Tape measures, simple rulers, yard sticks, folding construction rulers, architect’s scales, drafting tools, metric conversions – all methods of visual, dimensional and physical measurement and common references for length or distance to make life more precise. “Measure twice and cut once” is a common tip when working with anything that can’t be restored with CTRL-Z or F12. The concept of time and our way of measuring it using clocks and watches has infinite graphic options, but a basic ruler doesn’t vary too much apart from the form, material, and font used. These internationally recognized units of measurement create our standard of relativity. When segmented into pieces, this point of reference and the use of the measuring instrument become jeopardized.
Living in Italy, I have adopted the metric system, rather than using the imperial, and measuring has become exponentially easier…by zeros! Here are exerts from an explanation of the two systems…along with some examples of jewelry I have fabricated incorporating the metric system.
Some history about international systems of measurement
The French Revolution gave rise to the metric system, and this has spread around the world, replacing most customary units of measure. In most systems, length (distance), weight, and time are fundamental quantities; or as has been now accepted as better in science, the substitution of mass for weight, as a better more basic parameter. Some systems have changed to recognize the improved relationship, notably the 1824 legal changes to the imperial system.
In antiquity, systems of measurement were defined locally, the different units were defined independently according to the length of a king’s thumb or the size of his foot, the length of stride, the length of arm or per custom like the weight of water in a keg of specific size, perhaps itself defined in hands and knuckles. The unifying characteristic is that there was some definition based on some standard, however egocentric or amusing it may now seem viewed with eyes used to modern precision. Eventually cubits and strides gave way under need and demand from merchants and evolved to customary units.
In the metric system and other recent systems, a single basic unit is used for each fundamental quantity. Often secondary units (multiples and submultiples) are used which convert to the basic units by multiplying by powers of ten, i.e., by simply moving the decimal point. Thus the basic metric unit of length is the metre; a distance of 1.234 m is 1234.0 millimetres, or 0.001234 kilometres.
Imperial and US customary units
Both imperial units and US customary units derive from earlier English units. Imperial units were mostly used in the British Commonwealth and the former British Empire but in most Commonwealth countries they have been largely supplanted by the metric system. They are still used for some applications in the United Kingdom but have been mostly replaced by the metric system in commercial, scientific, and industrial applications.
US customary units, however, are still the main system of measurement in the United States. While some steps towards metrication have been made (mainly in the late 1960s and early 1970s), the customary units have a strong hold due to the vast industrial infrastructure and commercial development. The effort is proceeding slowly due to the overwhelming financial cost of converting the existing infrastructure. US companies which trade internationally are more likely to use the metric system due to international standards and certifications such as ISO9000. The metric system is preferred in certain fields such as science, medicine, technology and the military. The building profession uses US customary units, though architects working internationally are increasingly adapting to the metric system.
A number of metric systems of units have evolved since the adoption of the original metric system in France in 1791. The current international standard metric system is the International System of Units. An important feature of modern systems is standardization. Each unit has a universally recognized size.
Both the Imperial units and US customary units derive from earlier English units. Imperial units were mostly used in the British Commonwealth and the former British Empire. US customary units are still the main system of measurement used in the United States despite Congress having legally authorized metric measure on 28 July 1866. Some steps towards US metrication have been made, particularly the redefinition of basic US units to derive exactly from SI units, so that in the US the inch is now defined as 0.0254 m (exactly), and the avoirdupois pound is now defined as 453.59237 g (exactly).
Metric systems of units have evolved since the adoption of the first well-defined system in France in 1795. During this evolution the use of these systems has spread throughout the world, first to non-English-speaking countries, and then to English speaking countries.
In the early metric system there were two fundamental or base units, the metre for length and the gram for mass. The other units of length and mass, and all units of area, volume, and compound units such as density were derived from these two fundamental units.
The current international standard metric system is the International System of Units (Système international d’unités or SI). It is an mks system based on the metre, kilogram and second as well as the kelvin, ampere, candela, and mole.
The SI includes two classes of units which are defined and agreed internationally. The first of these classes are the seven SI base units for length, mass, time, temperature, electric current, luminous intensity and amount of substance. The second of these are the SI derived units. These derived units are defined in terms of the seven base units. All other quantities (e.g. work, force, power) are expressed in terms of SI derived units.
Update: Don’t miss Art Jewelry Magazine’s online exhibition of Hardware Store Jewelry!