How to Spot a Fake/Replica Arco Lamp

We all know there can be a price to pay for genuine quality. All across the marketplace, you have the option of buying something cheap or shelling out a little more to get the real thing. That is as true when it comes to lamps and furniture as it is in just about every other walk of life. Now, we have discussed the Flos Arco Lamp before here, but that raises a question: how do you spot a fake Arco Lamp? Would you know what signs to look for?

Sometimes it is dead easy to shine a light on the difference. Some knock-offs look what they are – cheap and nasty. It takes only a few milliseconds to realise that the savings are just an illusion. The one claiming to be a bargain won’t last, and it won’t be long before you are out shopping for a replacement. Buy the real thing, and it could be there to pass on to your heirs.

The problem is that some arch enemies of the real Arco are clever. They don’t make “fakes”, they make “replicas” and still charge a decent whack of money. Bottom line, though, is that they still aim to profit from the justified reputation of a firm like Flos. Their products may last a little longer than the ultra-cheap stuff, but they must be slashing quality to cut costs.

For things like the Flos Arco Lamp, the enlightened thing to do is pay what it costs to go real. That way you are going to be delighted with your lamp, not de-lighted by a fake. 

History of the Flos Arco Lamp

Let’s remind ourselves exactly what the Arco lamp is. After all, it didn’t emerge as a folly; highly trained craft creators carefully designed it to fulfil a function and keep doing so decade after decade.

The iconic masterpiece was the brainchild of a pair of brothers, Achille and Pier Castiglioni, in 1962. The specific issue they were trying to solve was to come up with an overhead table light that did not have to stay in the same place all the time. If circumstances changed and the table had to be moved, the light could move with it.

The Milan-based pair’s Italian roots probably helped them with the answer they found. While people have known about arches for at least 4,000 years, it was the ancient Romans who first solved all the engineering challenges they posed. They exploited the potential to build some of the most iconic structures on the planet, ranging from 100-mile long aqueducts to the Colosseum.

Achille and Pier Castiglioni found a way to anchor the lamp in a block of Carrara marble, allowing the thin stem to arch high and wide without needing any further support. They added a flower-like lampshade, and the original Arco Lamp was born. It quickly became an international favourite and has even starred in Hollywood films. 

Marked Out for Quality

The Flos Arco Lamp was such a success that rivals have copied it time after time. Remember, all the copies still depend on the original designers to have solved the major problems. With quality, nobody does it better than the creator. After over 60 years making the lamp, Flos have ironed out all the potential problems.

If you are offered what looks like a Flos Arco Lamp but don’t want to risk a shift to the dark side, the first, and most obvious, thing to look for is the makers’ mark. Look through the perforated lamp casing, and you should find “Flos” etched on the edge. If it’s not there, it’s a fake.

Flos always mark their work, and there should never be any genuine doubt about what is real and what is not. The label has been trademarked, so it would be illegal for any other manufacturer to use it. It’s an easy way to spot a fake Arco Lamp.

It’s All About the Base

The biggest giveaway when looking at a fake Arco lamp is almost certainly the base. It may look like a simple lump of rock, but it does a key job. Achille and Pier Castiglioni carefully thought through both its design and engineering.

First and foremost, they made it from Carrara marble. The quarries in northern Tuscany that produce this have been in operation since the Roman period. Then, people called it Luna Marble because of its sheen, and it remains special. Early engineers used it in iconic structures in the centre of Rome, ranging from the Pantheon to Trajan’s Column.

It never went out of fashion. Michelangelo’s statue of David was just one of many sculptures he carved from Carrara marble, and he was far from being the only artist to see the potential in the delicate decoration and high tensile strength of the stone. These days you can see it used in places as different as the Prem Mandir (Temple of Love) in India, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and Marble Arch in London. It truly is the go-to stone when art and quality are in demand.

No, surprise then that Achille and Pier Castiglioni decided to use it for their iconic creation. It comes from quarries – there are over 650 known sites – in the Massa and Carrara region of Tuscany, a little north of Pisa. That’s only about 150 miles from Milan, where the Castiglioni brothers were based. To them, it was the local stone and since their father was a sculptor, they knew all about its qualities.

A Weighty Matter

The stone is dense and solid, so it acts as the perfect base for the lamp. In its apparent simplicity, however, there is a surprising amount of engineering. It has to be small enough to be moved but big enough to anchor the rest of the lamp.

Every block of Carrara marble is unique, the patterns are natural, baked into the stone by volcanic heat millions of years ago. It looks good, and you never come across the same pattern twice. 

Then come the features added to the marble in the manufacturing process. The Castiglioni brothers carefully calculated the size and shape to give it maximum stability. The detail even extends to the bevelled edges that give it a softer look and the size and placement of the trademark hole at the top.

That hole is there for a reason. Achille Castiglioni was worried about how people could move the block  – remember that is an important feature of the lamp – while it was still solid enough to stop the lamp falling over. The answer was to calculate the right spot and drill a hole through the stone. People could stick a broom handle through, and use that to lift it.

Even then, moving it is not easy. The block should weigh 65kg, about 10 stone, so it is a job best done by two reasonably strong people. An Olympic weightlifter might manage it on their own, but for most of us mortals, it is definitely a two-person job. The hole, however, means there is something to hang onto.

The Light is Right If It’s Slim

Another way of spotting the fake is to look at the stem that joins the lamp to the base. It should be slim and elegant. Some copies come with square tubes and are easy to spot. Others are round, just like the real thing, but feel clunky and coarse. Flos make the real stem of stainless steel with a satin finish. There are three sections that slide effortlessly over each other to produce its delicate arc while maintaining the perfect balance.

On an original Arco, you can extend the telescopic metal stem to be as much as seven feet long. If it’s authentic, you will be able to pull and push it easily to get the exact size you want. Each piece fits snugly into the next. A fake lamp may include additional extenders that you have to screw into place to adjust the length.

Keep Fake Arcos in the Shade

The other giveaway on how to spot a fake Arco lamp, is the shade. Achille and Pier Castiglioni modelled their original on Paris street lamps and added a flower-like shade to focus the light where you need it. It should shine on the outside and glitter on the inside. It looks the part of a quality product.

The fakes don’t have the same style about them. Some are not even made in the zapon-varnished aluminium that is a feature of the real thing. They may come in plastic or some other material that allows them to be made in a variety of colours. That’s a complete giveaway, there are no coloured shades on genuine Flos Arco lamps.

How Arco Fakes Changed the Law

It all matters. The Flos Arco Lamp became such an iconic work that it even changed the law on design copyright in the UK. That’s a real claim to fame and a good reason to lean how to spot a fake Arco Lamp.

The story started in 2011 when Samantha Cameron, whose husband David was then Prime Minister, had bought a fake Arco lamp. The news hit the headlines. At the time, there was nothing illegal about manufacturers mimicking such iconic designs, the copyright had run out years earlier. But since she was a fashion brand ambassador, it still infuriated many people.

That was enough to spark the Equal Rights for Design campaign to give designs the same copyright protection that is given to works of art, music and literature – 70 years after the death of the creator.

Michelle Ogundehin, then Editor in Chief of Elle Decoration magazine, but now better known for her TV work on shows such as Interior Design Masters and the Great Interior Design Challenge, started it. Backing came from Sir Terence Conran, Sir James Dyson and thousands of clothes who signed the petition.

It worked too. In 2016, the government changed the law and the case of the fake Arco lamp in Downing Street had run its course. It really had been a lamp with a difference. So now knowing how to spot a fake Arco Lamp is vital.

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