The Plumen 003 – created with sheer beauty in mind. Not intended to blend into the background, the lamp’s creator Nicolas Roope gives darc the inside story on what could be, ‘the most beautiful lamp in the world’.
What would the world’s best lamp do? This is the question British design company Plumen found itself asking five years ago when it began work on its latest lamp release – the 003. The answer? “It would make you and everything around you, look beautiful.”
Reinventing the future of lighting, Plumen has launched a ‘shade in a bulb’, a hybrid, new format of lamp that tames the glare of LED light while putting the magical flame back in. Giving a warm, cosy glow around the sides and a bright clear light on the surface below, the 003 is a practical yet beautiful light. Plumen’s Co-founder and Creative Director, Nicolas Roope takes darc back to the beginning…
“When we launched the Plumen 001 we wanted to create the first beautiful low energy lamp because, quite frankly, every efficient lamp up until that point was boring, ugly and utilitarian. We made the first designer lamp in the low energy category and it worked very well.
“When we started with the 003 project five years ago we knew we’d have to set the bar higher. Going as far as creating the most attractive LED lamp would have been an easier goal, but we wanted to go further.
“The reason Plumen started was to try and inspire the general public to choose efficient lighting technology through the allure of beautiful design. We’ve sold over half a million products but have only really scratched the surface. The reason being, that the traditional filament lamp is such a fantastic product and lighting experience that it’s an incredibly hard act to follow.”
Having spent two years researching developments in LED technology and how different brands were trying to recreate the beauty of incandescent lighting, designer Claire Norcross worked with the Plumen design team to shape the lamp envelope and element silhouettes.
“We wanted to improve the look, the light experience, its ‘real world’ efficiency, as well as the standard benefits of moving to LED,” says Roope.
At Plumen the idea is to revolutionise formats and as such R&D takes a very different course and really starts at the fundamental questions about how different technologies, materials and formats interact. “What we’re trying to find is the kernel of something really interesting and powerful at its essence, and therefore something that can scale and range across products whilst maintaining a certain quality of look and lighting experience.”
While previous Plumen products have worked within the scope of existing production methods for lamp manufacturing, with the 003 some elements needed to be sourced from other sectors because of the unique materials and processes. One of the things the team kept going back to when contemplating the beauty of the incandescent was how the light really appears to burn in the heart of the lamp. “When you read old quotes from around the times of the Edison lamps you realise how magical and mesmerising they were (and still are),” says Roope. “Many described how the glowing elements seemed like it burned like a small slice of the sun.”
As such, a principle part of Plumen’s ambition was to create something that felt like a really convincing element that appeared to burn and that convinced the eye that it was alive. “Many still complain of the coldness and flatness of LED and our thesis believes this is because, on inspection, LED lamps don’t feel magical.
“We got to a point where we’d created metallic elements that were incredibly beautiful but lacked something. The surface needed to spread the light across, so the silhouette of the element shape would appear more full from a distance. The reflected light lacked texture and some of this illusive magical quality we wanted to create. We started playing with making impressions onto the parts, which on one hand drew the light out across the surface and on the other created a very ornate and interesting effect on the reflected light.”
It was at this stage that jewellery designer Marie-Laure Giroux worked with the Plumen design team to fine tune the element faceting design and colour and material surface texture.
Now jewellery might seem like a very different discipline to lighting design but it’s much closer than you think according to Roope.
“A jeweller must work with many of the same qualities of light as we do in lighting. Reflection in both metals and precious stones and the optical effects refraction and internal reflection have in cut stones. A great jewellery designer manages all these qualities, working in the different colours and textures of each material. So a jewellery designer IS a lighting designer. And as we wanted to create some magic in our element, involving a jeweller in the production made a lot of sense.”
While the look and feel of the 003 lamp were of upmost importance to Plumen, creating the ‘best lamp in the world’ meant delicately balancing aesthetics and technology in order to make a product that progresses on as many fronts as possible. “The 003 had to look as fantastic as it could but also perform as well as possible, and of course be delivered at a relatively affordable price,” says Roope.
“These issues are often in tension but it doesn’t mean they have to fight each other,” continues Roope. “We’ve seen many products come to market that look great but don’t work as well or the other way around. If you want to tick every box it’s a tougher brief but you can get there, it just takes more time, more exploration, more imagination, more trials. What I love about the Plumen 003 is how it’s a beautiful but very useable product that reconciles looks and use perfectly.”
So how does the 003 work? How has Plumen balanced aesthetics with technology? The light output from the LED chip, which is mounted in the 003’s lamp base is managed by a structured optic that carries light through the centre of the metallic elements. Some of the light is kicked off by refracting sections of the beam onto each metal element. The light is also bounced on the golden faceted material, providing an indirect light source to the user that is both lower in intensity and also warmer in colour than the source, creating a beautiful image and a very flattering light on skin, much like candlelight.
The majority of the lumens however, make it out of the end of the optic and flow onto the surface beneath, providing an even 2,700K light – a really balanced warm white light that illuminates food, drinks, books and so on.
“So it provides the general ambience of a dimmed incandescent with the bright, task orientated spot,” says Roope. “And it creates a really strong architectural accent light with a hard-working spot, so will allow specifiers to create a completely different environment and lighting effect.”
Describing the lamp’s construction and method for distributing light as ‘unique in LED products’, Roope says: “We’ve seen most LEDs settle into using either general diffusion or optical distribution in their approach to taking directional light sources and making them omnidirectional, and of course with filament LEDs spreading the chips out themselves to enable the light to spread out. We have taken a unique approach that combines optical control with reflection that has been resolved by the way we use the optics as structural components to hang the elements so no shadows are cast.”
With so much choice in the ‘designer energy saving lamp’ category, Plumen has created a fixture that is much more luxurious in both its look and effect in comparison to other products in the market. “We wanted to do something spectacular so allowed the costs to follow this ambition,” says Roope. “If the 003 goes as well as we hope, then we will look to launch different colour and material variants to create very different looks and experiences. And we’ll also look at adapting the construction into many different formats to work across different styles and interior treatments.”
Reflecting on the project, Roope describes the most significant part of the journey, telling darc: “I think it was the first time I saw all the elements coming together. There’s been a full team working together on this and those long runs in the dark are challenging. You’re sharing a vision that no one else can see yet and it’s their trust in you alone that keeps things moving. But then, when things fall into place and everyone can start to see where it’s going it’s a huge boost.
“When we started firing up the first working prototypes it was a similar situation, we could see how special the feeling was from our theoretical assumptions and beliefs. The first time we set the final production models properly – above our meeting table – was for Prince Andrew’s visit to Plumen in the spring of 2016. It was wonderful sharing our journey for the first time with the Duke, but the atmosphere in the room the 003 created was incredible and really created a positive conversational atmosphere. It was at this moment I knew we’d created something special.”