By Jessica Mullen
Llyn Strong discovered her love for jewelry-making while taking classes at Western Carolina University.
”I thought, ‘Oh, that’d be a lark,’ and it’s still a lark. That was in 1971, and I took five classes in jewelry at college and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Like the gems she works with, Strong’s early career was formed under pressure. “The industry was considered ‘a man’s work’ in the ’70s. Despite my experience, I couldn’t find work in Greenville. I wasn’t used to this because I was coming out of art school.”
Strong was undeterred. She took a job as a bridal consultant, but still worked in a studio on the side. She later became a bench jeweler, cutting gems for another designer, which helped her cultivate her technical skills.
In October 1989, Strong finally opened her first store in downtown Greenville. “A retail store downtown? People thought I was crazy.” There were many empty buildings and one good sandwich shop, as she recalls, but it didn’t look like the urban center Greenvillians enjoy today. “It was a little scary at night. Today, there’s a lot more people downtown. Greenville is very sophisticated and very cosmopolitan.”
Strong is proud of the city’s advancement but hopes it keeps its small-business-friendly atmosphere.
For Strong, the “man’s work” of opening a retail shop on the wrong side of town became her crowning achievement. Thirty-five years later, she’s won multiple awards from the American Gem Trade Association. Her daughter, Sydney Strong, works alongside her as the store’s manager while finishing her graduate degree from the Gemological Institute of America. They work together at Llyn Strong’s Main Street store and keep the doors open to interested buyers and curious minds alike.
For those who want to learn more about jewelry crafted in the Upstate, Strong offers two unique opportunities in the fall:
- Gemstone Roundtable. Dinner, drinks, and admission are all free, and so is the chance to handle Strong’s jewels and learn about her award-winning process. She’ll be joined by James Alger, a dealer who supplies many of the gems Strong uses in her work. Place your reservation by emailing [email protected] The event will be held three times from Oct. 19-21.
- Open Studios. Strong is participating in the Metropolitan Arts Council’s Open Studios Nov. 8-10. Step into her workshop and see how her jewelry is made.
Llyn Strong’s heirloom-quality jewelry is designed and produced right here in Greenville. According to her website, making your custom jewelry dreams a reality typically goes like this:
MAKE YOUR CUSTOM JEWELRY DREAMS A REALITY
- CONSULTATION WITH LLYN
You’ll meet the artist herself and discuss your fancies when it comes to custom jewelry for yourself or a loved one.
- GET STARTED
After putting down your depos-it, Llyn’s team takes your ideas and crafts a 3-D rendering of your piece.
You receive a “hyper-realistic color rendering of your jewelry” from CAD drafting software.
- WAX OR METAL MODEL
For those who like to be extra sure of fit and appearance, Llyn’s team can make a metal model of the piece to be tried on.
- PRESENTATION & APPRAISAL
Three to 12 weeks after the piece is agreed on, your work is finished and appraised.