Treasures + Talismans

What It's Like to Design Haute Couture Jewelry

Get to know award-winning jewelry designer Temple St. Clair's creative process—and her connection to Sarasota.

By Heather Dunhill October 13, 2017

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After three decades of building her globally recognized haute couture brand, American jewelry designer (and new CFDA member) Temple St. Clair is about to celebrate a massively notable milestone in her career: she's being inducted into the Musée des Arts Décoratifs permanent collection at the Louvre. Not only is she one of only three American artists to be inducted, she's also the first American woman.  

If you know the Temple St. Clair brand, then you're familiar with the beguiling nature of each piece. No doubt this is a direct connection to Temple's uncompromising high standards for materials and execution—but also the fact that every piece she creates relates to a personal exploration and story.  Here she is in her own words.

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The Tolomeo, which will be inducted into the Musée des Arts Décoratifs permanent collection at the Louvre in Paris. 

Congrats on the superb honor of being inducted into the Musée des Arts Décoratifs permanent collection at the Louvre. Have to ask about the moment you heard—did your heart stop?

Never in a million years did I expect that my work would become a part of the permanent exhibit at such a prestigious institution. It is an unimaginable honor to stand with legendary artists such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Alexander Calder.

Tell us how you use storytelling to influence your design aesthetic.

Travel was central to my childhood education. On family trips, I was encouraged to keep journals and scrapbooks and to collect interesting objects along the way.  In preparation for our travels, we as a family would take language courses to study the native tongue.  Soon after graduating from Smith College, I had the opportunity to spend time in India, Turkey, North Africa, Japan and China.  I absorbed the details of art and architecture, ceramics and jewels, the cultural histories and religious traditions.  And slowly I began seeing myself as a modern day traveler on the Silk Road, gathering stories and treasures east to west.  I was constantly reading and researching along the way.  This is precisely what I bring to my work today; most every collection I work on is grounded in this practice and study.  

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One of St. Clair's striking pieces.

How did you develop your connoisseur-level eye for gemstones?

Time. Throughout my 31 years as a designer, I've spent countless hours with miners, gem cutters and dealers from all over the world exploring their work, their particular areas of expertise, and their love for their work and for the materials they produce.

I repeat what Malcolm Gladwell says: you must put in your 10,000 hours to be an expert.  I am still learning and discovering beautiful surprises.  Each gem species is individual, with its own identity and character. I am fortunate to be able to travel in search of genuine treasures and to work with some of the most passionate purveyors of fine gemstones in the world, from Australia to Sri Lanka to Brazil and beyond.

What comes first, the gem or the design?


It works both ways. Sometimes the story or theme behind a design calls for a certain material:  frog eyes called out for cat’s eye sapphire, for example; a fox’s coat needed an array of rare garnet and spinel; flying fish required Paraiba tourmaline and tsavorite to show the luminescence of the scales.  Meanwhile, a famed opal needed only to be framed with rubies to bring out its red and orange flashes.  A lavender Ceylon star sapphire called for a halo of mogul cut diamonds and little else.  

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What is your earliest jewelry memory? 

I was sitting on the floor in an antique shop in Delhi sifting through piles of antique Naga beads.  I had been traveling in the Indian subcontinent for months and hatched the idea that I could continue my travels and explorations by purchasing and selling beads, basically reliving the idea of a merchant along the famed Silk Road.  I was dreaming of a lifestyle of exploration and creativity that came to life through designing jewelry.

Years ago, at a Sarasota event, I complimented a lovely woman on her Temple St. Clair piece, and she proudly shared that she was your mother. What do you like most about our paradise of a city? 

I love spending time in Sarasota.  My mom has been wintering on Longboat Key for years, I have an aunt and uncle who live on Longboat year round and my sons have attended IMG over the years.  I’ve developed close friendships there, so I’m quite familiar with Sarasota and the surrounding area.  I love the beaches and ocean, of course, but also the live oaks with their sultry Spanish moss; seeing dolphins, manatees, and ospreys; and dining at my favorite local Greek restaurant, Blu Kouzina on St. Armands Circle.

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Image Courtesy of Temple St. Clair. 

And for the lightening round:

Song you love at the moment?

Tom Petty's "Wildflowers."

Favorite Instagram follow?

My sons, of course; various creative friends and artists; Nancy Lorenz, Robert Clark; and elephant conservation site David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust [DSWT].

Quote that inspires you?

“You belong somewhere you feel free…” from Tom Petty’s "Wildflowers."

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