NEW YORK — After 15 years of playing with design on a small scale by making jewelry, Jay Strongwater moved on to statement mirrors, fanciful figurines, ornate picture frames and even small furnishings — all bejeweled.
While the design vocabulary reflected by his earlier jewelry and in his products for the home is much the same, with hand-painted enamel an integral feature, the larger scale he now works in allows him to show off his creativity.
The Rhode Island School of Design-trained designer (American, b. 1960-) once contemplated working in fashion, but found his passion in metals and jewels. His contemporary luxury home furnishings earned appreciative audiences. His first piece was a bejeweled picture frame he made in 1995, using pieces from his jewelry collection. Within three years, items for the home were a core part of his business. Born Jay Feinberg, he decided to use his mother’s maiden name, Strongwater, for his business.
Known for his big and bold works, Strongwater is often inspired by walks in nature. Many of his pieces include animals, flowers, vines, butterflies and bees. “I’m fascinated by the idea of taking our everyday belongings and turning them into a beautiful collage of metal, enamel and sparkling Swarovski® crystals,” according to his website’s Our Story page.
Mirrors are a popular item within his oeuvre. They evoke the Art Nouveau era with their nature-inspired decoration but have a decidedly contemporary feel thanks to their enameling. Embracing a touch of whimsy is a 22in-tall enameled and jeweled mirror with butterflies and other insects, flowers and scrollwork, which made $4,100 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2017 at Bill Hood & Sons Art & Antique Auctions.
Jay Strongwater mirrors can range from whimsical creations in muted pastel tones to examples that are bold and striking, such as a bronze wildlife and floral square mirror that earned $3,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Hill Auction Gallery. Having multicolored polychrome enamel on the openwork bronze surround, the mirror features a plethora of butterflies, lizards, bees, frogs and flora, plus hand-set Swarovski crystals overall. Infusing light into a piece through these multifaceted crystals, Strongwater also uses them to complement and balance the glossy sheen of the enameling.
Also bold are Strongwater’s figurines and sculptures, which often showcase animals. He has fashioned a veritable zoo’s worth of animal figures, from bright blue macaws and butterflies to llamas, gorillas and whales. Of particular note is a jeweled aluminum bust of a tiger, dubbed Monroe, which was enameled and covered with more than 10,000 Swarovski crystals and set on a black marble base. An example of the Monroe tiger bust made $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Simpson Galleries, LLC.
Besides accessories, Strongwater also designs furniture — mostly coffee tables and side tables. Many are topped with glass to keep the focus on the intricate and curling iron frames of the table, from which individually cast leaves, flowers and a host of charming creatures are soldered on. An enameled and jeweled round-form Strongwater glass-top occasional table realized $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2018 at Abington Auction Gallery.
Strongwater is known for taking a traditional form, such as the mirror, table or vase, and giving it a different look. Candelabra are no exception. A highly stylized pair of wildlife and flora candelabra by Strongwater attained $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Hill Auction Gallery. Having three stems, these candelabra were lavishly decorated with roses, leaves, vines, and floral root forms hand-decorated in vivid enamel. Among the wildlife forms depicted were butterflies, bees, lizards, dragonflies and frogs. Like many of his pieces, it was then embellished with hundreds of hand-set Swarovski crystals.
Handcrafted at his New York studio or in his Rhode Island workshop, Jay Strongwater’s creations evoke glamour by uniting Swarovski crystals with colorful enameling and fine metalwork. Some pieces use more than 30 different colors of enamel. No detail is overlooked and each Strongwater design is elaborate and well-thought-out, yet clearly inspired by real flora and fauna.