JEWELRY DESIGNER LIZA SHTROMBERG’S ROCK FANCY STARTED WHEN SHE WAS BARELY OLD ENOUGH TO PICK THEM UP.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
LOS ANGELES -As a young child growing up in Moscow, Liza Shtromberg played with rocks.
This wasn’t, however, due to a lack of real toys in the precarious Russian economy. At a stage when the typical pre-school girls were cradling baby dolls, Shtromberg closed in on the smooth stones and shells her father was carving as a cameo designer.
“He was teaching me how to polish amber when I was five,” recalled Shtromberg. “I’ve always just been fascinated with stones,” she continued, matter-of-factly. “I don’t ever remember not being completely all about them.”
The artistic streak runs in the family. Her father had played violin for Moscow’s Philharmonic Orchestra before he moved on to crafting jewelry. Her mother was a concert pianist.
Now, at 30 and living in the bohemian Los Angeles community of Los Feliz, Shtromberg is all about the amethysts, freshwater pearls, peridots, garnets and other semiprecious stones that characterize her colorfully elegant signature line of jewelry. There are multiple-strand chokers beaded with tiny balls of turquoise and coral. A sterling silver lariat ends in one-inch-long citrine tears. And a chunky, oversized aqua-blue Peruvian opal rests on a simple silver band.
The ever-evolving collection of sterling silver-based rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces wholesales at $7 to $200. Specialty boutiques around the country, including Jacqueline Jarrot in the Beverly Center and The Look in Newport Beach, Calif., have picked up the line.
The entire Liza Shtromberg collection, including one-of-a-kind pieces, can be found in the antique cases at LS, the storefront/studio that the designer opened in April.
LS is a short walk from the home Shtromberg shares with her husband of two years, Akira Mizutani, also an artist. Mizutani’s modern tabletop stone fountains are the only other products besides the jewelry for sale in the 1,050-square-foot space along Hillhurst Avenue.
The pair also own Island LS, which they classify as a year-old “mini Anthropologie,” in adjacent Silverlake. It offers aromatherapy candles, antiques, home accessories, bath care and works by area artists. Their own jewelry and fountains stock that shop as well, but the second retail outlet gives a much more comprehensive impression of the collection’s scope.
“At Island, we started carrying so many artists and designers that I could never really have a good variety of my jewelry. There wasn’t really the space,” Shtromberg explained. Now, having a shared space for retail and workshop provides her the added benefit of being able to gauge consumer reaction and respond to it. “Customers [wholesale and retail] come in and say they’re looking for this stone or that feel. We can just design it on the spot.”
The retail/workshop venture also allows her to experiment with pricier stones, and 14-karat gold. “That’s what I love about this place: I can make just one thing and it doesn’t have to be price-conscious to go into the line.”
Shtromberg had turned her hobby into a career by the age of 16. Her family had relocated to Los Angeles from Israel, where they resided for seven years after leaving Russia. While in high school, she spent her weekends hawking her own wire-wrapped jewelry, accented by colored glass beads and marbles, on the sidewalk along funky Melrose Avenue.
“I’d always been arts-and-craftsy. Making jewelry and selling it just seemed like the logical thing to do. It didn’t seem like a lot of effort,” she explained.
A few years later, she began picking up accounts around the state — specialty boutiques and galleries charmed by her eclectic pieces. Her initial “formal” line consisted of costume jewelry and jeweled hairsticks; as her budget for materials grew, the level of quality followed.
“I just want to be a jewelry designer. That’s my ultimate goal. Now that I have another business [Island] to finance the wholesale, I’ve been able to make the transition to silver and gold. I’ve started going to Hong Kong for gems,” she said, looking into the large salt water aquarium filled with live coral and exotic fish sitting in LS.
A staff of four, including Shtromberg and her husband, comprise the tiny LS empire. A local jeweler executes all the castings and soldering; Shtromberg and her assistant string, wire-wrap and assemble all her designs.
“It’s very exciting when I find something like the Peruvian opal,” she said, cupping an example in her palm. “It’s exciting when you know something is it.”
That’s why her fans, among them wardrobe stylists and Hollywood power brokers, keep rolling in for her rocks.