for a moment, Liberace playing a piano. You see the man, you see the candelabra
but look closer. Have you ever noticed, during a close-up of his
hands, that amazing, mirror-like finish on the piano? A finish so glossy
and rich that you can actually see Liberaces fingernails? That finish
is called piano finish, and its recently been carving out a niche
in the world of corporate gifts and awards.
finishing is a new twist on an old idea. Nicely finished wooden gifts
and awards have been around for ages, but piano-finished products have
quietly slipped into center stage in the industry. While so-called piano
finishing has been around for many years, it has traditionally been
applied to musical instruments: pianos, of course, but violins and cellos
idea of finishing pianos with a high-gloss varnish is relatively new,
considering that pianos have been around for nearly three hundred years.
Most old pianos were finished with either a shellac or a varnish. In the
1960s, polyester and polyurethane were introduced. These finishes became
popular for both their extreme luster and the durability they lend to
the piano case.
to Peter E. Ilaria, marketing manager at Tropar, piano finishes got their
start in the recognition and identification industry from clock cases
manufactured in Asia. Some of our customers looked at those clocks
and said, This would make a great plaque, says Ilaria.
We were hesitant to try it at first, but people kept requesting
it, so we decided to try it. The first three plaque lines we offered in
a piano finish were well received by the industry, and that convinced
us to expand our offering of the product.
piano-finished look is so rich that it started showing up on desk sets,
picture frames, jewelry boxes and plaques. The deep, glossy coat doesnt
come easily, and the work that goes into creating this look ensures its
place as a higher-end product that largely appeals (but is not limited
to) corporate buyers. No matter who ends up buying them, its not
likely that piano-finished products will be going away any time soon.
Creating The Look
finishes wont take to just any wood they must be applied
to hard wood. Anything else, according to Jerry Singer at Classic Medallics,
doesnt work as well. A soft wood like pine doesnt work
because its not dense enough, he says. The wood keeps
absorbing the lacquer. Also, you have to be careful to use a high quality
board with no impurities, because with all the coats of lacquer, youre
really picking up the grain of the wood.
ash, walnut and rosewood are often selected for piano finishes, though
cedar is sometimes used as well. Rosewood is very popular, because the
woods deep red color comes through so beautifully when lacquered
that it doesnt need stain. In fact, rosewood stains are often put
onto other woods, such as walnut, to create a deeper finish than you would
achieve otherwise. Black piano-finished items (called ebony)
are also growing in popularity.
what is the actual process a piece must go through to become piano-finished?
Its all in the lacquer, and theres a lot of it. Whether its
a clock, a frame, a pencil holder or something else, the piece is coated
with a high-gloss lacquer, then polished, and then the process is repeated.
And repeated and repeated. Some pieces take up to 16 coats of lacquer,
and the final product can have a lacquer thats up to 1/16"
amount of lacquer that is applied to a piano-finished piece varies between
suppliers. Using less lacquer has the benefit of making the item more
laser-engravable and less costly to produce. Then again, it might have
less shine than a piece having more coats of lacquer. While no industry
standards exist to define how much lacquer constitutes a piano-finished
product, all piano-finished products have, to one degree or another, a
glossy, deep finish that conveys importance, wealth and class.
Personalizing The Products
effects of engraving on piano-finished items (such as plaques) can be
amazing. The shiny finish of a gold relief or a brass plate on the deep,
rich tones of the piano-finished plaque creates a strikingly reflective
piece. Piano-finished plaques can be lasered, and adding a gold color
fill creates the same, reflective effect that adding a gold plate does.
Any color can be used as a color fill, says George Surprenaut
of R.S. Owens, though gold is probably the most popular. Ebony-colored
plaques with a silver fill are also highly reflective and create the polished,
rich look that many buyers are looking for. (A note of caution: while
lasering can produce beautiful results with piano-finished products, it
can be difficult to achieve the look youre after. How well the board
lasers will depend on the amount and type of lacquer used, so it may take
a few tries to master the process. Look for a future EJ article on how
to laser engrave piano finishes to help guide you through the process!)
