Displaying Jewelry in the Best Light

One of the most important aspects of jewelry store design is display lighting. Yet jewelry store owners often treat lighting as a cost rather than a tool to boost sales, say interior designers and lighting manufacturers.

“People cannot look at lighting as an expense, but rather as a way to increase sales and profitability,” says Mickey Minagorri, director of business development for Artco Group, a Miami-based planning and design company that also manufactures store fixtures. “You can have the most beautiful store and the best jewelry, but in the end you want to be able to present your jewelry in the best possible light.”

Dimitri Smolens, president of DSD groupe design, an interior design firm in Montreal, agrees: “The most important part of a store is the jewelry showcase counter.”

Keith Kovar, a principal of GRID/3, a New York City interior design firm, says jewelers have become better informed about the importance of display lighting. “Jewelers as a whole are more aware of lighting than they have been in the past, and what it can do for them,” Kovar says. “It is one more way to get an edge in order to make your store more attractive than the guy down the street.”

Lighting priorities. These days, designers and lighting manufacturers recommend that lighting for showcases come from above and inside the case.

“The majority of the people we’re working with are doing fluorescent lighting in the case off the back, then metal halide or tungsten halogen or both in the ceiling above,” Kovar says. “That way, when you bring a piece of merchandise out, it’s also lit. What happens with some people is that they put good lighting in the case, but the lighting outside the case isn’t sufficient. So we’re trying to make the overhead lighting do two jobs.”

Minagorri agrees that the best display lighting comes from above and inside, with special emphasis placed on lighting from above. “You don’t want anything that’s going to block the view of your product,” he says. “The light in the showcase is basically a shadow light. True light needs to come from above. But you still want some light inside the case.”

Smolens has three “priorities” for lighting showcases:

  • First, proper lighting should not cast shadows and should allow the product to sparkle.

  • Second, when the customer is in front of or leans toward the showcase, he or she should not cast a shadow over the product.

  • Third, heat and coloring of the light source should be calculated and controlled.

“The best lighting is a combination of types of lighting at various locations,” he says.

Inside the showcase. Like the other designers, Smolens says he prefers to place the light source at the top and back of the showcase so it doesn’t interfere with the view of the jewelry. He says he prefers using a fluorescent light with a front cover reflector. He prefers T-8 tubes (as opposed to the standard T-12 tube, which is thicker), but the new trend, he says, is to use T-5 tubes.

“The fluorescent should cover the entire back length of the counter,” he explains. “There are some designers who prefer the fluorescent light at the front of the showcase, but we at DSD groupe design feel that a glass-to-glass butt joint at the front of the showcase gives complete visibility of the product. Because we deal with very small merchandise we want to maximize its visibility at all times.”

The color of light changes as its temperature changes. Light warmth is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Kelvin temperature is defined in terms of the appearance of a light source—that is, how the light source itself appears—and is measured in degrees. Temperatures of less than 3000 K produce “warm” colors that have a reddish appearance. From 3400 K to 4500 K light is white or neutral in appearance. Temperatures greater than 4600 K produce “cool” light that’s bluish in appearance.

Smolens says that as a general rule, the fluorescent light temperature inside a display case should be around 3000 K to 3500 K.

Above the case. There are two choices for lighting from above, Smolens says: the MR-16 halogen bulb or the PAR-38 halogen bulb.

“The choice as to which one to utilize depends upon the designed environment,” he says. “If a higher ceiling is above the showcase, then the PAR-38 bulb is best because it gives a better and stronger light beam. The ceiling should not be higher than nine feet above the finished floor level to keep the effectiveness of the lighting. The spacing between the PAR-38 lights should not exceed three feet [center to center] and the utilization of a flood light is recommended.”

Smolens says he generally recommends the 60-watt IR – 3500 K bulb. However, if the ceiling is higher, the spacing between the light fixtures must be reduced to provide continuous overlapping light on the top of the showcase.

The other alternative for overhead lighting is to suspend a light fixture utilizing an MR-16 halogen bulb (50-watt or 37-watt, 3500 K).

“The trick here is to offer the same lighting level at the showcase top. Since this type of bulb has less strength capacity, we recommend that the bottom of the lighting fixture be no higher than seven feet above the floor level and that the spacing is closer—less than two feet apart, and 18 inches is recommended.”

Since suspended light fixtures come in an immense variety of shapes, designs, colors, and types of diffuser shades, Smolens says that the choice between the MR-16 bulb and the PAR-38 bulb often rests on aesthetics.

MR-16 bulbs are very light, offer a slightly better “sparkle” to the color rendition (making them good for jewelry), and are flexible enough to accommodate different designs. “However, if the store design calls for higher ceilings and a more minimalist design expression, the PAR-38 is the route to go,” Smolens says.

Measuring the light level at the showcase level is also important, he says. “We always want to ensure that the above lighting offers at least 70 foot-candles [a foot-candle is equal to one lumen per square foot], in addition to the fluorescent’s lighting level inside the showcase. Overall, at least 100 foot-candles are desired.”

Budget lighting. While a combination of lights from above and inside a case produces the best result, if a jeweler can afford only one source of lighting, most agree that the lighting inside the showcase should be dropped. Advances in lighting have made it easier and more affordable to light jewelry from above, says George Halvatzis, vice president of Econo-Lite Products, a Jersey City, N.J., lighting manufacturer.

“Some of the lighting technology is so strong and efficient you don’t have to put lighting in the case,” Halvatzis says.

“You definitely need lighting above the showcase, because when you take the jewelry out they need to see it,” adds Mike Lahijani, owner of Future Designs by Lahijani, a Miami lighting manufacturer.

Metal halide is one option to consider for lighting above display cases. It is approximately four times more powerful than halogen lights, and with a life span of 10,000 hours it’s more efficient than most other lighting.

Lahijani says that the 4100 K of light that metal halide produces can be used not only for diamonds but for all jewelry. “It’s right there in the middle, a good color where everything looks good under it. It’s being used for color, gold, white goods, everything.”

Ideally, he says, metal halides should be positioned at least six feet above the showcase.

“You don’t need as many fixtures as you would with halogen,” Lahijani explains. “If you have a six-foot difference you would put them three feet apart. If the ceiling is shorter you may put them closer. If it’s higher it lights a larger area so you may place them a little farther apart.”

If the ceiling-to-floor space is eight feet or less, Lahijani recommends using halogen lighting.

Working with professionals. Some jewelers work with interior designers to provide lighting solutions. Others work directly with lighting manufacturers. These professionals know that proper lighting creates better-looking products, which can mean more sales.

“We work with jewelers in order to bring their lighting up to another level,” says Halvatzis. “We try to develop a lighting program that will truly increase their sales. We don’t just say, ‘Try these lights!’ We try to get the physical measurements of the store and then send them a layout with the costs. We also provide them, at no cost, a number of lights to show them how they enhance the products.”

Working with professionals also helps retailers avoid common pitfalls, such as demanding too much light, Artco’s Minagorri says.

“Some people are obsessed with having a very powerful amount of light,” he says. “They do everything they can to maximize the amount of power. The amount of light for each case and for each product has to be different. What we do sometimes is use a different combination of lights. We determine where the showcase is sitting within the exterior light, the general lighting for consumer areas, whether a soffit light system is being used, and what products are going to be used in the different areas.”

Although the investment in lighting is a significant one, using professionals the first time often saves money in the long run.

“We find that about 25% of the cost of the store is in the lighting and the electrical that goes with it,” says Grid/3’s Kovar. “It’s the second-largest cost in building a store. It’s something that people should seriously be considering. In some cases, we’re being asked to relight stores because they conclude that what they have is not working.”

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