Mining an all-Corian jewelry store

A luxury jeweler's flagship store had to reflect the precious nature of the product. The design team's solution: an artificial diamond mine, carved out of Corian.

August 11, 2010

Jacob & Co. Fine Jewelry caters to star customers like singer/actress Jessica Simpson, rapper 50 Cent, Victoria's Secret model Gisele Bundchen, and soccer star David ("Bend It Like") Beckham. Founder Jacob ("The Jeweler") Arabo features his celebrity customers in the "Who's Wearing Jacob" section of the company's Web site, so it's obvious that Arabo wants his diamond-encrusted watches and other precious jewelry to remain a recognized status symbol of the glitterati. His business is all about the social status and glamour of fine gems.

In designing the company's flagship store on East 57th Street in New York, Arabo's friend, Peter Arnell—chief creative officer and chairman of the New York-based advertising and design firm Arnell Group Innovation Lab—wanted to create a presentation space that was as luxurious as the jewelry itself. Arnell headed a group that developed the concept of a grooved and stratified interior designed to elicit the feel of being in a diamond mine. Instead of rock and earth, this mine became a 1,200-sf space clad entirely in half-inch-thick DuPont Corian panels.

"It's the material that best lent itself to the building process," Arnell said. "It had never been done before on this large a scale with a vertical surface, so we had many meetings with the Corian people, engineers, and scientists and the fabricator."

The 12-foot-high, 112-foot-long front façade of the store is also entirely clad in Corian with horizontal grooves of varying depth and width carved in it that lead directly into the shop's interior. In all, 1,800 sf of Corian encase the store. It was chosen by the Building Team from among a handful of materials deemed suitable for both indoor and outdoor presentation because it resists salts and pollution yet also evokes the high-end look the owner desired. Corian also allowed for the creation of a single sheet of wall surface that extends from wall to ceiling and interior to exterior. The grooved striations continue throughout the store's interior and are designed to visually guide customers through the shop.

Carving out a mine

To create the distinctive look, Arnell's design team, which included Phillip von Dalwig and Jung-Ah Suh, made hand sketches and then diagrammed them in Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator programs. They made design development and construction documents describing the shape and size of the Corian panels in AutoCAD. The dimensions of each panel were determined by the size of the large, glacier-white Corian sheets purchased from DuPont, as well as by the material's expected expansion and contraction. Arnell said the varying widths of the grooves and striations were determined by distorting a photo of light penetrating a diamond and then translating that effect into three dimensions to determine the depth and width of each line.

"Since this was the first project that was this extensive, we had to engineer and specify the work on both the design and construction elements, to show that it could be done," said Arnell.

The documents were then translated into a computer numerical controlle

 
The Jacob & Co. jewelry store in New York is encased in glacier-white Corian paneling. The grooves and striations cut into the Corian were designed to evoke the look and feel of a diamond mine, but with a more precious material.

d (CNC) milling program. A team from Arnell and New York-based professional fabricator Evans & Paul then built the three-quarter-inch-thick plywood and steel framing system on which the Corian would be mounted before cutting the large panels to size. After the panels were milled and their intricate patterns were carved in a Bronx workshop, they were glued to the plywood and metal framework.
 

"We used a laser system to carve all the grooves," said Jeff Evans, project manager for Evans & Paul. "All the panels are removable, so they were mounted to their frames with self-supporting metal Z-clips and then glued in place."

A precious presentation

While the Corian walls, floors, and ceilings were designed to evoke a sense of luxury for the rich and famous customers of Jacob & Co., the grooves and strata of the walls were meant to serve as a wayfinding mechanism to lead customers in and make guide them through the store.

"The scale of the store is rather small," Arnell said. "We wanted to respect that scale by adding very fine detail that gave it a more intimate feel. At that scale, you get a better sense of the whole continuum of the store."

Glass shadow boxes are encased in the Corian cladding throughout the store; some display cases stand diagonally, jutting out from the walls like uncut rock. Camouflaged drawers and windows were created to avoid interrupting the panel's grooves. A Corian drop ceiling has recessed lighting designed to make the jewelry in the cases sparkle in a pattern similar to the "rock strata" in the walls' grooves.

 
 Singer Jessica Simpson with proprietor Jacob Arabo.

The Arnell Group also developed the shop's accessories, such as mirrors, wall-mounted brackets, and tiles for displaying necklaces, watches, and earrings. In addition to the showroom, the store also has a built-in aquarium, multimedia center, and consultation room for celebrity clients. Neither Arnell nor Jacob & Co. would reveal the cost of the project.
 

Arnell did say he wanted the look of the store to evoke both meanings of the word "strata," both the rock strata of the walls and the social stratification and status that Jacob & Co. caters to with its celebrity clients.

"It's always interesting to work with modern materials," said Arnell. "Finding a way to create this presentation was the right challenge."