I have only owned one thing made in New Zealand, a rather nice plastic pen I picked up in a library or somewhere that I reluctantly threw away when it ran out. But I have never owned anything from Belarus.
Like most Americans, I know little about Belarus except that it is said to be not very nice to live in, filled with Soviet-style buildings and Soviet-style friendliness. It is run by an allegedly iron-fisted guy named Alexander Lukashenko (aka Lukashenka) whom the West ardently dislikes.
Lukashenko’s resistance to Western-backed “shock therapy” during the post-Soviet transition has met great resistance from the U.S. and Europe. Belarus is labelled as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’ by much of the West. Western governments accuse Lukashenko of an authoritarian style of government. Lukashenko responds that his policies are the only alternative to instability, and have spared Belarus from the poverty seen elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and from powerful networks of organized crime known as the “Russian mafia.”
Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials are also the subject of sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States for alleged human rights violations off and on since 2006. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, under Lukashenko’s leadership, Belarus has largely maintained government control over key industries and eschewed the large-scale privatizations seen in other former Soviet republics.
So that’s what I know. I don’t intend to boast of my ignorance about Belarus, I really don’t. I am ashamed not to know more about the countries of the world. However, the embarrassing fact is, it was with astonishment that I read over and over on gemological websites that Belarus is the source of the finest loupes in the world. A state-owned company there apparently is run by people with world-class standards.
It is silly to assume a country accused of human rights violations can not produce fine technology, but I did. As a self-flattering American, I imagine such countries being as technologically backward as their regard for rights. But in short, BelOMO loupes, unlike Belarus, are highly esteemed everywhere.
I really want a BelOMO loupe. There’s my fascination with fine technology without moving parts again. Further, not only do these loupes themselves have the lapidary appeal of a gem, seeming to attract light, so tiny and so bright to hold sparkling in the hand; these loupes, like that pen from New Zealand, also bear the mystique of a faraway place that may as well exist only in my imagination. What, after all, does New Zealand smell like?
New Zealand and Belarus are not the only lands I imagine. Philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about the wonders of magnifying lenses as far back as the seventeenth century:
…another astonishing prodigy, let him behold the tiniest things he knows of. Let a mite show him in the smallness of its body parts incomparably smaller, legs with joints, veins in the legs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapors in the drops, which, dividing to the smallest things, he wears out his imaginative power…
How did I get to this point of craving a little piece of Bearus? A few years ago, I had become interested in buying a diamond for myself (my shopaholism again). I observed how grading drastically affects the price of a diamond, and even though there are terrific websites for diamonds for information and sales, wondered how well anyone in daily life could see the flaws in a tiny stone 5 or 6 mm in diameter. Then, fatally, I read the justifiably famous 1982 article “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” that persuaded me that a diamond was a poor use of money.
By then, I had become interested in gems of all sorts. I realized that the non-famous gems were cheaper than the so-called precious stones, and could look just as interesting. I spent huge amounts of time on Multicolour.com and the now-defunct site of a now-deceased gemstone cutter.
Ultimately, I decided that even semiprecious stones were not for me in any serious way. Just not my style. Perhaps I will write about them another time. But years later, gemstones or not, I still want a BelOMO loupe. If I can’t have a diamond, I can at least have something diamond-like.
My fevered imagination leads me to imagine studying everything from cockroach legs to the paint on the stair railing outside my building, a whole new world just in the city. I thrill to the thought of my hot little paws holding an exemplar of small, affordable excellence.
Nevertheless, being honest as I strive to fight my shopaholism, I have nothing I sincerely want to look at with one. Presbyopic as I am, I do perfectly well with a sheet magnifier made of a plastic Fresnel lens costing just a few dollars. Admittedly, my work has me often encounter print smaller than people normally see, but I need nothing more than that flexible sheet of plastic I store shoved between my computer and my monitor.
So again, I covet a thing without having any use for it. It would just become junk in the chowder. But if you or anyone you know want to see something small but not microscopic, the gemological community seems to be in consensus that you cannot do better than a BelOMO loupe.