It was such an honor to be interviewed for the Wall Street Journal! The talented Heidi Mitchell wrote an admiring editorial  about my most prized possession in my NYC apartment – a collection of Palio di Siena plates! My Aunt Agnus helped me acquire the fantastic treasure in my early 20’s. They even featured some photos of the plates displayed on my wall, which gave me the opportunity to connect with my collector’s on a more personal level. Aunt Gus would have been so proud! Check out the story below:

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A Home Décor Guru’s Most Prized Possession

Jay Strongwater’s greatest treasure is a set of hand-painted Italian plates his great-aunt helped him purchase

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Designer Jay Strongwater in his New York City apartment with his collection of hand-painted Italian plates hung on the wall. BENJAMIN HOSTE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

If you own a collection of picture frames in your home, there is a decent chance one of them was designed by Jay Strongwater. The self-trained designer of what he calls “jewels for the home” creates decorative pieces that appeal to those on the hunt for the perfect Mother’s Day present, corporate gift-givers looking to purchase 80 of a single figurine and everyone in between. His glass vases adorned with ceramic lilies and spangled peacock figurines frequently sell out at Neiman Marcus and Harrods—and are in constant rotation in his New York City apartment.

But of all the objects Mr. Strongwater could prize the most, it is his first major purchase to which he is most loyal: a set of 24 hand-painted Italian plates that he bought with a $1,000 gift his Aunt Gus gave him in his early 20s.

“My great-aunt would give each of the grandcousins $25 for our birthdays, but one year she announced that it was too hard to send an annual gift, so instead she gave us each a big check,” the jeweler-turned-home-décor guru recalls. That was in 1983, and Mr. Strongwater “raced down to Macy’s, where they had the most fabulous collection of bold, hand-painted plates in the antiques shop,” he says. He bought them all.

Since that big investment, Mr. Strongwater, 55 years old, has done research into his beloved plates, which he occasionally takes down from their perch on the wall in his Chelsea apartment to use as serving dishes. He learned that the images depict the insignia of the various districts that participate in the Palio di Siena, the medieval-style horse race run twice a year in the Italian town. “I didn’t know much about them at the time,” he says. “I was just mesmerized by the pattern and the color.”

Since he was a young boy growing up in New Jersey, Mr. Strongwater has always been fascinated with bold adornments. He tinkered with pottery and crafts as a child, and enjoyed going to Manhattan galleries with his parents to see works by Rothko and others from the New York School of Abstract Expressionism.

He dropped out of the Rhode Island School of Design after two years to create a jewelry line that reflected the more-is-more ethos of the 1980s. With his parents as his staff, the company, he says, grew to a $3 million-a-year business with products distributed through major department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. When the pared-down looks of the 1990s took over runways and fashion magazines, Mr. Strongwater adapted, moving away from body jewelry to home décor.

“I have never really been too hung up on the medium. My work didn’t need to be in precious metal, it just needed to be the right color combination,” says Mr. Strongwater, whose namesake company now does about $14 million a year in sales, according to John J. Ling, chief executive of Aurora Brands, the holding company that owns Jay Strongwater, the brand. “Moving into picture frames and vases and figurines gave me the opportunity to work on a larger-size canvas versus tiny necklaces or earrings all the time.”

Mr. Strongwater says the Italian plates look and feel as if someone hand made them with care. He dreams of visiting Siena to see the Palio and to try to pick out the banners of thecontrade, or districts represented in the race, that are similar to the ones on his wall. He’d also like to complete his plate collection. There are 17 contrade and Mr. Strongwater believes he’s missing a few, despite owning 24 plates of varying sizes.

