percent silver, the rest is the alloy). Sterling with nickel in it is more brittle. Picture an ear wire. There is a loop at the bottom which gets opened up, a dangle put on, then the loop is closed. With nickel in the alloy, you can do this maybe 2–3 times before the loop breaks. You don’t have to worry about the loop breaking with copper.

I joke in my classes that this only affects women, and no one cares. But yes I do. Yes we should.

On the drive back from Atlanta to Nashville, my boss and I were both very quiet. We didn’t speak. A bit in shock. As we got closer to home, I asked my boss if we could return the grant to the CDC. There has to be some hidden agenda we weren’t aware of. This didn’t reflect well on our office in Tennessee.

The next morning, my boss met with the Tennessee Commissioner of Health & Environment. He told her he would replace the money lost from the grant with other money. Everyone in the office would be allowed to keep their jobs. He invited me up to speak with him. He asked me, if he were talking to the press, could he say with certainty that there were problems in these locales. I had to say, No, the analysis I did does not prove anything. It merely presents a flag for looking at something more closely.

For awhile, there was a Bead Society in Nashville. We were active participants. In fact, we gave anyone who joined a 50% discount in our store which would last for a month from their join-date. We worked with members to write by-laws and set organizational goals. One goal was to meet the conditions for non-profit status.

Around eight years after we joined, new officers were elected and radically changed the culture of the Society. The President, Vice President and Secretary formed a tight group. They would not even allow the Treasurer to have access to the bank account. They would not allow the Program Committee Chairperson to plan or participate in any events. The three officers handled all the money. The three officers planned the events. All things they were personally interested in, and all money losers. There was a bylaw stating that if any program were anticipated to lose money, the membership would have to vote whether to continue with it. They ignored the bylaw. The officers spent Bead Society funds lavishly on gifts for themselves. We dropped out of the Bead Society.

Back at the Department office, I remember the phone started ringing. Over and over again. The CDC Environment Director, the lead project officer, other project officers were taking turns calling my boss. One call would be threatening. The next polite. One pleading. Back to threatening. Then polite. After 3 days of calls, my boss was about to cave in. But I told her: They hate us. We’re not doing what they want. They could easily get another state to take the money. Why are they so persistently wanting us to take the money back? It was like a light bulb went off above her head. Suddenly, she realized she had some leverage. We just didn’t know why.

The calls went on for almost a week. One last call was from the CDC auditor. It turned out that when a grant is turned back, it precipitates an audit. The Environmental Division had been skimming over $1,000,000 off the grant which was supposed to go to the state of Tennessee.

Morality is an interesting concept. It is not fixed, I discovered. It can be a moving compass. While working for the state, my own compass kept moving further and further away from that moral center. I was ambitious. I wanted to do great things. But to be included with the powers that be and the activities ongoing, I found I began to accept more and more things as ethical — things I would not have labeled as such years earlier.

I found myself very willing to work with people like my project officer to whom cover up and professional could be used in the same sentence. My own boss liked to access private state databases which listed AIDs patients, people accused as sex offenders, doctors and pharmacists and psychiatrists and other professionals whose credentials and behaviors were under review by the various boards. As sport, and almost daily, she would share one or more of the names with people or organizations not particularly friendly or aligned with these people. I looked the other way. I discovered that instigating a federal audit would automatically stop a state audit. I stopped state audits of several Tennessee officials under investigation for abusing funds. To me, I let it feel OK. I was doing my job.

I’m not sure I would have recognized that my moral compass was shifting a bit too much, were it not for a friend who pointed this out to me.

We didn’t take the grant. The final outcomes from our adventure with the CDC grant mostly came down to things I was told happened, but did not know directly.

· A few weeks earlier, one of our staff came back from lunch and told us she met the most interesting person. It was a lawyer from a prominent chemical company. The lawyer had asked a lot about the kinds of things we did in our office. However, no staff knew any of the details of what was happening except myself and my boss.

· This prominent chemical company, as I was told, owned a superfund site on the Tennessee River at New Johnsonville. They had a deep well where they disposed of chemicals. Four years earlier, unbeknownst to anyone except the company executives, their well had cracked. Toxic chemicals were leaking into the river. The river was the main source of the water supply.

· The chemical company met with the Commissioner. They agreed to fix things. The Commissioner agreed to keep things private.

· The Assistant Commissioner for the Environment, the Tennessee official responsible for monitoring situations like these, resigned the very next day. He took a job with that chemical company.

· I was told the CDC-Environmental division was under pressure to prove that living near a hazardous waste site was not hazardous to your health. The administration in Washington, DC at the time, in order to reduce the budget, wanted to cut back dollars allocated to cleaning up Superfund sites. They needed proof why.

· I took another job.

· The State eventually did do a special investigation in New Johnsonville. In their report, they found nothing.

The idea of morality gets mixed up with ideas about deception, misrepresentation, someone not knowing something, something inadvertent, something right from one perspective and wrong from another, something omitted. It can be a difficult concept to pin down.

But if we view jewelry designers as professionals, then we want to include some reasonable idea about morality into what they do. Or at least, their intent. Jewelry designers, and in fact, government officials as well, are free to make the choices they want to make and determine their own destinies. They are free to stay true to their own values and beliefs. But they need to take a level of responsibility for these choices and where these choices take them. And own up to the consequences.

Moral, ethical and business ethical choices should lead to better impacts on the stakeholders. These include the designer him- or herself, the wearer, the viewer, the buyer, the seller, the exhibitor, the collector, the teacher, the student, the colleague. These impacts involve the experience and sensing of beauty, the comfort and wearability of the pieces, the affirmations these pieces provide, the gaining of something of value, the satisfying of desire, and the sharing of the artist’s understandings, inspirations and visions.

