Visiting the centuries-old ruins of Baalbek, located northeast of Beirut, Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley, is an experience so powerful our knees buckle.
Observing the enormous slabs of crumbling stone, and what is left of the towering rose granite columns, causes us to ponder how the structures were made. Lebanon is also the birthplace of featured jewelry designer Leila Tai.
Tai's jewelry collections reflect varied aesthetics and jewelry-making techniques. The pieces range from smooth, cool curvatures of sterling silver to the delicate, breathtaking creations made from 18- and 22-karat gold with spectacular enamel accents.
With a Masters of Art in metalwork, received from the American University of Beirut, Tai implements ancient enameling techniques cloisonné and plique á jour to create exquisite, nature-inspired items featuring lilies, praying mantises, and butterflies.
The remarkable detailing of the designs is heightened by the knowledge that the creations are rendered through techniques that require painstaking attention to detail, and precision.
Unlike the cloisonné technique, plique á jour provides a stained glass appearance to the enamel design adding a life-like dimension to the wings of Tai's butterfly creations.
"Enameling has become my favorite medium of self-expression. I enjoy the long and focused creation process the techniques provide," she says. "Much of the imagery found in my jewelry comes from my memories growing up on the Mediterranean, the setting sun, the scents of jasmine and pine."
Tai's spiritual connection to nature is readily evident in her non-enamel jewelry items, such as the richly organic forms from her Sea, and Coral collections. The antique look of the gold coupled with natural, uncut gemstones or beautifully carved coral displays the bond between the designer and her surroundings.
Having studied under skilled jewelry artists like the late Donald Clafflin, and having spent several years as a designer with fine jewelry giant Van Cleef & Arpels, Tai's expansive range of creative inspiration is full- blown.
In July of this year, after three decades in the field, Tai was awarded the Grand Prize of the American Jewelry Design Council's New Talent Contest.
In addition to her jewelry career, Tai also teaches at Parsons New School of Design, and the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat Gold Sea Rose Ring with Carved Pink Coral
Photo 2 (bottom left): 18-Karat Gold Foliage Bracelet with Opalescent and Transparent Enamels