David Morgan Review: Erco Eclipse

5th June 2020

David Morgan shifts his attention to Eclipse, Erco’s newest LED spotlight range, inspired by the Mario Bellini modular range of the 1980s.

Erco is one of the most interesting and influential architectural lighting companies. Still family-owned after 86 years and employing 850 staff worldwide, it continues to develop innovative ranges of luminaires and to promote itself as selling ‘light’ rather than luminaires.

The company, originally named Reininghaus and Co, was founded in 1934 by Arnold Reininghaus with two partners, Paul Buschhaus and Karl Reeber, who had all worked together in the electrical industry. Although the German economy was suffering from the worldwide depression, Reininghaus and Co grew into a successful mid-size company in this period and its name was abbreviated to the phonetic Erco. The earliest products were lighting components, including ingenious sprung loaded and balance rise and fall pendant mechanisms for sale to the lighting industry. 

As the company grew in the immediate post-war period, the product focus was on mainly decorative and domestic technical luminaires. The change in direction, which led to the architectural lighting company that we are now familiar with, started in the mid 1960s when Reininghaus’ son-in-law, Klaus Maack, took over the running of the company. He realised that the home lighting market was subject to short product life cycles and identified a new approach based on providing sophisticated lighting tools for architects where providing the right quality of light rather than lighting products was the key focus. He felt that investing in complex luminaire systems rather than individual products would yield longer product life and higher margins. He also understood the contribution that design and marketing could make to the transformation of the company.

During this era, Erco worked with many leading industrial designers to produce distinctive and cutting-edge luminaire designs. The distinctive Erco brand identity, designed by Otl Aicher was also developed during this period to encompass all the visual aspects of the brand and the ‘Light Not Luminaires’ campaign won a German marketing award. In recent years, however, the luminaire design style has become more muted and neutral with an overall corporate product design style being applied without input from named external designers. 

The latest development from Erco is the new Eclipse spotlight range, which shares the name and some design concepts from the original Mario Bellini designed modular spotlight range from the 1980s.

Many of the design ideas from this icon of 1980s design are still evident in the new range, although the lighting technology is now all LED instead of using halogen and HID sources. The interchangeable reflector modules, designed with an SLR camera lens aesthetic, fitted onto a common body housing a magnetic transformer. The new Eclipse range takes that concept and expands the scope to an amazing extent. 

With more than 28,000 options, it is a remarkable design and engineering achievement that took almost four years to complete. It is understood that the product definition and design development was a multi-disciplinary process involving members of the Erco sales, marketing, technical and production teams. The Eclipse development was apparently one of the most extensive and complex development projects in the company’s history.

There are five spotlight sizes in the range, starting with the smallest size at 32mm in diameter, which delivers up to 375 lumens from 3.2W. The largest size at 145mm diameter delivers up to 6,468 lumens from 58.4W. All sizes of spotlight incorporate integral drivers.

The spotlights can be mounted onto three types of track adapter. The three smallest size spotlights are available with an adapter for 48V LV Minirail track. All five spotlight sizes are available with a 230V AC InTrack adapter that fits within the profile of three circuit mains track with DALI conductors to give a fully integrated appearance. The three smallest size spotlights are also available with adapters for standard three circuit track. To complete the mounting options the track adapters on the low voltage spotlights can also be mounted into 230V track with a custom-designed adapter incorporating a 48V DC transformer.

Standard LED light engines include six fixed colour temperatures with a CRI of up to 97, tuneable white and RGBW options. Four add-on filters enable the fixed LED colour temperatures to be fine-tuned on site. A wide variety of glare control accessories including snoots and barn doors are included in the range. Up to three accessories can be attached to each spotlight using the bayonet system.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the Eclipse range is the optics. Each spotlight size incorporates a light engine fitted with primary lens. The light output from the primary lens is then modified with a secondary optic, which attaches to the spotlight with a bayonet fixing designed for single-handed assembly and disassembly. Rotate clockwise to attach and anti-clockwise to remove these lenses. As you would expect, the range of secondary optics is ample; for each size there are three symmetric fixed spot beam angles, two fixed wide symmetric beam angles, two zoom options – one symmetric and the other rectangular, two elliptical distributions, a wall washer and a framing accessory with adjustable shutters. The Darklight wide lenses produce a soft edge beam without any spill light and provide good visual comfort with a 60° cut off angle. 

The quality of the light output from the two samples I examined was good with even distributions, no colour over angle issues and only a few slight imperfections in the beam on a couple of the lenses. The elliptical distribution from the 35mm diameter sample produced a remarkably wide thin blade of light. 

Dimming control is achieved with a very neat add-on module that plugs into the back of the spotlights. One version provides local manual dimming, the multi-dim module provides DALI, push dim and phase dimming while other modules provide Casambi or Zigbee wireless control. A combination of manual and remote dimming does not seem to be an option at the moment.

The build quality of the samples I tested was generally acceptable, although I found that the moulded lens fixing bayonet ring came loose on one of the 60mm lenses. The lenses on the 60mm sample were rather loosely held and could be pulled off quite easily without rotation. It is possible that the samples I tested were from a pre-production batch and perhaps this would not be an issue with production products.

The overall design of the spotlights was well-executed with no visible screws and the body castings include a perforated pattern that pays a small homage to the earlier Bellini design, which is a nice touch. Some of the design detailing on the mounting-bracket seemed rather idiosyncratic and did not correlate with the body casting design. Apart from these small details, the overall impression and the optical performance of the samples was excellent. Considerable effort has been taken to minimise any stray light leaks.

The Eclipse range is a major development for Erco and is likely to be very successful in its target markets of galleries, museums and premium retail brands.