Calling herself “an amateur anthropologist … and a self-made jewellery historian who loves to dream and draw,” Temple St. Clair casts a wide net. The granulated and filigreed gold work of the pre-Roman Etruscans, the protective powers of medieval talismans, the jewels seen in Renaissance portraits, and the elegant modernism of the late New York choreographer Merce Cunningham, all provide fodder for her jewellery ideas.
“I create wearable artifacts,” says St. Clair during her first trunk show tour to Canada where her work, ranging in price from $1,000 to $700,000 depending on the intricacy of the handiwork and rarity of the materials, is sold at Saks and Holt Renfrew in Toronto, and Nordstrom in Vancouver.
A 30-year veteran of the luxury jewellery trade, the Virginia-born, New York-based designer arrives dressed casually in a sweater and patterned trousers. There’s no adornment save for the smooth-cut orb of natural crystal suspended round her neck. She calls it her amulet. Like much of her jewellery, it resonates with symbolic meaning.
“My work,” St. Clair continues, her voice lilting with the cadences of the American South, “is not trendy, although there are strong underlying trends to everything I do—a commitment to preserving fine craftsmanship and practicing sustainability, understanding world culture and accumulating knowledge about the people who came before.” Her Lion collection, to be released in the fall, will support an organization that teaches Maasai tribesmen to become lion guardians in their African homelands. Meanwhile, her eight-ring 18-karat gold and sapphire Tolomeo pendant, inspired by the Ptolemaic astronomical concept of a geocentric universe, earlier this year entered the permanent collection of the Louvre in Paris, making St. Clair one of only three Americans whose work is showcased in the one of the world’s premiere museums. The others are kinetic sculptor Alexander Calder, inventor of the mobile, and Louis Comfort Tiffany, a personal hero of St. Clair whose brilliant variegated glasswork has influenced some of her own jewellery pieces. It’s a fitting location for a designer whose stated aim is to be the next international heritage brand. “The Louvre was one the first places I ever studied ancient jewellery,” she says. “So it’s a nice place to be.”
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