By Susan "Honey" Good
I have been an admirer of the Jay Strongwater brand for years. In the 1990’s he created his niche in the marketplace with luxurious decor for the home. His designs immediately captured my fancy and I began collecting his enamel and jeweled pieces. From my stunning picture frames to my key ring and my jeweled ring dish and vase to my bejeweled pillows, every piece makes my heart sing. Every time I look at one of my Jay Strongwater pieces, I feel like a queen.
I am ever so proud that HoneyGood.com and JayStrongwater LLC formed a partnership. Little did I know that a few months later, I would be invited to brunch to meet Jay and some of his long time collectors. The lovely affair was held at Neiman Marcus, an account of the Jay Strongwater company.
Jay spoke and presented a film on the history of his company. I found the film fascinating and after speaking to Jay I knew you, dear readers, would enjoy hearing the story of his success.
1. Honey: How did the name Jay Strongwater originate and why did you select this name?
Jay: It is an interesting story of how my original company, Jay Feinberg Fashion Jewelry evolved into Jay Strongwater. My business was doing well and I wanted to expand, so I looked for an outside investor to help me grow my business. After some time, he pulled out of the business and I lost Jay Feinberg Fashion Jewelry.
In 1990, one year later, I went back into business. My aunt became my bookkeeper and my mother and father joined me in the business. I needed a new name, so my mother gave me her maiden name. When she came to America through Ellis Island, her last name was German, Starkwasser, which meant Strongwater in English. I renamed my company Jay Strongwater.
Honey: I cannot tell you how much I like the name. It is a name one remembers.
2. Honey: I know you began designing jewelry while you were in college and sold your first necklaces and earrings to Saks. You got your big break with the famous Oscar de la Renta. Tell us the interesting story.
Jay: I attended the Rhode Island School of Design with a focus on fashion. During college, I was shopping with my mother in New York at Bonwit Teller when my mother saw a necklace she liked. I went home and designed some bold necklaces just for her. I took some of the necklaces and met with buyers at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Ave — I had orders! I left school and opened Jay Feinberg Fashion Jewelry.
Honey: How did you meet Oscar?
Jay: My big break came when I met the very famous Oscar de la Renta. It was in the 80’s and I began designing large, bejeweled and quite spectacular jewelry to be featured in Oscar’s runway shows. I was 23 years old and I had editorial coverage in Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily and Bazaar. My parents and aunt, an expert booker, joined me in the business.
The wave of bold jewelry was big time and it was then that I needed a financial partner. Unfortunately, large jewelry went out of fashion and delicate organic jewelry took the stage. My partner left and Jay Feinberg was forced to close.
It was at that time I had no choice but to transition. I got a booth at the Jacob Javis Center. I had made seven picture frames and people started placing orders. I knew I had found my new niche — I would focus on beautiful décor for the home. I had my new name and in 1990, I presented my first Jay Strongwater collection to buyers and the press. Customers were placing orders and I began shipping.
I loved jewels, enamels and metals and began to create jeweled and enamel picture frames. The cornerstone of my jewels for the home collection was inspired by the first picture frame I made for my mother.
Honey: And today there are candle sticks, boxes, bowls, your animal collection, vases, key rings, pillows and more. What sets you apart is your craftsmanship — Your work with metals, jewels and brightly colored enamels in all colors of the rainbow is pristine.
Jay: Thank you, Honey.
3. Honey: Where do you go to escape and find inspiration for your collection?
Jay: I love to go to art fairs, I love to hunt for art nouveau and I frequent many museums and antique shows.
4. Honey: What is the best advice you ever received in launching your brand?
Jay: It is very important to have a mentor. I had Oscar. I went with him to trunk shows where I learned production, design, how to ship, etc. A brilliant mentor was key to my success.
5. Honey: What moment are you most proud of in your career?
Jay: I had my ups and my downs, but I was always grateful for each day.
Honey: I have read that people cannot find happiness unless they are grateful.
6. Honey: What is next for the Jay Strongwater brand?
Jay: Our brand is expanding into larger pieces. I am challenging myself to make chandeliers, coffee tables and beautiful lamps. I am going to design and create larger pieces. I am very excited.
I start each day with a rough sketch of an idea, a sample of a new technique and I dream a little bit. Slowly over months, dreams are realized because our craftsmanship is impeccable and our materials are the best.
Honey: I know Shelly and I were going to visit you at your factory a few weeks ago. We will return to New York this summer and I know the best is yet to come. Thank you for the interview. I am most appreciative.
You can find Jay Strongwater online at Jaystrongwater.com or in the home departments at Neiman Marcus, Harrods in London and Tanagra in the Middle East. Jay will also be signing products for gifts purchased for Mother’s Day - find out the details here!