rocks and lapidary Uncategorized

Back To Railroad Pass, Clark County, Nevada

Railroad Pass, Clark County, Nevada (first RR Pass page here)

More info on RR Pass at my rockhounding site linked below:

March 31, 2020

Yesterday I returned to Railroad Pass (internal link) to further investigate the area. I went before to look for andesite and to simply look the ground over. I was very disappointed not to find any quartz and I wasn’t planning a quick return. It turns out, however, that there is a mad history of failed gold mining on that hill. As a Gold Guy first and foremost, I knew I was going back as soon as possible.

To get to the good stuff first, I did find one rock with quartz. The quartz has the slightest blue tinge which shows poorly here. Never-the-less, I have my quartz. Gold is hosted in dozens of kinds of rocks without quartz, still, it’s the mineral I look for first. Yet it wasn’t what the most prominent prospector and geologist was looking for.

A well respected geologist named Robert T. Hill (1858-1941) became obsessed with the association of a mineral called alunite and gold. This rock building mineral was present with gold at the big Goldfield strike around the turn of the century. Hill developed this idea that if he could find a geologically similar location to Goldfield that also contained alunite, well, he’d be rich. You see where this is going.

Gold fever infects the best of minds, leading common sense astray even in people who should know better. For years he researched the hills of Nevada until he found Railroad Pass. Which went under a variety of names originally, most especially Camp Alunite, or just Alunite. This potash mineral had value by itself and was eventually mined in the area for the mineral alone.

Hill maintained that he found gold here and some other prospectors said they did as well. Yet I can find no records of production. Ordinarily, this would be the stuff of a mining company selling shares on hope and chicanery, promoting the view of a well-known geologist stating that gold was present. Yet Hill did not sell shares. Instead, apparently, he lost most of his personal fortune in this endeavor, along with that of his family, something over $200,000 before he admitted failure. That is really bad gold fever.

His workers sunk at least five shafts into that insanely hard rock. These shafts have since been backfilled to keep equally crazy people from falling to their deaths.

To be fair, other prospectors were working Railroad Pass before Hill arrived but they were few and, again, no results of production. Just assay results thrown about. Gold in “small isolated veins.” And Hill did have the germ of an idea, as alunite is regarded as an indicator of hydrothermal gold deposits, gold which is precipitated from water heated by magma. But Hill went way overboard comparing this ground to that of Goldfield, thinking that if he just mined deep enough he would find his El Dorado.

In any case, this kind of doomed, gold based behavior is very attractive to me. As a prospector I am interested in finding out whether any gold actually exists on that hill. There are also other things going on there, the area is so complex geologically that I could use it as a teaching hill. Who knows what I will find? Yesterday, though, my left leg gave out after only two hours. With my wrenched back I can still hike but I can’t carry much weight. Photos below.

In my previous post (internal link), I showed photographs of this multi-colored hill with little vegetation. Yesterday I took some samples from two of the colors. Today, I got out my hand rock crusher, my mortar and pestle, and am preparing to grind down the material. Then the pan out. For these odd looking rocks and soil I think a chemical test would be best. But I don’t know how to do those and I don’t know what I would be looking for. As a Gold Guy, when in doubt, pan it out. That’s a finishing pan, by the way, about ten inches across.

Update: That tan material might be decomposed granite or what we in the landscape trade used to call d.g. It’s commonly used for footpaths and small outdoor seating areas. It compacts well and doesn’t get muddy if put down correctly. It feels just like the d.g. I used to use. Mining granite for aggregate goes on across the highway, this entire Railroad Pass area described as a “granite pluton.”

Clark County image from the:

Index of Granitic Rock Masses in the State of Nevada By FLORIAN MALDONADO, RICHARD W. SPENGLER, W.F. HANNA, and G.L. DIXON
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy
A compilation of data on 205 areas of exposed granitic rock masses in Nevada

All sorts of rocks here, including what I think is porphyritic rhyolite. Nothing lights up under my lamps and no “U”.

What appears to be a backfilled shaft. Frustratingly, I didn’t see what I would consider waste or tailings from the shaft. Unless that quartz I found came from down below. That lone hunk of quartz was immediately below this small pit.

Another look.

