Far below the earth’s surface, minerals, heat, and time swirl together to form brilliant gems. That critical element of time has only enhanced the luster emanating from llyn strong Fine Art Jewelry, one of Greenville’s marquee jewelers since 1986. First on Main Street and now in midtown, the shop meets the needs of discerning clients with gorgeous one-of-a-kind creations one can only classify as masterpieces.
And now, like a silky strand of heirloom pearls, ownership is passing from mother to daughter. Sydney Strong has purchased the shop from llyn, who hopes to start mining dreams rooted only in retirement. “My mother has built an incredible business,” shares Sydney. “People come from all over the Southeast to see us. I’m really excited to continue to meet those high standards and creativity. The life we give to a lot of these pieces and the memories we create for our customers is really incredible.”
Just in time for Mother’s Day, and to mark the new chapter, the duo has created a new collection called the Strong Pair, featuring pear-shaped stones. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First a look back at how it all began.
If llyn had followed her original childhood path, her shop would be filled with illustrations and paintings. As a student at Greenville High in the late ’60s, the artistic teen expressed herself through painting and music. “I played the piano and flute,” she explains. “I thought I would be a graphic designer or a painter. My father was a writer and photographer for the newspaper and my mother worked for the city in the recreation department. They were always very supportive of my artistic pursuits.”
Cutting, soldering, and polishing tools quickly replaced paintbrushes when she had to take a jewelry class at Western Carolina University, while working toward a fine arts degree. “I ended up taking five jewelry courses, and it really piqued my interest in jewelry,” she admits. “I came home and took a job with Hale’s Jewelers in 1972.”
She soaked up all the knowledge she could and was soon making her own pieces at home. “I did craft shows around the United States and eventually bigger shows, and then I started selling to other stores around the country,” she reveals. “My mother’s from Nantucket and I did a lot of silver and gold shells and nautical type jewelry, and then I got into colored stones. That’s what I love working with now, colored stones and unusual diamonds.”
Silver and gold led to brick and mortar in 1986, when she opened a studio on Main Street. “I loved being a part of downtown growth,” the 69-year-old reflects. “It was inspiring and exciting. Main Street has changed a lot from those early years.” Not only did customers change from locals to tourists, but jewelry manufacturing changed too. In 2021, she moved to a new spot on East Washington Street that has room for specific machinery and workspaces for the shop’s five artisans. “Ninety-eight percent of what we sell is made right here in Greenville,” the founder says. “All the tools have changed since the days of carving all-wax models. We’re pretty high-tech for a small shop, with a 3D printer and software. We can go into a lot more detail on a piece. We work with each customer to incorporate what’s important in their life, how they want to wear their jewelry and what it represents to them.”
Like her mom, Sydney displayed early artistic abilities. She’d tag along with llyn and play with wax wire that the duo would make into a mold and cast heart pendants. But by middle school, a different shape caught her attention: a round soccer ball. “I went to Eastside and then ended up playing soccer for College of Charleston,” the 39-year-old shares. “I loved living there and after college, continued to play and coach. I didn’t have a heart for being part of the business.”
It wasn’t until deep into her 20s, that Sydney even considered working alongside her mom. She spent a year driving back and forth from the coast to Greenville, to help at the shop and explore the possibility. “I was interested in stones,” she recalls. “So, I went to get a Graduate Gemologist degree from the Gemologist Institute of America. Once I started doing that, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I moved back to Greenville in 2011.”
After a decade of learning, watching, and waiting, the transition of the business from mother to daughter is now complete, as seamless as a no-gap halo ring. “When we first talked about me buying the business, she asked if I wanted to change the name,” Sydney divulges. “I was like, ‘Absolutely not. You’ve spent 40 years building this and I don’t want to come in and rip it down!’”
The second generation does however hope to put her own mark on operations. “I’m in a similar spot she was in when she was my age. I would like to put a spin on some things, besides just normal business growth, and continue to build a solid reputation,” asserts Sydney.
Paraiba tourmalines, Australian opals, AAA diamonds.
The eyes of both mother and daughter sparkle when dreaming of designs with their favorite stones. Jewelers at llyn strong produce several hundred customized pieces each year. As llyn starts to step away, the two are solidifying their bond with the new collection of pear-shaped stones, named the Strong Pair. “I’m taking a week off each month to figure out what to do with the rest of my life,” admits llyn. “But it’s fun to pour ourselves into this new collection.”
Sydney already knows what her future looks like. She’ll continue to capture customers’ lifetime milestones in precious metals, encrusted with jewels. “Sometimes people will pick up their pieces and cry,” she confesses. “It’s special and sentimental to bring family pieces back to life, and to know you’re a part of their lives with engagements, marriages, births, anniversaries, and more. It’s incredible.”
For more on Sydney, llyn and their Greenville-made pieces like the Strong Pear, visit llynstrong.com.
Photography by Will Crooks