Size vs. Cost – The inversion Point

To make a long story short, I had to purchase a small item to make an inherited piece of jewelry truly wearable. As those of you who have been around things like jewelry, airplanes, certain other vehicles, and various pieces of occasionally touchy equipment are aware, there’s a point where the price to size ratio inverts. The smaller it is, the more it costs. I actually had someone joke once that we should call it the Marx Point, because labor added more value than did the raw materials. (Note that we were talking about restoring furniture, including trying to match chipped veneer and inlay. Tiny pieces of wood, lots and lots of very careful work.)

This isn’t necessarily because the small thing secures a larger thing, which keeps everything held together. The prime example of one of those is the nut that is found on the top of a helicopter rotor, colloquially known as the “Jesus nut” (Spanish pronunciation of Jesus.) Or that one last lugnut on the tire. You know, the one on that car.

No, I’m thinking of small items that are complex, or delicate, or that require a great deal of precise assembly or carving or machining to make. The amount of effort put into making the piece exceeds the cost of the stuff. In my case, buying the thing was optional, but I want to be able to wear the larger item. I’m as fond of jewelry-box queens as I am of hangar queens and gun-safe queens. If I can’t wear it, no matter how pretty or discounted it is, I don’t need it. Since this item has some family history behind it, having the new bit added (it will be removable without damaging the original thing, don’t worry) makes sense.

Restoring old airplanes and old furniture is similar. If you can’t find the part, you have to make the part. This may require a lot of machining, special permission from the FAA (or changing the category of the plane if you are willing to accept certain limitations on use), and expertise. I got to watch an expert create a carbeurator air box for a radial engine after the original, ah, suffered prolonged contact with the ground while the engine and attached airplane were in forward motion.* The 1941 version of the box had been cast, something that could not be done now without investing more than the cost of the airplane. So the new one was welded and bolted. Welding sheet aluminum is an art. Making the air flow control “flapper” was even more of an art. The box assembly is, oh, six inches by six inches? It’s been a few decades since I last saw it. The materials didn’t cost that much. Love and labor? A great deal.

Likewise making inlay or veneer for furniture. Back in the day, people paid for inlaid pieces in order to show their taste and disposable income. The market has shrunk since the late 1700s, to put it mildly, but some craftsmen still make and repair that type of furnishing. There’s a lot of planning, precision, handwork and attention to detail required, obsessive attention to detail in some cases. The cost of the section of inlay far exceeds the dollar cost of the materials. But ah, the results!

*Someone (I was on on board the aircraft) decided to be helpful. They moved a switch without telling the pilot-in-command or being asked to move the switch. Very expensive noises followed. Don’t be that person.