More craziness. Remember how I was trying to source some andesite for a friend? The railroad ballast at the bottom of the hill may be miles and miles of andesite! The two top rocks are railroad ballast. The two rocks below are reference andesite pieces I brought along. While color isn’t always diagnostic, these rocks share texture and hardness and they don’t fizz. Yes, I carry a field bottle with acid. I’m not gettin fooled by limestone, thank you very much. I’ll be mailing off these suspect rocks to my friend.

I found two thin sheets of mica as well, sometimes called muscovite or potash mica. The latter name makes sense here since alunite is a potassium related mineral, hence, one might expect to find related minerals in the same location. Some mica sheets are so large and semi-transparent they were once used as window panes. says, “The ability of muscovite to split into thin transparent sheets – sometimes up to several feet across – gave it an early use as window panes. In the 1700s it was mined for this use from pegmatites in the area around Moscow, Russia. These panes were called “muscovy glass” and that term is thought to have inspired the mineral name “muscovite.”

How would I proceed in looking for traces of gold? I stress traces, since this is only a curiosity hunt. Given the history of this hill and no production records, I can’t expect to find much if anything. I would, though, start at the bottom of the hill. See the railroad track? There are culverts to channel water underneath the tracks. If there are values on the hill I would expect to find some colors at these low points. Sample, sample, sample.

I’d also walk around quite a bit more looking for more quartz and simply looking. The more intensely you look at an area, the more you find. That sounds simple but it isn’t. People tend to walk away from ground way too quickly before really examining it.

Wendi at Minerals Unlimited (external link to my rockhounding site) says she has samples of alunite and that some weakly fluoresce. I’ve ordered a few and she’s putting a small box together for me which she will soon put into the mail. If alunite does fluoresce at all, that will greatly help with identifying it in the field. And I really have to have a reference sample in my hand to research any rock or mineral.
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non-fiction writing Thoughts on writing Uncategorized

The True Believer

The story goes of a town facing a flood. Rain had been falling for two weeks and a dam was about to burst. A mandatory evacuation order went out for everybody to leave. One man remained. He was a true believer who knew God would take care of him.

The dam did break and within hours the flood waters had reached the man’s property. A sheriff’s patrol car arrived at the man’s house and the deputy told the man to get in. The man refused, saying that he believed in God and that He would take care of him.

Within an hour the flood waters had reached the man’s front door and were rising quickly. The National Guard showed up in a half-track and soldiers pleaded for the man to leave. “This is it,” they said. “In ten minutes, even we won’t be able to come back.” The man again refused a ride, saying that he believed in God and that He would take care of him.

The man was finally on his roof, looking at the vast ocean of water engulfing his town. Out of nowhere, a helicopter appeared and a rescue worker was lowered by a rope to bring the man up. Again, the man refused. The rescue worker begged the man to come with him but again the man refused. Since there were other people to rescue, the helicopter took off.

The flood waters overtook the man’s house and he drowned.

In Heaven, the man confronted God. “I believed in you! I had faith. And yet you let me die. You were supposed to take care of me.” God replied, “What do you mean? I sent out a patrol car, the National Guard, and a helicopter.”
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Burying The Lead

What Happened?

About fifteen or twenty years ago a dramatic change occurred in much of reporting. Hard opening paragraphs were replaced with soft. This approach now infects all manner of writing, in and out of journalism. That includes television and radio reporting. Even company writing. I’m revising nearly every opening that comes across my desk.

A standard opening might have been,

“John Smith, 32, was badly injured in a vehicle accident last night on the 215 Expressway. He was the sole occupant of the vehicle which was hit by a big rig driving in the wrong direction. As of press time, Smith remains in guarded condition in the Intensive Care Unit of St John’s Hospital.”


“John Smith was a hard working owner of a bait and tackle shop in suburban Urbana. He had kids, a mortgage, a wife of five years, and a dog. Last night his life was shattered. Possibly forever. For reasons still unknown, a big rig traveling in the wrong direction on the 215 collided with Smith’s vehicle head on. A GoFundMe account has been set up to cover some of Smiths’ medical bills.”

Here’s a lead from a randomly selected law office post on ridesharing:

“Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft have drastically changed the way people get around the city when they can’t or don’t want to do the driving. No one can disregard the fact that Uber or Lyft makes traveling easier and more convenient especially after a night of partying and drinking. DUI’s have reportedly dropped anywhere from 15% to 62% as a result of ridesharing. Car accidents, unfortunately, continue to happen.”

