By Michelle Graff
Jewelry designer Leila Tai, who grew up in Beirut and moved to New York in the early ‘70s, died earlier this month after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
New York—Leila Tai, an award-winning jewelry designer known for her kind and gentle demeanor, died April 2 after a 10-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.

She was 77.

Born Dec. 16, 1942, Tai was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon during the country’s “Golden Age.” 

Growing up, she developed a passion for jewelry as an art form. She studied art at the American University of Beirut.

After graduation, Tai went on to earn her master’s in art, with a specialty in metal work and jewelry, from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

She made and sold her jewelry collections in Beirut for several years before returning to the United States, to New York, to begin what would turn out to be a long, fruitful career as a jewelry designer.

Tai designed fine jewelry for Van Cleef & Arpels and with French designer Jean Vitau, who died in 2011.

She also created fashion jewelry for Trifari, Monet and Liz Claiborne.

In 2009, after producing several collections of her own, she won the grand prize in the American Jewelry Design Council’s New Talent contest.

All throughout her career, Tai never stopped learning or teaching.

Tai studied ancient metalworking techniques at the Kulicke-Stark Academy (later the Jewelry Arts Institute).

She learned the technique of rendering using inks from jewelry design innovator Donald Claflin, who designed for David Webb, Van Cleef, Tiffany & Co. and Bulgari before his untimely death in 1979.

She taught rendering and design at the Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute and Fashion Institute of Technology.

Tai enjoyed traveling, visiting museums and enjoying all New York City has to offer—shopping, fine dining, arts and culture—with her friends. 

Longtime friend Pam Levine said her greatest pleasure, however, was the pride she took in in teaching jewelry-making and crafting her fine plique-à-jour enamel, silver and gold creations at her bench.

Tai is survived by her husband, Peter Shenkin of New York and one brother, Samir Chahrouri of Beirut, as well as by many professional colleagues, students, friends and other family members.

Condolences may be sent to her husband via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., shared on Facebook, or mailed to 7734 Austin St., Apt. 6B , Forest Hills, NY 11375.

Donations in Tai’s memory may be made to Hand in Hand, an organization that operates schools that coeducate Arab and Jewish children in Israel.

Those interested in viewing her work can visit


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