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Fashion / Shopping

The Jewelry Storyteller — How One Designing Woman is Turning Heads From Florence to New York

Now Temple St. Clair Brings the Silk Road to Houston

BY // 12.28.18

Call Temple St. Clair a jewelry designer and she’ll respond, “I am still learning to be a jewelry designer, but I am a storyteller.” Both the jewelry industry and one of the world’s most vaunted museums disagree with her humble assessment — to them, she is a jewelry designer of the highest order.

In 2016, the Jewelers of America bestowed the GEM Award for Jewelry Design, the industry’s most prestigious award, to St. Clair. Last year, the curators of the Decorative Arts museum at the Louvre selected one of her pendant necklaces to reside in the permanent collection. St. Clair is only one of three American artists — and the only female artist, and living artist, at that — to receive such an honor.

“Louis Comfort Tiffany and Alexander Calder [the other two Americans in the Decorative Arts museum at the Louvre] are two of my great heroes in the world of jewelry and decorative arts. It is an unimaginable honor to be considered anywhere near the aura of those greats!” St. Clair tells PaperCity.

How did she achieve such a feat? To know St. Clair’s informed, intricate, and classic pieces is to love them.

In 2015, St. Clair debuted her Mythical Creature collection, the first chapter of The Golden Menagerie, at Les Art Décoratifs of The Louvre. After the exhibition, the museum curators sought one of her pieces for the permanent collection in Paris.

“They chose my Tolomeo Pendant not only for its engineering and craftsmanship but because it embodies the universal storytelling that is so central to my work,” St. Clair says. “The Tolomeo pendant represents the Ptolemaic hypothesis. In about AD150, the astronomer Ptolemy theorized that the earth was the center of the universe. The pendant illustrates that theory in 18K gold and multi-color sapphires in rotating planetary orbits.

“Each ring is engraved in Latin indicating the order of the planets as Ptolemy believed them to be. The spheres are also engraved with the astrological glyphs and symbols of the zodiac. Astronomy and astrology were equally respected during Ptolemy’s era.”

A Natural Storyteller

It is St. Clair’s unwavering quest for knowledge and spirituality and her storytelling prowess that makes her work so fascinating. St. Clair grew up in Virginia, spending most of her time in nature.

“I climbed trees, combed beaches, and observed wild creatures for hours imagining myself to be part of a native tribe that believed there were spirits in the rocks and trees,” she says. “I collected shells and beads that I would string together to wear around my neck, wrists and ankles. The gems and jewels that I found in nature among the vines, leaves, feathers, rocks, fossils and shells were totems for me that I bestowed with secret powers and symbolism.

“That combined with being brought up in a family that loved art, architecture, history and travel set a creative foundation for me.”

In 1986, after receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Italian Studies and a Master’s in Italian Renaissance Literature, St. Clair was living in Florence, Italy when she set upon finding a talented craftsman to set an ancient coin into a necklace. Thus began her collaboration with the centuries-old Florentine goldsmiths’ guild — some of the world’s finest goldsmiths.

“As a young American woman, it was difficult to break in to the world of the Florentine artisans even though I spoke their language, but once accepted, they’ve become family,” St. Clair says. That same year, Barney’s New York took notice of her jewelry and St. Clair became the first fine jeweler to be represented and carried in the storied New York department store.

18K Ten Thousand Buddha Bracelet
18K Ten Thousand Buddha Bracelet

St. Clair has been working with the same goldsmiths in Florence for over 30 years, which is remarkable as St. Clair laments they are a dying breed. The New York Times recently chronicled the story of “The Last Jeweler on the Ponte Vicchio,” but St. Clair is doubling down on Florence. She just opened her very first boutique in the city where it all began this past summer — the first American jeweler to open a branded shop there, naturally.

“Opening a boutique on the famed Ponte Vicchio is a remarkable, yet somehow logical turn of events, as Florence was the birthplace of my brand and another catalyst to my creative life,” St. Clair says. “I am one of the few remaining jewelers in the world to still work at an artisanal level with the goldsmiths of Florence.

“My boutique on the Ponte Vecchio is the beginning of yet another chapter in my Florentine story.”

A boutique within the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in New York opened in October. She based the design on her New York studio, complete with bookcases of volumes that inspire her. She also installed a high-tech screen that rotates through her watercolors and has a real time view of the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio boutique. St. Clair is planning to open more shop-in-shops stateside.

The Deutsch Touch

PaperCity viewed her latest collection, the Silk Road, at a recent trunk show at Deutsch in Houston. St. Clair’s jewelry has been available at Deutsch for five years now, with myriad core pieces in store and additional pieces available on special order.

For Silk Road, St. Clair was inspired by the ancient network of roads that connected the East and West. “As a lifelong traveler I have always been fascinated by the Silk Road and the ideal it upheld of wildly different cultures merging and shaping one another,” St. Clair says.

She translated the art, architecture, and beliefs carried along the route through rich gem colors and spiral, crescent moon and spiral shapes.

“Most of all I seek to capture the effect of travel on our minds and memories. I mean to illustrate in jewels the shapes, color, light and actual stories that you experience on an exotic journey,” St. Clair says. “I feel that I am just part of a several thousand year old tradition of jewelry.

“Natural and classical themes have always appeared in this art form.  The truth is these elements go backwards and forwards in time and carry meaning for all of us. My jewelry is not trendy; it’s for a modern woman yet it is timeless.”

St. Clair’s daily jewelry ebbs and flows with her moods and activities. But, says St. Clair, “I am never without my rock crystal amulet whether on its leather cord or on one of my gold chains. The rock crystal amulet is one of the first jewels that I ever created and has become my most iconic piece. The one I usually wear is about 30 years old.”

Temple St. Clair, Deutsch, 3747 Westheimer Road, deutschhouston.com.

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