Here’s how I would rewrite the lead:

“Accident cases involving rideshare companies like Uber or Lyft are complex and difficult. The law governing the rideshare industry is rapidly changing and it requires an experienced accident lawyer to keep up. Only such an attorney can get you the compensation you deserve.”

What has happened to writing? Get to the point. Engage in storytelling if you must but open with a concise and informative lead.

Who, what, where, when, why, how. Then, everything else.

Image from:
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Some Ultraviolet Entertainment

Forgive the long load time for this page. You’ll need a fast connection. These three videos will load faster at my Instagram account linked below. I wish everyone good health and hope.
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Railroad Pass, Clark County Nevada

Railroad Pass, Clark County, Nevada — (second page here —>)

Railroad Pass is outside of Boulder City where the dam is located. Bureau of Reclamation land. I’m here above the Railroad Pass Travel Center where there is dedicated parking for the River Mountain Loop Trail.(external link)

This is a good place to explore from. Vehicle security is excellent and the convenience store provides food and restrooms.

A pretty day but no quartz. I lose interest without quartz. Must. Have. Quartz. Highlight was some blue tinged rhyolite, nothing else worth showing. No “U”, little “UV”.

Looking south. The Railroad Pass Travel Center is downslope. Railroad tracks make the best subjects.  As long as some train isn’t coming at you. Trains do not play well with others.

I thought this road might lead somewhere but it only went to the high tension transmission tower.

Setting the footings and erecting these transmission towers must have been hard work in this volcanic rock.

I’ll get my friend to identify this.

Looks like an optunia.

Working on it. For now, DYC. Damn yellow composite.

Didn’t go up that hill! Not with my wrenched back. Lot of rhyolite.
Simple geological map from

A hill of many colors, red, gray, tan, bleached. As if some mineral had leached out of the hill and then weathered.


“Volcanic rocks-[includes some unmapped dikes and small irregular intrusive masses. In north -central part of quadrangle (north of U.S. Highway 93) the contact with unit mapped as volcanic and intrusive rocks (Trvi) is arbitrarily drawn; near that contact most of the unit consists of highly fractured altered lavas and volcaniclastic rocks that are cut by dikes and bleached to various pastel colors as a result of argillc and silicic alteration; away from the contact equivalent(?) rocks are distinctly darker and less altered, such as east of Railroad Pass where conspicuous dark-reddish-brown exposures of grayish-red to grayish-red -purple highly faulted lavas of intermediate composition and interstratified sandy to conglomeratic sedimentary rocks are exposed. The lavas contain 5–20 percent phenocrysts of plagioclase, hornblende, and biotite and minor augite or olivine. The sedimentary rocks contain clasts of porphyritic plutonic rocks of probable late Tertiary age. Near the TV reflector the rocks are intensely sheared by several low-angle faults that juxtapose contrasting lithologies including altered tuffaceous sedimentary rocks and brecciated red and dark-gray intermediate lavas. To the east dark-gray more mafic lavas that are probably stratigraphically lower are cut by numerous white to light-gray dikes.”

Now, I have to read up on argillic and silicic alteration.

Did you notice the reference in the text to the “TV reflector”? That might seem impossible to locate today, however, since I collect old maps, I was able to find it on a 1960s Metsker’s Map of Clark County, Nevada. All old maps are valuable, most especially those showing township, range, and section.

From left to right: mountain bike trail, Union Pacific tracks, River Mountain Loop Trail, HWY 11/95

Blue tinged rhyolite. Hmm. I stop at all things blue. No cutting material.

Technical mountain biking trail. Part of the larger Railroad Pass Loop. My days of this are over. It was fun, though. While I’m sure you won’t believe me, this segment of the trail is so difficult that it’s called The Shit. Look at the Google Map at the bottom of this page. You’ll see.

Can you see what is happening here? Nothing mining related, someone has hollowed out a side in the hill.
I think this may have been a sleeping place for some worker, since daytime temps can exceed 110 degrees in the summer. Maybe best to seek cool earth.

