Noted Jewelry Designer Leila Tai Dies

Leila Tai (pictured), an award-winning jewelry designer known for her work with plique-à-jour enamels, metals, and gems, died on April 2, after a 10-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 77.

Tai developed a passion for jewelry as an art form while growing up in Beirut. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in art from the American University of Beirut, she received her master’s degree in art education from the University of Wisconsin, with a specialty in metalwork and jewelry.

She eventually moved to New York City, where she designed fine jewelry pieces for Van Cleef & Arpels and Jean Viteau, and fashion jewelry for Trifari, Monet, and Liz Claiborne. In 2009, she received the grand prize in the American Jewelry Design Council’s New Talent Contest.

“Leila Tai is not a new designer in our industry, but she is certainly one of the most talented, and the council is proud to recognize her extraordinary work this year,” said Alan Revere, member of the American Jewelry Design Council, in announcing the award.

In a 2009 interview with Ganoskin, she said her main inspiration was nature.

“Nature studies are essential to my creativity,” she said. “I have spent hours in the American Museum of Natural History looking at species of butterflies and moths.”

But she said she was also inspired by “talking to other artists, or even just asking friends for opinions. Somehow, sharing with another creative mind encourages one to push harder on ideas and directions that normally one is unsure about expressing.”

She added: “I am aiming at having my work become heirlooms of the future and would like to keep on experimenting with color, shape, and form.”

Leila tai pendant
Leila Tai’s Big Curl pendant

Since 2003, she taught rendering and design at the Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and at workshops and jewelry academies nationwide.

“It means a lot to me to [teach students] correctly—to teach them the right vocabulary and to think about balance,” she told JCK in 2011. “That is why we go crazy about a beautiful piece of jewelry using all the elements of good design. I love design, and I feel devoted to beautiful shapes.”

She is survived by husband Peter Shenkin and brother Samir Chahrouri.

Anyone wishing to make a donation in Tai’s memory can donate to one of Shenkin’s favorite charities, Hand in Hand, which runs schools in Israel that coeducate Arab and Jewish children.

(Images courtesy of Leila Tai Jewelry Design)

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JCK News Director