LEDs are both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they help jewelers maximize the energy used, meet new stringent local electrical codes, illuminate their jewelry with sparkle and save on maintenance costs. The sustainability story associated with LEDs appeals both to Millennial and Baby Boomers. If you save energy, you lessen the CO2 emitted. A curse because there is so much choice in fixtures, quality and colour temperature, plus glare.
Colour temperature is the Kelvin designation of the LED, indicated with the initial K. When LEDs were first introduced to jewelers, they fell in love with the high colour temperatures – 5000K, even 6000K – but they forgot about what humans, their customers, looked like under these colours. Now we consider 4000K to be the best average for illuminating both jewelry and customers. There are new LEDs on the market that intermix 3000K with 6000K, both in light rails and lamps. This is one option to explore. Just as big, just as important a breakthrough is colour select, where you can test the colour temperature you want by dialing the white temperature on a control panel and then setting it. This has one great advantage if you like technology – you can change the colour over the different categories of merchandise as you move it within your cases – diamonds and platinum get cooler light; coloured stones and gold get warmer. With this option, you need to make sure that the manufacturer you are working with has a uniform white from fixture to fixture. If you are considering dimming your LEDs, be careful of achieving the right level of light with no flicker. Only digital dimming can prevent this problem. (A little aside about flicker – I have been testing A lamp replacements with LEDs in my apartment. So far, a number of them flicker when they are turned on and then stabilize.)
An LED is a bright dot – if you look right at an LED, there is glare. Light rails installed at the back of showcases must have a well-designed light rail so that you can illuminate the jewelry but not your customers’ face. A number of light rails rotate or they have a shield – either works for eliminating the glare. When you put a vertical strip of LEDs in a wallcase, make sure that it has a good diffuser on it so that you don’t get a reflection of bright dots in the back of the case (although many jewelers don’t mind those dots). If you retrofit existing track lights with LED bulbs, angle them so that they illuminate the case and that any reflective glare goes into the staff’s eyes, not the customer’s.
How do you implement LED lighting into your store? We do suggest that you test the colour temperature of the LEDs you will be using – although the standard is 4000K, many customers prefer cooler or warmer. LEDs are superb at adding sparkle. They are not so good for rendering diamond colour. Fluorescent is good at this and adding fluorescent for ambient lighting is requested by many fine jewelers selling high end diamonds. Fluorescent lamps are best used in the 3500K range, a neutral white, using as high efficiency lamps and ballast system as possible. LEDs have increased their light output, even in the last 6 months, so higher ceilings (10’ or 11’) can definitely be considered as a design option.
What is the coming movement in lighting? Controls that monitor the light output based on the daylight available, occupancy in offices, dimming for parties and timers for on and off lighting are the coming technology. At the moment, this means a great deal of wiring connecting fixtures but in the fairly near future, this will be accomplished wirelessly. Stayed tuned!