In The Magazine

Flora and Fauna

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Courtesy of Temple St. Clair
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

In her East Village home, Temple St. Clair is opening up the windows in her living room, exposing a direct view of Tompkins Square Park on a hot summer afternoon. “There are red-tailed hawks nearby, and I’ve been following their activities,” said the jewelry designer, who frequents the site with her long-coat German shepherd, Maximus. Fascinated by creatures of all kinds and the great outdoors, St. Clair has looked to the land, sea and sky for design inspiration over the past 31 years.

Her fall collection—named Objet Trouvé—connects to the brand’s roots, to one treasure in particular that changed the course of her life: a fourth-century B.C. coin from Carthage.

When St. Clair was in her midtwenties, she lived in Florence after completing a master’s degree in Italian literature. Her mother came to visit and asked her to have the aforementioned piece set in a necklace. Purchased from an antiquarian, the coin features a horse in front of a palm tree on one side and a profile of the Carthaginian goddess Tanit on the other.

“I will never forget the moment I stepped into a goldsmith’s workshop for the first time,” St. Clair wrote in The Golden Menagerie (published by Assouline in 2016). “The combination of materials, time-worn tools, and traditional techniques immediately enchanted me.” It was that moment St. Clair decided to pursue jewelry design as a career, realizing how it encapsulates everything she felt passionate about: art, travel, history and ultimately, storytelling.

To this day, she works with the same goldsmiths in Florence, in addition to some in Bangkok and Sri Lanka. “The fall collection is about finding something beautiful, unexpectedly,” said St. Clair, while picking up an 18k horse coin pendant with diamond pavé from a black jewelry tray on the dining room table. Keeping the piece company are gems including an 18k swan amulet with blue sapphire, tsavorite and diamond.

Making way into the courtyard next door, St. Clair notes the space has just gone under a renovation. Inspiration was based on the labyrinth, a mazelike structure in Greek mythology, and Diana, the goddess of the hunt, the moon and nature in Roman mythology. In one corner is a dogwood tree, the floral emblem of the state of Virginia and a nod to the designer’s Southern upbringing.

St. Clair lives with her husband, who is also her business partner, and their two sons. Their house was purchased 17 years ago as four shaky walls with nothing that could be salvaged. It was completely gutted and rebuilt. Over time, St. Clair’s home has become filled with collected items, many from traveling, a hobby she has enjoyed since childhood. Upstairs is the workspace where she often designs and paints with watercolors to illustrate an imaginary world correlating with jewels.

This year, St. Clair’s Tolomeo pendant was inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts at the Louvre in Paris. Composed of 18k gold, multicolored sapphires and diamonds, the piece is based on the Ptolemaic theory that the earth is the center of the universe.

Constantly evolving, the designer aims to inspire thought and conversation through each of her jewels. “I want to remind people that we are neither observers or overlords, but equal participants who play an essential role in the ecosystem,” St. Clair continues in The Golden Menagerie. “We are interdependent with every living creature.” 


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