The Enamelware of Leila Tai

Jewelry artist Leila Tai is renowned for her extraordinary one-of-a-kind pieces celebrating perfection in nature and for her masterful use of the 15th Century technique “plique a jour.” Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, during its “golden years,” she developed early in her life a passion for jewelry as an art form.

After studying Art Education at the American University of Beirut, Ms. Tai received a Master of Fine Arts in Metal Work at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Moving to New York City, she studied with many prominent jewelry designers, among whom were the late Donald Clafflin, who was associated with both Tiffany and Bulgari, and Robert Kulicke and Jean Stark, from whom she learned much of her plique a jour, cloisonné and granulation techniques.

The Enamelware of Leila Tai
Foliage bracelet in 18k gold and Burma rubies. Opalescent white enamels with transparent shades of green and ruby red enamels retained in the filigree open areas enhance this richly patterned bracelet created with gold tracery. A handmade state-of-the-art clasp set with Burma rubies adds a fine touch.

After several years in the fine jewelry industry with Gemveto and Van Cleef and Arpels, Ms. Tai worked as a fulltime designer in the fashion industry, with firms such as Trifari and Monet, and consulted for Liz Claiborne, among other fashion houses.

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She has won numerous industry awards for her own jewelry designs, including the 2007 Niche Awards; an award for work “of exceptional merit” from The Enamelist Society in 2005; and the prestigious Diamonds Today Award in 1995. Her work has been featured in art books, such as Contemporary Enameling by Lilyan Bachrach (2006) and 500 Earrings, juried by Alan Revere (2006), and industry publications, including Metamorphoses, Ornament, Jewelry Connoisseur, JQ, and Luster.

Day Lily earrings 18k gold and garnet grapes. My favorite wild flower was recreated by hand and on computer, similarly to the Blue Iris earrings. The garnet grapes simulate the richness of the lily stamen.

Throughout her long and fruitful jewelry design career, Ms. Tai has shared her passion and technical expertise with others. She has taught courses at the American University, Pratt Institute, Parson’s School of Design, and the Revere Academy. She currently teaches jewelry design and rendering at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Pratt Institute.

Ms. Tai lives with her husband in New York City, where she is also active in many industry organizations.

Ms. Tai will be one of the featured fine jewelers at the 2008 Designer Showcase to be launched at The Forbes Galleries in New York City by the National Jewelry Institute (NJI). The exhibit, which runs from April 25 to June 28, will celebrate works of “striking individuality” by approximately 25 exceptional designers, according to the NJI, a non-profit organization whose mission is the preservation of and education about fine jewelry.

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Blue Iris earrings in 18k gold and aquamarine drops and beads. These earrings won a Niche finalist award in 2007 and were published in 500 Earrings by Lark Books. The center flower is hand formed to contrast with the perfection of the hand-drawn filigree of the leaves finalized on the computer. The transparent blue enamels of the iris in combination with the aquamarine drop and bead centers create an ethereal look.

The Forbes Galleries are located at 62 Fifth Avenue. Its hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, from 10AM to 4 PM. For more information go to www.forbesgalleries.com or call 212-206-5548.

The National Jewelry Institute was formed in 2002 as a not-for-profit institute whose mission is to preserve, research and exhibit fine jewelry from all over the world. The NJI has held exhibitions in New York, London and Paris and regularly produces exhibitions at The Forbes Galleries. For more information about the NJI, visit www.nationaljewelryinstitute.org or call 212-541-9459.

Several of the pieces to be exhibited in the 2008 Designer Showcase are part of her most recent collection called “Spring,” which utilizes the rare plique a jour technique. She is one of few jewelers who have perfected this challenging and very labor-intensive technology, which she calls her favorite medium for self-expression.

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Praying Mantis brooch 18k gold with tsavorites and blue sapphires. During my vacation last summer on the North Fork of Long Island, an all-green praying mantis was on the lawn a foot away from me. Its fluorescent green grass color inspired me. This new mantis has a micro-pave body of tsavorites combined with transparent shades of grass green enameled wings. The eyes are two beautiful cabochon sapphires.

“Each piece is one-of-a-kind, and many offer built-in movement and flexibility,” said Ms. Tai. “Aside from the fact that I enjoy the long and focused creation process, this technique gives a realistic edge to my pieces. Creating jewelry as art objects that can be worn is my way of paying tribute to life and all creation.”

For more information on Leila Tai, please visit her website at: www.leilataidesign.com.

[Volume 27, Number 1, February, 2008]
In association with
glass on metal
Glass on Metal is the only publication dedicated to enameling and related arts. Technical information, book reviews, how-to articles and insight on contemporary enamelers highlight each issue.
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