A cloud came over! Clouds and weather played havoc with my magazine article photography. Notice how my other photographs are bright and sunny? And then you have this pall. Not good but you can’t control it other than waiting. What was really tough was when I had to come back to a site a week or two later to photograph some things again.  The look of an area might be completely changed and I’d have a goofy looking selection of photos. Also, FYI, editors want portrait orientation, even if you are shooting landscapes or outdoor scenes. Their layout people always want choices, so try to get a few shots in portrait mode. That arrow points to what I think may be andesite. I am going to find out later.

Really nice looking mud cracks with a popcorn top. I’m sure there is a reason. Life always has more mysteries than answers. That’s what it does.

The truck stop. When you need a powerful symbol for your tough, macho company, always use a cat.

Railroad Pass, Clark County, Nevada — (second page here —>)
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Near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock is on the west side of Las Vegas near the suburb called Summerlin. Only a half hour drive from the Strip.

Many parts of Red Rock Canyon are closed but I ventured out to a hill that is just before the start of the Conservation Area.

I badly wrenched my back ten days ago, landing me in the emergency room, but today I just had to get out.

The highlight was my first desert tortoise sighting. Desert tortoises have been a mythical beast for me since I moved to Las Vegas in late 2015. Much talked about, rarely seen.

I took a few quick photos in a matter of seconds and then retreated quickly to leave him in peace.

Original distance. We associate tortoises with sand but not in this case. This tough, rocky hill has not a wit of sand on it. A geologist of mine was once in a quarry near Barstow breaking rocks for specimens. Rhyolite chunks and boulders all around. A desert tortoise passed by, calmly climbing over the rhyolite chunks, and finally settling down about ten feet away from the geologist. It was still there when he left.

Zoom in photo. I did not get this close!

Where can improve your chances of seeing a desert tortoise? There’s a remote place in the California desert in Kern County called the Desert Tortoise Natural Area:

Official site:

Facebook page:

Here’s what their FB Page says as of March 20:

Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area
March 20 at 3:17 PM ·

“The Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area remains open for public enjoyment during these unsettling times. We only have one Naturalist on staff at any point in time, therefore our Naturalist also remains on site. The safety of our Naturalist, visitors, and community are a priority, so please follow all CDC guidelines when visiting including practicing social distancing and do not visit in large groups. All scheduled events have been postponed until further notice, and we are restricting the number of visitors into our interpretive trailer at any one point in time. The desert spring is in full bloom, the tortoises are out, we have freshly groomed trails, plenty of fresh air and open space for public enjoyment. Stay safe and be well!”

I’d add, take good maps.

Some desert wildlife refuges indicate an area to wander around looking. This sign is on Corn Creek Road, off of I-95 north of Las Vegas. Corn Creek Road leads to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.  I have also seen warning signs at some campgrounds in tortoise country. They say to check under your vehicle before starting off. Tortoises like shade and may take a nap next to one of your tires.

Now, back to my hike of yesterday. Here’s looking east to the Las Vegas skyline.

Massive detention pond for holding rainwater back from the nearby desert wash.

A limestone fest, uplifted marine floor. Much of the black material is probably coral sponges. Maybe?

And a gun range on the west side of the hill, now completely silent.
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non-fiction writing Thoughts on writing Uncategorized

Those Weird, Crazy, Angry People on Facebook — Among Other Sites

I’ve given up for the most part on trying to help people with questions on Facebook and most of the other discussion sites I have participated in. The only forums that work are those where every question and answer is approved by a moderator, on sites where you have to use your real name and have your identity registered before you can comment or post. In these groups you have to act as you would with someone in front of you, with respect, with politeness.

The internet plays host to weird, crazy, and angry behavior that would never be tolerated in person. These people are outcasts to begin with, with no one to listen to their tripe or their diatribes. With the internet, they find a home.

This goes way back to the start of the net. The USENET was really the start of internet wide discussion groups. Before that, discussion groups existed inside of walled gardens like Compuserve and Prodigy. Local bulletin boards also had groups. But everything went big time with the USENET (now what Google calls Groups). There, you had moderated or unmoderated discussion groups on everything from telecom to Barney.

It was a running joke on the USENET about how long it would take before someone would call another person a Nazi. As I remember, it only took six or seven heated comments before someone played the Nazi card. This was back in the mid-1990s. Nothing has changed since.

