Everyday Physics: In Which We Explore Antoine Lavoisier’s Law of Conservation of Mass

I’m the jewelry volunteer for Steeple People Thrift Store.  Whenever anyone donates a watch or necklace or fancy hair barrette or ring or dental gold (!!!) or bracelet, the item gets dumped in a plastic tub labeled “jewelry”.  I haul the loot home, spread it out over a dropleaf dining room table, sort it, repair it, and price it.

Jewelry volunteers at Steeple People tend to burn out after a couple years.  They get sick and tired of having crap all over their living space.  I’m quite tolerant of clutter.  Unfortunately.  At one point my jewelry activities occupied three dining room tables.  (You might ask why we own three DR tables, but that is another post entirely.)  Around Christmas, I used dark chocolate to bribe my mother into helping me reduce the jewelry footprint and now I’m down to the aforementioned 1890s walnut dropleaf table.


IMG_5862What does this have to do with physics?

Once upon a time there lived a man.  The man ran a gift shop.  The economy tanked, people elected to spend their money on food, and the man arrived at the distressing conclusion that he must close his shop.  After the liquidation sale, he donated the remaining inventory to the local thrift store.  The man bought a one-way ticket to Pasadena, became a mortician, and lived happily ever after.

Cebu, Phillipines must be a hotbed of cheap jewelry manufacturing.  Two hundred pounds of the stuff, all labeled with country of origin, littered my home for several days.


IMG_5739En masse, the pile felt extraordinarily overwhelming.  To calm myself, I imagined the sea creatures and trees that provided shells, coral, and wood for the jewelry.

A lovely abalone, munching on kelp in the Sulu Sea.  Along comes a sea otter for a tasty snack.  The discarded shell turns up in a bead factory, is converted into an iridescent necklace, and exported to Minnesota.  The necklace languishes in the back room of a gift shop for many years, collecting dust and dead bugs.  Eventually, it finds a new temporary home at Steeple People Thrift Store.

On 1/21/14, a regular customer spots the necklace and knows she MUST have it for her upcoming cruise.  She tucks the lovely piece into her suitcase with her Imodium and escapes the frozen tundra.  While ashore in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, the flimsy base metal clasp breaks and the shell beads leap off her neck to the floor of a dimly lit restaurant.

Fourteen beads end up in the trash and are hauled to a landfill near the Atlantic side of the island.  Over time, the beads break down into calcium, silicon, and magnesium, and the elements are incorporated into a sea hedgehog.  Eleven beads remain wedged in the crack between floor and wall for fifty years until the restaurant burns down.  Seven beads wind up in the palm of the cook’s young daughter.  She glues them to a piece of cardboard with bits of string and broken glass, “Te amo abuelita” inscribed at the base.

Matter is neither created nor destroyed, merely transformed.

Musical Moment 1 

Musical Moment 2

Musical Moment 3

PS: If you wish to make a tax-deductible jewelry donation to Steeple People Thrift Store, please send me a message.  I make house calls for collection/estate evaluation (separation of wheat/chaff, real/fake, heirloom/not) provided you live locally and I know you.  : )

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