Authenticity is important here. A person should not succumb to broader social and organizational norms. They should be true to themselves. I probably was not sufficiently authentic when I worked for the state of Tennessee. As a jewelry designer now, authenticity is key.

And, while pursuing my Rogue Elephant, it would be amoral and unethical to harm it unnecessarily. It would be just as wrong to halt my pursuit or turn around and head the other way. Pursuing my Rogue Elephant is perhaps the most authentic and moral thing I, or for that matter, any jewelry designer, can do.


Thank you. I hope you found this article useful.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft Video Tutorials online. Begin with my ORIENTATION TO BEADS & JEWELRY FINDINGS COURSE.

Follow my articles on Medium.com.

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

Check out my Jewelry Making and Beadwork Kits.

Add your name to my email list.


Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

What You Need To Know When Preparing A Portfolio

Smart Advice When Preparing Your Artist Statement

Design Debt: How Much Do You Have?

An Advertising Primer For Jewelry Designers

Selling Your Jewelry In Galleries: Some Strategic Pointers

Building Your Brand: What Every Jewelry Designer Needs To Know

Social Media Marketing For The Jewelry Designer

Often Unexpected, Always Exciting: Your First Jewelry Sale

Coming Out As A Jewelry Artist

Is Your Jewelry Fashion, Style, Taste, Art or Design?

Saying Goodbye To Your Jewelry: A Rite Of Passage

So You Want To Do Craft Shows: Lesson 7: Setting Up For Success

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Metals, Metal Beads, Oxidizing

The Jewelry Designer’s Approach To Color

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Stringing Materials

Shared Understandings: The Conversation Embedded Within Design

How Does Being Passionate Make You A Better Designer?

Doubt / Self-Doubt: 8 Major Pitfalls For Jewelry Designers

Essential Questions For Jewelry Designers: 1 — Is What I Do Craft, Art or Design?

The Bridesmaids’ Bracelets

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Choosing And Using Clasps

Beads and Race

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A ‘Look’ — It’s A Way Of Thinking

Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form and Theme

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

5 Tell-Tale Signs Your Pearls Need Re-Stringing

MiniLesson: How To Crimp

MiniLesson: Making Stretchy Bracelets

Architectural Basics Of Jewelry Design

Cleaning Sterling Silver Jewelry: What Works

What Glue Should I Use When Making Jewelry?


CONQUERING THE CREATIVE MARKETPLACE: Between the Fickleness of Business and the Pursuit of Design

How dreams are made
between the fickleness of business
and the pursuit of jewelry design

This guidebook is a must-have for anyone serious about making money selling jewelry. I focus on straightforward, workable strategies for integrating business practices with the creative design process. These strategies make balancing your creative self with your productive self easier and more fluid.

Based both on the creation and development of my own jewelry design business, as well as teaching countless students over the past 35+ years about business and craft, I address what should be some of your key concerns and uncertainties. I help you plan your road map.

Whether you are a hobbyist or a self-supporting business, success as a jewelry designer involves many things to think about, know and do. I share with you the kinds of things it takes to start your own jewelry business, run it, anticipate risks and rewards, and lead it to a level of success you feel is right for you, including

· Getting Started: Naming business, identifying resources, protecting intellectual property

· Financial Management: basic accounting, break even analysis, understanding risk-reward-return on investment, inventory management

· Product Development: identifying target market, specifying product attributes, developing jewelry line, production, distribution, pricing, launching

· Marketing, Promoting, Branding: competitor analysis, developing message, establishing emotional connections to your products, social media marketing

· Selling: linking product to buyer among many venues, such as store, department store, online, trunk show, home show, trade show, sales reps and showrooms, catalogs, TV shopping, galleries, advertising, cold calling, making the pitch

· Resiliency: building business, professional and psychological resiliency

· Professional Responsibilities: preparing artist statement, portfolio, look book, resume, biographical sketch, profile, FAQ, self-care



Merging Your Voice With Form

So You Want To Be A Jewelry Designer reinterprets how to apply techniques and modify art theories from the Jewelry Designer’s perspective. To go beyond craft, the jewelry designer needs to become literate in this discipline called Jewelry Design. Literacy means understanding how to answer the question: Why do some pieces of jewelry draw your attention, and others do not? How to develop the authentic, creative self, someone who is fluent, flexible and original. How to gain the necessary design skills and be able to apply them, whether the situation is familiar or not.

588pp, many images and diagrams Ebook , Kindle or Print formats

The Jewelry Journey Podcast
“Building Jewelry That Works: Why Jewelry Design Is Like Architecture”
Podcast, Part 1
Podcast, Part 2

Easy. Simple. No tools. Anyone Can Do!

I developed a nontraditional technique which does not use tools because I found tools get in the way of tying good and well-positioned knots. I decided to bring two cords through the bead to minimize any negative effects resulting from the pearl rotating around the cord. I only have you glue one knot in the piece. I use a simple overhand knot which is easily centered. I developed a rule for choosing the thickness of your bead cord. I lay out different steps for starting and ending a piece, based on how you want to attach the piece to your clasp assembly.

184pp, many images and diagrams EbookKindle or Print

SO YOU WANT TO DO CRAFT SHOWS:16 Lessons I Learned Doing Craft Shows

In this book, I discuss 16 lessons I learned, Including How To (1) Find, Evaluate and Select Craft Shows Right for You, (2) Determine a Set of Realistic Goals, (3) Compute a Simple Break-Even Analysis, (4) Develop Your Applications and Apply in the Smartest Ways, (5) Understand How Much Inventory to Bring, (6) Set Up and Present Both Yourself and Your Wares, (7) Best Promote and Operate Your Craft Show Business before, during and after the show.

198pp, many images and diagrams, EbookKindle or Print


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