“Maybe I should have invested Aunt Gus’s money in stocks and bonds,” he says. “But I couldn’t help myself. Those plates still look so beautiful on the wall, and they haven’t lost their luster or their color one bit. To this day, I love my plates.”aAfter purchasing the plates Mr. Strongwater discovered that his collection represented the contrade, or districts, in Siena, Italy, that raced in the biannual Palio horse race in the town piazza. BENJAMIN HOSTE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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 The plates currently adorn his New York apartment’s walls but are often brought down for use during parties that Mr. Strongwater and his partner, Patrick Savoy, host at their home.

After—what, maybe 18 years?—I have made my first beaded necklaces in quite some time!

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In 1997, as our burgeoning bejeweled home collection was gaining momentum, bold fashion jewelry was, well, not in fashion. I put away our beads and never looked back. But along the road, as we developed new home collections, I would see a detail here, or a new technique and coloration that made me wonder how it might look on jewelry.

As we have been celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, I thought it might be fun to go back to where it all began and add a few new necklaces to the collection. We created beaded mélanges of jet and golden crystals, with faceted bronze beads and freshwater pearls…

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…as well as some longer chain styles with articulated owl and key pendants, and a pearl-studded cross.

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Our collections for the home require many talented hands, engineering the complex designs to completion. Jewelry—specifically the beaded element—is much more personal. Just me, trays of beautiful beads, and chain, making each one by hand right here in the New York Studio.

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Of course I worked with our friends at Swarovski, selecting their finest sparkling crystal beads, as well as our precious stone suppliers, who provide beautiful tiger’s eye, turquoise, and black obsidian beads, and freshwater pearls.

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I always have been obsessed with a well-made necklace closure, specifically one the felt good in the hands and cleanly finished the necklace—not unlike how the back of our picture frames are as finished as the fronts. These first necklaces are no exception: sleek polished metal, finished in 18K gold, that gently curves toward the back of the neck, tapering to a clasp.

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I look forward to sharing more jewelry ideas with you these forthcoming seasons. I guess it truly is like riding a bicycle…

Hot off the press, and heading your way, our holiday catalog is filled with some of our most inspired creations—each one originated in the hands of our artisans in New York, Rhode Island, and workshops around the world. From the glamour of the Platinum Collection, sparkling with hundreds of gold and silver crystals, to the delight of our whimsical glass holiday ornaments, each one is a charm to behold.

Turn the pages and be enchanted by our curated vignettes showcasing the 2014 collections in beautifully styled rooms. It all began in early June, when I visited various prop houses throughout New York City looking for wood furniture and interesting smaller items to properly present our newest collections on.

Once everything is back in our studio, we carefully design how each page will look. Soon thereafter, our fabulous photographer, Rudy, arrives with his lights and cameras, and we madly run around trying to set up each new setting along the walls of the studio.

It all looks so elegant now in the catalog, but behind the scenes we are clamping, taping, and holding it all together with a few pushpins.

We stare at each image on the screen, move something a quarter of an inch, and try again and again to capture all the details, colors, and passion in each Jay Strongwater design. I think we succeeded!

A little over two weeks later, we pack it all up and begin the process of editing the images to the best ones for the new catalog: forty-eight pages full of our superlative gifts for your loved ones (and for you!) this holiday season. You can shop the interactive e-catalog on our website right now. Let us know if somehow we left you or a friend off our mailing list, and we will make sure everyone receives a copy!

This season, we have added one very special oversized glass ornament to the Holiday Collection. Of course, I think all 34 of this year’s collection are special, but we wanted to design one ornament that was more than six inches in diameter, hand-painted in an opulent pattern based on an old Russian egg.

Inspired by the scrolls and flourishes, Ben in the New York City studio first painted a blue version on a oversized glass ball, just so we could clearly see how the pattern would fit across the entire surface.

Nicole then was able to make a flat colored rendering, and filled it in with a jewel-tone palette, outlines of glitter, and 300-plus Swarovski crystals.

The team in Poland then went to work bringing our concept to life on the first mouth-blown glass sample. We loved the look of it, but felt that the red background was too flat, so we asked them to try another sample with a more mottled red/burgundy finish.