Roof, president of A-Frame Awards in Flint, Michigan, has joined sublimation
and piano finishes together to create a whole new look. We do a
tremendous amount of full-color sublimation, he says. If you
have the right computer, printer and software, you can reproduce on metal
exactly what you see in a photograph. You put that on a piano-finished
product, and the result is really magnificent.
The Piano Finishes Among Us
world of piano-finished products is still somewhat new, but its
growing, says Ed Gusfield of TPI. The finish is so good, its
just about everywhere on upscale award and gift items, he says.
A-Frames Ben Roof saw piano-finished products for the first time,
he says, nothing had to convince him to start selling the items in his
store in Flint. Ive been in this business since 1961, and
Ive seen it all. I dont get excited about anything anymore.
But this is totally brand new. When the salesman brought that first piece
in it was a desk clock by Tropar it was instantaneous. I
knew we had a winner, and I became really excited. These pieces are revolutionary.
asked if he was a convert when it comes to piano-finished products, Roof
laughs. Convert is not the word! Im a charter member.
Roof has been carrying the products for over five years, ever since they
first came out. I carry Tropars full line of piano-finished
products, he says. Plaques, desk accessories, clocks . . .
all of it.
because the market is growing, all of it includes quite a
range of items. Piano-finished name plates, for example, are becoming
increasingly popular, as are note holders, pen sets, pencil holders and
business card holders. But piano finishing isnt just for desk sets;
the finish is just as popular (if not even more so) in the area of corporate
awards. Any honor will feel more honorable when its conferred with
a glossy piano-finished plaque that boasts an engraved brass plate. The
same goes for trophies: a highly polished piano-finish on a wooden trophy
base results in a look worthy of royalty.
whether corporate or not, are also being covered in piano finish. Wooden
boxes, all sorts of clocks (from gyroscopes to desk clocks), picture frames,
picture albums and shadow boxes all take beautifully to the finish.
the price of piano-finished plaques will vary from company to company,
piano-finished items generally cost somewhat more than regularly-finished
items. According to Tropars Ilaria, the price difference is not
a problem. They generally cost more than a walnut plaque,
he says, but the price difference is not enough to stop people from
buying it. If Im at a show and I do a side-by-side comparison with
a walnut finish and a piano finish, people see how nice the piano finish
is. If I ask them, Which do you think you could charge and extra
dollar, or two dollars, or even five dollars for?, no one hesitates.
They see the luster and shine, and the price is not an issue. Most retail
buyers see it that way too.
Source provides many piano-finished items to suit a variety of needs.
you venture into the world of piano-finished products, youll want
to let people know what makes your new line of products different. But
how do you go about it?
says that the pieces sell best with a hands-on approach. The
end-user needs to see and feel the item, he says. And whether youre
going to display your products in your store window or take them to meetings
with corporate buyers, you might consider comparing a piano-finished item
with a regularly-finished plaque as well, so that buyers can truly see
the difference between the two. According to Ilaria, A side-by-side
comparison of a walnut plaque and a piano-finished plaque will sell the
piano finish 90% of the time, even though the price is a little higher.
The best way for dealers to sell the item is to prominently display samples,
preferably nice-looking, engraved items.
piano-finished pieces photograph so well, you might also consider showing
them off on your Web site. Its not as dramatic as letting potential
buyers hold the pieces in their hands, but a Web site is a terrific way
to let your clients know whats new, whats hot and what they
need to buy.
to Roof, the products literally sell themselves. Its very
easy to move a customer from an ordinary wall plaque to a piano-finished
plaque, he says. Its somewhat the power of suggestion,
but its really just the look of a piano-finished product. Its
the best. If a plaque is going to a high-profile person who already has
lots of plaques on their wall, you dont want to give the person
less than what they already have. So I tell them, Maybe this is
what you ought to consider to make your award stand out above the rest.
Roof adds that its not just corporate people who are buying these
items. Its everyone, he says. Churches, you name
it. Its the whole wide spectrum.
Here To Stay
products have been quietly making inroads into the world of corporate
gifts and awards for the last few years. What started as a beautiful finish
for clocks has grown into other areas of awards and gifts, and the horizon
looks bright for further growth. Piano finishes arent just for pianos
anymore; theyre set to become a permanent part of the R & I
landscape. Its not just a fad, says Roof. Piano
finishes are here to stay.