Jewelry lighting has come a long way in a short time, thanks to technological advances and one Texas company that focuses its lighting expertise on the industry.
Brent Neal, senior lighting consultant at Eastern Lighting in Stafford, just outside Houston, took three Gemological Institute of America courses to earn his Accredited Jewelry Professional diploma. “It’s just an example of how we are focused on the special lighting needs of jewelers,” Brent says. “You won’t find many lighting professionals who study jewelry to help them better understand their customers’ perspective.”
Eastern Lighting also joined the American Gem Society as a sustaining member earlier this year, and Brent led a seminar on lighting at the group’s annual conclave in Miami.
“I’ve been here almost 10 years, but the owner, Warren Wang, started the company 20 years ago,” Brent says. The company has evolved from halogen to high intensity discharge (HID) metal-halide lighting to light emitting diode (LED) technology, all the way keeping the jeweler in mind.
“The way it started, Warren had a relative in Taiwan in the lighting business,” Brent says. “Warren had been a chemical engineer here, and at that time, low-voltage track lighting was the thing. He drove around Houston to stores, selling lighting.
“He noticed jewelry stores were his best customers because lighting was a bigger deal to them. He heard from some of his customers about trade shows and started going to Tucson, doing exhibitions. After a while, halide technology, which had been around a while in streetlights, etc., became available in track lighting. So in the mid to late 1990s, metal halide started to catch on with jewelry because the lighting was more intense than halogen.
“White light looks better on jewelry. Warren could go back to his existing customers in the Houston area and say, ‘Hey, let me show you this new light, and he’d put it up in the same track they already had. So he was able to take it from there.”
Brent, who’d taken voluntary severance from his job in mutual funds, joined Warren in 2003. “At that time, we just had that metal-halide lighting; that’s all we sold,” he says.
“One show Warren goes to is the International Gem and Jewelry Show; he goes every couple of weeks to different parts of the country. It’s in Houston three or four times a year. Most of the people there were his customers, and most of the people there were selling fine jewelry using showcases.
“They would put bars over the showcases and strap lights, so that was a big market for him, selling tracking. Half of those people selling beads, etc., on tabletops were using photography lights, lighting it up with high-wattage lights, up to 1,000 watts. We said, ‘Let’s try metal-halide technology; it only uses 150 watts, and it’s white light.’
“His customers at first were skeptical, but little by little they bought it. Someone might be at a show in Indiana, and their neighbor would say, ‘Where did you get that?’ and call us up. That product really took off. That’s a major part of our business now.”
On the independent jeweler side, as metal halide started to wane, LED started to get better, Brent says. “Going back 10 years, LED reached the point where it had real applications for lighting - commercial and residential. In the case of jewelry stores, they weren’t interested so much in energy saving and durability – they liked it because it makes the jewelry look so good.
“There was one company making the LED lighting for inside showcases, but it was limited. We came up with a good design and started exhibiting. We had a lot of success with that, and a year or two later, technology advanced so much that we could have LED lighting above showcases, in the ceiling with track lighting and recessed lighting. Now we have even more options with LED lighting.”
Eastern Lighting takes pride in remaining “the industry’s gold standard in quality, value, and service,” assuring its customers that “keeping with our charge to ‘Illuminate the Path to Profit,’ all retail lighting technologies are continuously evaluated with the intent to provide products to make your showroom stand out from the crowd.”
“We’re not a steady advertiser with JCK like some of our competitors, but we focus on dealing more with the customers by calling on them, dealing with them, visiting their stores,” Brent says. “When I started, I’d just drive around, looking on both sides of the street for a jewelry store, stop and give them a business card.
“Now I find stores on the Internet, call them on the cell phone and if they want, I come visit. With a GPS, everything is a lot more efficient. I used to visit 12 or 14 stores back then without selling anything. Now I’ll visit just two or three, and I’ll usually sell something.
“We sell all over the world. Most of it in the United States; I would say we have a little stronger presence in the Southeast and Texas, but we sell in Maine, Canada, Honduras, South Africa – all over the place.”
Two Businesses in One
Eastern Lighting is different from other companies because it acts as two businesses, Brent says. One is the trade show side; the company is very close to its customers. “We talk to them, get their ideas and develop products they want. Others can’t or won’t do that. Warren attends shows all over, even in Hong Kong. If there’s a certain window display, or a customer wants a certain type of light, he’ll make a prototype and take it to the trade shows and sell it.”
The other facet is the company’s retail side. “I visit the stores, ask them what they’re using, what they like and don’t like,” Brent says. “I bring samples, get opinions and upgrade lighting so they can make more sales and save energy, too.
“I spend a lot of time visiting stores and getting their opinions. Instead of pushing it and advertising it, I go out there and see what they like and show them different samples. With LED showcase lighting, we used to have this idea that the stronger the light the better. Later, we came out with one that was less powerful. I show a customer both options, and sometimes they’ll surprise me because I think they’ll like the stronger one, but they may not see much difference and go with the less expensive one. If there’s a black background in the showcase, having a stronger light doesn’t make that much difference. But white reflects light back; it’s personal taste.
“If I get out and show people their options, they’ll be happy long-term. I’ll go to jewelry stores that are nice and new, and it’s common to find that they’re disappointed in their lighting. They had someone do it who’s not an expert in jewelry lighting.
“Jewelry is a very tricky thing to light. You need someone with expertise rather than a typical lighting designer. A piece of the equation that the typical lighting designer doesn’t get is how diamonds are going to look under that light. These are the kinds of things we know more about. When a jeweler is building a store or upgrading a store, we’re in a position to show them what their options are. That’s our business here at Eastern Lighting.”