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Jewish World Review July 22, 2002 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

An earful of strength and beauty | CASTLE ROCK, Colo. Sometimes, when you're far from home and feeling a little down in the dumps, a piece of news arrives out of nowhere and fills you with bliss.

If you're really lucky, the piece of news will make you know that you have served some purpose on this Earth -- that you have made a difference.

So it was on a recent morning when I received a message from the Timken roller bearing company.

Faithful readers of this space will recall that, several summers back, I worked myself into paroxysms of ecstasy over my new favorite thing: Timken roller bearings.

This had started when I had passed a Timken truck on the highway, had remembered the heavy-industry name from my growing-up years (there had been a Timken plant in my hometown), and had realized that I didn't have any idea what a roller bearing even was.

Subsequent queries revealed that roller bearings are perhaps the most necessary and least celebrated products in the world. You never see them -- they are inside of products, invisible unless you have to take the products apart. They are used to reduce friction and save energy -- they are composed of cups, cages, cones and rollers, and they are used in machines ranging from cars and airplanes and space shuttles, to computers and dental drills. Timken, I was informed, manufactures 26,000 different kinds of roller bearings -- some small enough to balance on the tip of your finger, one seven feet across, which you could walk through.

Roller bearings may be the most self-effacing of devices, but if they didn't exist -- as one Timken employee told me -- we would all experience "the sound of massive grinding, and sparks flying, and things overheating."

What stunned me was how beautiful a roller bearing was. Never seen by the public, a roller bearing, it turned out, is gorgeous -- all chrome and dark metal, with the rollers themselves protruding provocatively from the circular perimeter of the bearing. . . . I was getting a little carried away in describing the pulchritude.

An engineer at Timken's headquarters in Canton, Ohio -- his name was Chuck Faigley -- agreed with me that a roller bearing is a work of art, and I asked him if Timken had ever considered producing roller bearings as jewelry.

"Excuse me?" he said, clearly wary.

I told him that often you will walk down a city street and see women looking longingly in the windows of jewelry stores -- but no piece of jewelry I had ever seen was anywhere near as elegant as an industrial roller bearing. I suggested that Timken make earrings out of them.

"Roller bearings as earrings?" Faigley said. "Don't you think a roller bearing would be a little heavy for an earring?"

"I don't think so," I said. "Women are very strong these days. And by the way, how much does the typical roller bearing cost?"

"Less than five bucks for a smaller one," he said.

"You'd have to raise the price," I said. "People don't want to think that their jewelry is cheap."

Faigley hurried to get off the line.

Well . . . that was a few years back. And the other day, while on the road, I got word from Timken:

They have begun to produce Timken roller bearing earrings.

"It was a pretty good idea, actually," said Timken executive Elaine Russell Reolfi, who wears them.

The earrings are made from actual roller bearings -- small roller bearings, used in airplane instruments -- and sell for $35 a pair for the stainless steel version, or $375 a pair for 14 karat gold with diamond centers. (They are definitely not available at America's snootiest jewelry stores, but Timken sells them at the factory in Canton, and at

"There's something very attractive about the shape and the lines," Reolfi told me.

"Thank you," I said.

What a wonderful day -- knowing I had helped to make this a better world. I had one question:

"Pierced or dangling?" I said.

"They're pierced, but they dangle," she said.

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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