Now, setting up a website for your own view or opinions is just fine, people can ignore or enjoy what you do. But it is such a poisonous atmosphere to have helpful comments on a public forum ridiculed or questioned that I have simply given up. You can’t sweep sand off a beach. The trolls, like the poor, will be with us always.

What finally did it for me was to have some people criticize what I had suggested without reading my posts. They pointed out things that I had clearly covered in my writing. They’d say something stupid or outrageous to contradict what I had written and then they’d refuse to provide any link or reference to back up their position.

It’s like arguing with a drunk, impossible. None of them ever tried to help people, they just wanted to criticize people who were trying to help. Worse, many of these people would get a like or a thumbs up, obviously from other trolls. These are the muttering street people we have all seen, talking to themselves, shouting at random, getting angry at any point, and always threatening.

Again, this kind of behavior would never be tolerated among people face to face, consequently, the misfits who don’t belong in the real world come to the internet where they cannot be driven out. It’s a sad situation but one that has existed since the start of the net and one that will continue until it ends.
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My Favorite Airline is Helping Out

My favorite airline is JSX (external link) and they are helping out in this crisis. I haven’t written about them before because many people think it is snobbish to fly private. But this isn’t like hiring a private jet to go to Cannes. I’d call them semi-private. And they are trying to do the right thing when many people still have to fly.

JSX, formerly Jet Suite X, is a small, regional carrier here in the Southwest. They are a general aviation outfit, not a commercial carrier. As such, there is no TSA to go through, no bag searches, no overcrowded terminals, and no lines. Southwest does an admirable job but you will never want to fly them again if you can take a JSX flight to the same location.

The JSX people put all of your bags on a cart and from there into the back of the airplane. No real carry on bags allowed, save maybe a small backpack. There are no overhead bins in the passenger compartment so no one struggles to get on or off the plane. I’d say it takes less than 10 minutes for passengers to get on board, usually no more forty or so.

The downside is that they fly limited routes and fares can get expensive but with some searching you can get rates comparable to Southwest. Two across seating, no middle seats. Snacks. Alcohol if you want it. Friendly flight attendants who want to be there.

I once flew back to Las Vegas with several small radioactive mineral specimens in my luggage that I bought from Consolidated Rock and Mineral in Vacaville, California. I can’t imagine what would have happened at a large airport, doubtless I would still be in some locked room trying to explain the difference between unrefined uranium ore and refined uranium ore. You can’t carry just anything, though, they prohibit such items as certain batteries and the like.

The picture below shows the airplane I took on my last flight to Buchanan Field near Walnut Creek, California. Notice the old fashioned steps. Very refreshing. A one hundred yard walk takes you to the airfield parking lot which does not charge for parking.

They go into Oakland International much more frequently but to the general aviation terminal, avoiding the chaos surrounding the terminals of the big carriers like TWA, United, or Delta.

I’m promoting JSX because they lately have been helping people and groups get around the country in this current crisis. Here’s their recent press release.

Although the travel landscape – and the world at large – have changed drastically in the past few weeks, JSX is still taking to the skies and providing essential travel services and solutions.

JSX Assists in Repatriation of Over 100 Senior Citizens

This week JSX had the opportunity to assist in the successful repatriation of 106 U.S. citizens – most over the age of 65 – throughout the country after they arrived at DFW International Airport from overseas. In less than 48 hours, JSX assembled a fleet of planes and crews to fly to 22 cities all across the U.S.

CEO Alex Wilcox was at DFW as the planes prepared for takeoff and had this to say about the extraordinary effort:

“Our crewmembers rose to the occasion, organizing dozens of flights on a moment’s notice to pick up and deliver these special travelers ––all of whom are someone’s grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles––to their hometowns across the U.S. I know of no other non-military group or organization that could assemble a complex airlift that quickly. I am so proud of our team and grateful JSX had the opportunity to step in and get these citizens back safely to their communities and families.”

JSX fleet is available for special missions like this and others across the country, like moving essential goods or medical parts and teams, transporting government and law enforcement professionals, transporting data center operating teams and even legislators and public officials as needed. For more information about chartering our uniquely fitted Embraer 135 or 145 jets, please email or click here.

