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After years of working as a jeweler, Jay Strongwater has revived the bejeweled objet, the crystal studded butterfly that alights on an enameled box, the malachite-hued elephant that carries a miniature clock on its back, the picture frame that looks like it’s purloined from the Tsar’s nightstand. “I’m fascinated by the idea of taking every day things and turning them into jewels for the home,” Strongwater says. “Beauty shouldn’t just be tucked in a dresser drawer.” He thinks like a jeweler whether he’s working on a candlestick, a wine stopper or a clock. He knows how to set a stone so it has the right sparkle—some of his pieces glitter with two thousand Swarovski crystals—and he’s always looking for ways to enrich the patterns of his enameling. “With jewelry, the clasp has to be as beautiful as the necklace,” says Strongwater. “I feel the same way about everything from box hinges to picture frame stands. The back of my pieces have to be as beautiful as the front, the insides as enchanting as the outsides.”
Strongwater began his career in 1979 while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. After garnering raves for a necklace he’d made his mother, he took some jewelry samples to the open buyer days at New York’s department stores. Soon he had a pocketful of orders. When he’d filled them—a feat accomplished between classes with the help of his fellow students—a buyer called to inquire about his next collection. Strongwater realized opportunity was knocking. He left school and in short order was designing jewels for Oscar de La Renta’s runway collection and being featured in Vogue. His shift to Jewels for the Home came equally serendipitously. As the holiday season neared in 1994, Strongwater decided to make picture frames for friends and buyers. He positioned his jewelencrusted earrings in the corners and connected them with a filigree of jewelry parts. One buyer was so thrilled, she said, “whatever you make, we’ll buy.” Within three years his Jewels for the Home had totally replaced his fashion business.