It all came together in one spectacular design that we have fittingly named the 2014 Opulent Glass Ornament.

To further signify the importance of this ornament, we have limited the edition to just 275 pieces that I personally numbered and signed.

I look forward to making this an annual tradition.

Often we are asked to create a unique, one-of-a-kind design for a special event. Time does not allow us to answer every request, but for our good friends at Harrods in London, we always say “yes”! They were launching the Jay Strongwater shop on their new home floor, and we designed a remarkable golden figurine to mark the occasion. Working with our brass peacock figurine, we started at the crown and meticulously covered him in thousands of Swarovski crystals.

We lavishly hand-set these brilliant faceted crystals, particularly these “aurum” stones, finished in actual gold alloys.

The finished Golden Peacock was breathtaking, and the limited edition of ten quickly sold out.

I was very taken by the wonderful sparkling texture created by tightly fitting the crystals together over an enamel base. Our new Platinum Collection for fall 2014 celebrates a mixture of gold, bronze, silver, and hematite crystals hand-set over a series of striking frames and three glamorous candlesticks. Each design is inspired by the techniques polished to a golden finish on that first peacock.

The Morgan Scalloped Pave Frame is one of my new favorites in the Platinum Collection.

This elegant design is finished in 14K gold, enameled in transparent amber, and each hole along the edge is filled with a calibrated crystal stone.

We then begin to cover the entire enamel surface with 500-plus hand-set Swarovski crystals!

The twelve new designs in the Platinum Collection all dazzle with thousands of reflections from each faceted crystal.

The 2014 glass ornaments are here! 30-plus new designs, each one a sparkling treasure of holiday whimsy and old-world craftsmanship. Over a year ago, we found the beginnings of inspirations in our jeweled metal collection.

Our designer Nicole first worked with us on rough sketches–followed by detailed, colored drawings–to send over to the ornament workshop in Poland. First, preliminary clay models are carved, and then finer detailed versions are made in an alabaster material to form the final molds. Their glass blowers heat up tubes of clear glass to blow into these intricately shaped molds.

Once the glass has been silvered on the inside, they can begin painting on layers of colored pigments, tracings of glitter, and of course, lots of hand-set sparkling crystals!

The flower-covered Boxwood Elephant Figurine is one of the designs transformed into glass for the holidays.

And another, the Bejeweled Cross Objet:

I am particularly excited about three of the new ornaments in the Flora & Fauna grouping, inspired by the palette of our Nouveau Vanity collection. How charming to see these soft, watercolor tones of pinks, creams, and lavenders with pearl accents for holiday decorating.

Sometimes the inspiration can be the idea of taking natural animals and “dressing” them in bright jewel-toned garlands of glitter and stones, such as the adorable Mandarin Duck and Grizzly Bear, just two of the many new characters in the Jubilee grouping.

These are just a few of the new ornaments! We are only able to make a limited quantity of each one every year, so visit jaystrongwater.com today and make your selections.

You know I love having the opportunity to get out of the New York studio and visit with clients at some of the best stores around the world where you can buy our designs. This coming Saturday, I am looking forward to our first event of the fall season at the Neiman Marcus store in Dallas NorthPark. But I cannot stop thinking about this past spring shows and meeting one of our best collectors, seven-year-old Aston!

It all happened at the Neiman’s store on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Seems that Aston has been collecting our miniature figurines for a few years, and the team at NM let his parents know that I would be visiting. And even though they live a few hours away, both his parents drove all the way with Aston so we could meet. This charming young man was so sweet–it was a joy to meet him. He carefully looked around the department at all the new collections, and when his parents asked him what he wanted, he choose the Neiman Marcus exclusive elephant figurine from the Jungle Collection. His first big-time piece from us–how great is that!

All of my fall visits are listed on the website at jaystrongwater.com. Take a look, and I hope to see you this fall!