Guaranteed Single Seating for Social Distancing Onboard

Space is precious – especially when traveling – which is why JSX is temporarily limiting all public flights to 20 customers to ensure you’ll have an empty seat or an aisle, not a person, next to you. This will also further reduce the already small number of people in our private lounges, which are sanitized regularly.

Stretch out for ultimate comfort and peace of mind. Click below to book a flight today.

Search Flights (external link)
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Alain Silberstein And The Triumph of Whimsy

In the late 1980’s, Parisian Alain Silberstein upset the staid watchmaking world by producing fanciful watch pieces the likes of which had never been seen before.

A professional interior architect and industrial designer, Silberstein was so enamored with watches and timekeeping that he created his own watch company. A business with no roots in watch history.

The results were spectacular.

Silberstein’s team concentrated on chronographs which are stopwatch watches. Many were also chronometer rated which meant they kept precise timekeeping.

Note the three buttons on the right hand side. The top button starts the chronograph feature which is simply a timer. Hitting that button a second time stops the counter. The bottom button resets the mechanism. Just the thing for timing your horses at an early morning workout at the track.

The squiggly yellow line is actually the second hand indicator for the stopwatch feature. Rolex and Omega made beautiful chronographs at the time but they never did squiggly.

To be fair, Rolex once went mad with a chronograph using rubies, diamonds, and sapphires around the bezel to create a rainbow effect. The watchband was rose gold and you might pick up an example today for around $50,000. It might be still in production, don’t know.

All those jewels, though, won’t tell you the phases of the moon like a Silberstein. Yes, Alain included a happy looking moon dial that kept track of waning and waxing and gibbous and and all that other moon stuff. So you could track the moon when you weren’t tracking your ponies.

The Rolex Daytona Rainbow or whatever it is called. More gaudy than whimsical or innovative. A sledge hammer approach, hitting you over the head with jewels to say they are the most important thing.

Here’s the Silberstein I bought months ago, photographed by the only authorized Silberstein watch repair company in the United States. Silberstein is still alive but it has been twenty years since he produced these timepieces. My Kronomarine is undergoing a complete service and rebuild. It would have been cheaper to replace the mechanism inside the watch instead of rebuilding it, but I wanted to preserve a crazy part of late 80s’s art. (Which I write a bit more on here – internal link)

For watch geeks, I was sold the watch by a known dealer who did not disclose that the watch could no longer be manually wound. The crown simply spun around but the watch did work after I wore it a while. The chronograph feature worked perfectly. The movement is a 7751 Valjoux.

The watch dealer did agree to pay for about half of the repair cost which was _extremely_ high. The repair service said the self-winding mechanism and the setting mechanism needed repair (damaged set lever clutch and detent), that the amplitude was weak, and that the oil was dry. Along with damage where the stem interfaces with the movement. Sheesh. They will calibrate it, time test it over 72 hours, and then replace the seals and pressure test it. I might get it back in another month or two. As with all watch repairs like this, you pay upfront.

My watch looks much better in person than on this repair bench but I didn’t get a good photograph before I sent it off. Here is a stock photo.

Only 500 of these were produced. In truth, I would prefer a lighter colored Silberstein like the ones pictured above. But I am happy for now and perhaps I can trade it later for a white dial model.

Silberstein paraphrased Flaubert by saying that “True happiness is making your passion your profession.” Or, let’s see if I can get this right, ““Le vrai bonheur est d’avoir sa passion pour métier”.

In their words:

“A watch capturing the quintessence of time, a unique object viewed with a new eye; such are the latest creations of Alain Silberstein. Traditional watchmaking is reconciled with creative vitality. Tecbnology begets poetry. The ‘Formes du Temps‘ collection embodies the thought process of a craftsman, transforming inert matter into vitality. Design and mecbanism are one. The architecture of an Alain Silberstein creation is styled down to the last micron. A warm aura blunts the the sting of time, muting the cold demands of technological prowess. Freedom. Freedom to break the bonds of time and discover a more agreeable tempo of life.”

Double click these images for their full size. This manual is rarer than the watch and sells for over a hundred dollars on eBay when you can find it.

Front page of the Kronomarine instruction pamphlet

Back page of the Kronomarine instruction pamphlet

Front cover of the rare Marine Collection Catalog

Inside pages showing off these wonderfully colorful and playful watches. Double click for full size awesomeness. Right click to save the image.

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