Quality, pure and simple

Quality is an elusive attribute, but you usually know it when you see it. For my part, I keep around a small memento that captures it very well, and comes from my years – long ago – as a forensic scientist. My main job at the time was around electron microscopy of invisible evidence, but there was also, at the other end of the complexity spectrum, a lot of straightforward examination of picked and mangled locks. I and my coworkers had ample opportunity to study the locksmith’s domain, and it was then that I put on one ring two simple cylinder lock keys from long forgotten origins that I felt capture the gap between high and low quality. Here they are: one made by Corbin and one by Nabob. Can you tell which is the better quality one?

Two cylinder lock keys

The better one is the Corbin key at the right. The feel for its quality is more obvious when you actually hold it, but the photo may suffice. And it goes more than skin deep, though the design of its bow (the “handle”) is certainly more thoughtful and elegant. Here are all the other ways in which the key at right is better than the one to its left:

  • Thickness. The Corbin key is thicker, hence more durable. In fact, the Nabob key already shows some bending along its blade, though it’s hard to see in the photo; were it in use, it would eventually break.
  • Profile. The Nabob has a flat blade, meaning its lock would admit any flat object to serve as a lock pick. The Corbin has a deeply convoluted cross-section that would make picking far more difficult (though still easy for a professional – these are both simple, low security keys).
  • Number of pins. The Corbin’s lock has six pins; the Nabob has five (reflected in the depressions on the blade). More teeth, more combinations, longer time to pick. (You can see this in my lovely cross-section of a lock, pictured here).
  • Quality of the combination. The teeth in the Nabob are almost the same height, making it far easier to pick with a straight pick. The Corwin has great height variations.

So many differences in such a trivial everyday object… do you wonder why I keep this pair as a representation of quality?

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