In Touch

Salt of the earth

Source: Businessworld
By: Raoul J. Chee Kee


Aside from acting as source of light, lamps serve an altogether aesthetic purpose. Since most lamps cast light only on certain areas of one's home or office, many of them fall under the category indirect lighting.

Solid salt lamps from Poland (Photo provided by BusinessWorld)According to the Chic Simple Home book (Thames and Hudson Ltd. London), "indirect lighting generates purely emotional responses from people. If a space is romantic and cozy or clinical and depressing, it's because of the background lighting."

One local entrepreneur hopes that aside from just eliciting an emotional response, his imported lamps will make people healthier and less susceptible to allergies.

Late last year, Chi Ho "Rey" Co was skimming through a catalogue when he came across a picture of a salt lamp from Poland that was being distributed by Ng Yan Peng, a Malaysian businessman.

Unlike the sea salt most of us are familiar with, the salt used for the lamps are mined from the earth and look like lumps of unrefined crystal.

When lit, the lamp emits a soothing glow that is also supposed to release negative ions. Air-conditioners, computers, TVs and cigarette smoking produce positive ions that are detrimental to our health.

Based on material provided by Mr. Ng's company that is also the name of the local distributor, scientific tests have revealed that the ratio of negative to positive ions should be 1.02 to 0.98 or, more or less, equal for optimum health.

The number of negative ions, however, decreases when we are exposed at length to the aforementioned items. Even staying in an enclosed room like an office with several other people can deplete the amount of negative ions present.

"Three years ago, a friend of mine gifted me with a salt lamp. I put it in my office, lit it and after several days, I noticed that I didn't have that much trouble breathing," said Mr. Ng who used to suffer from asthma and frequent colds triggered by allergies.

He recounted how he gradually stopped taking his thrice daily medications that were designed to help control his allergies. It never occurred to him that the salt lamp may have had something to do with how he was feeling.

"I tried to isolate the factors that could have contributed to my improved health and I realized that the only new thing I had been doing was lighting the lamp."

Determined to get to the bottom of things, Mr. Ng first went to his former science professors at the university to find out whether salt crystals actually had beneficial properties before approaching the German and Polish embassies.

"I didn't know at first that the lamps were from Poland because the friend who had given the lamp had bought it in Germany," he said.

A few months later, he went to Poland where he spent a week checking out the areas where salt is mined. Mr. Ng then wasted no time and began choosing lamps to be shipped back to Malaysia in a container van. While he said he knew there would be a market for the lamps in Malaysia, he didn't know they would also sell in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, India, Brunei and Australia.

Since January 2002 when Mr. Ng began selling the lamps, he has sold over 150,000 units. In a month, he sells around 6,000 units.

Mr. Co pointed out that even Hollywood has taken notice of the lamps.

"If you caught the recent Hollywood movie, Along Came Polly, you might have noticed the two salt lamps in Polly's (Jennifer Aniston) apartment. We're hoping this exposure will boost sales of the lamp that is currently being sold at a number of local stores," he said.

Mr. Co then narrated how during a business trip to Malaysia several months ago, he showed up at Mr. Ng's showroom and spent a couple of hours choosing three lamps that he then brought home.

"I ended up keeping only one because when a couple of friends came over, they saw the lamps and asked for them. More than anything else, they liked the fact that the lamps gave off a soothing glow. That's when I began thinking that they might also do well in the Philippines."

In a matter of months, Mr. Co was selling the lamps and approaching storeowners whom he thought would appreciate them enough to carry them in their stores. At the moment, the salt lamps are available at the Tomlinson Collection and Raffles Fine Arts shops on Jupiter Street, Makati, Artesian Waterworks at the Podium Mall in Ortigas, and the Westin Sports Club and Spa at the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel in Manila, among others.

More solid salt lamps (Photo provided by BusinessWorld)As the lamps are made of 100% salt, Mr. Co said that they have a tendency to melt when exposed to humid environments such as ours. If left unlit on a tabletop, moisture will form underneath the lamp.

"To prevent this, the best thing to do would be to leave it on 24 hours a day. The heat generated by the 15-watt bulb will be enough to keep the lamp dry."

Prices for the lamps start at around PhP4,000 but can reach as high as PhP100,000 depending on the size although Mr. Co said that the ones that really sell are the smaller ones.

"Once they've tried and liked it, some of our customers come back and buy the larger lamps. So far, we've sold an average of 50 lamps a month since we began selling four months ago," he said.