Lynda is someone who needs no introduction! She has been fearlessly managing the Jay Strongwater studio for over 20 years. And every year, as summer winds down, we celebrate Lynda’s birthday in the studio with cake and–of course–a new handbag to add to her collection. Gucci, Pucci, Fiorucci, she has them all. This year, we found her a chic little black leather bag from 3.1 Phillip Lim. She loved the bag and we love her!

I love a personal touch: a handwritten note on a monogrammed card, special gift wrapping, remembering a birthday. As a young boy, I have this memory of my mother getting a fur coat (I know, the ’70s!), and inside the coat, her initials were embroidered on the lining. I was so taken by that personal touch.

Being attracted to typography, I have always wanted to design a complete Jay Strongwater alphabet of jeweled charms, but making 26 brand-new models all at once is a daunting project. Luckily, our very talented designer Dawn was up for the challenge! Hard to believe we started this about two years ago. Looking at old antique alphabet samples, one in particular caught my eye: a serif letter highly decorated with scrolls, leaves, and flourishes from 1889.

We then made drawings of how our Jay Strongwater alphabet could look, a classic detailed letter wrapped with leaves.

Slowly, over a period of months, all 26 letters were completed in meticulously carved clay sculptures. Of course each one is as beautifully detailed on the back as the front, with delicate flowers and amusing butterflies, dragonflies, and ladybugs.

As in all our metal designs, molds were made of each letter, poured in pewter, and finished in 18K gold. I then worked with Allyson and Cecilia in the New York studio to paint the enamel colors: verdant greens with blue, purple, and red accents on a warm amber base. Each letter was then completely paved in brilliant, hand-set Swarovski crystals.

I find the excitement starts with the package itself. It was important to me that each alphabet charm be presented in a box worthy of such a beautiful design. The final tooled-leather-wrapped, hinged box has our name embossed in gold leaf and is lined in deep fuchsia satin.

How nice to have this most perfect, personalized gift for everyone on my list. See our website for the full collection.

It is always wonderful to meet collectors and present the newest collections to them when I visit a store. But early in the morning, before the store opens for the day, I have time to quietly talk to the store’s team about the thought process and development behind each design. This season, I find myself reaching for two designs in particular to talk about, the Nouveau Candlesticks, “Roselyn” and “Mirabelle” …

… and the Floral Butterfly Bowl, “Claudette.” Both styles epitomize some of our most beautiful creations, with strong silhouettes and intricate details.

It has been many years since we added new candlesticks to the collection. I wanted these to have a grand, twisted metal arm starting from the base and reaching high up, holding the leaf-wrapped candle cups. Punctuating the base are large oversized lilies with contrasting petals of enamel and large jeweled crystals. Larry started working on them in early 2103 by forming the first models in clay.

We made molds of these and poured the first pewter castings. Cyril then began refining the shape and adding the stone settings to the petals. The flower models went to Rhode Island for more mold-making. The candlesticks themselves went to India to be sand-cast in solid brass.

On my recent visit to India, I was able to watch them shape the curves into each piece.

Meanwhile, back in the New York Studio, Ben and I were talking about the colors of the lilies, and how to achieve the lush color palette. By adding layers of white enamel under the final colors, the perfect pigments were achieved.

Whereas the candlesticks started with clay models, the floral bowl began with sketches. I wanted to take the scrolls from Floral Scroll Wall Mirror and shape them into a dramatic bowl lifted on a matching base.

Once Manreet had worked out the placement of the scrolls and leaves, our foundry in India started crafting the first samples, paying particular attention to soldering each leaf into place.

We received these first prototypes in New York, where Cyril and I designed all the jeweled flowers and butterflies that are woven throughout. These were then all sent to Rhode Island for mold-making.

When all the parts came together, and there are more than 20 on this bowl, Ben once again worked with me on the palette of green leaves setting off the hot house blossoms. More than 1800 hand-set stones finish the bowl with a sparkling aura.