Luxury Jewelry Designer Starts With a 'Rough Doodle'

Sketches instill personal creativity into the process from the beginning

Temple St. Clair talks about her luxury jewelry line with a customer during her Feb. 27 appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue on El Paseo in Palm Desert.

Jim Powers

Temple St Clair’s exposure to European influences so prevalent in her luxury jewelry pieces began well before she spent summers in Morocco and Bavaria and studied at a boarding school in Switzerland.

It actually started in Bluefield, W. Va.

That’s where St. Clair’s grandmother lived, a town about 100 miles west of Roanoke, Va. In stark contrast to the rural surroundings, St. Clair remembers that her grandmother’s parents were very well traveled, sophisticated, worldly in impressions of their surroundings, and taking ocean liner trips to Europe on a regular basis.

“So I was introduced very early to a family tradition on my mother’s side of houses that were curated in a certain way, a real care of the aesthetic environment, and how things were put together,” St. Clair said. “So I grew up with all of that. And, in fact, I feel uncomfortable in my own space unless I curate it. I don’t think I could ever have an interior designer do my home because I think I would feel like I’m living in a hotel. My details are very important to me.”

Details are what define her exquisite jewelry pieces, which were on display Feb. 27 at Saks Fifth Avenue in Palm Desert. The stop was St. Clair’s first to the desert, and she had been able to stay with family in Santa Monica the night before.

“I always get to places I would love to visit and I never have enough time,” St. Clair said of the Pam Desert area. “I look around, and I think, ‘I have to come back’.”

St. Clair’s jewelry has been on display at the Saks Fifth Avenue Palm Desert store for the past two years – more than a decade with the company overall - and already created a distinct following. These tour stops allow her the customer interaction she holds so dearly to the creative process of her work.

“People who get involved with my collection tend to become collectors, and it’s a very personal jewelry, it’s not mass manufactured in any way,” St. Clair said. “ there are lots of limited edition pieces and a lot of one-of-a-kind pieces, so people tend to want to come see more.”

Palm Springs Life sat down with St. Clair before the show and asked about her specialized jewelry line.

Does your jewelry have a geographic sense to it? Is there a piece or pieces that someone would wear out here in a desert environment?
“I find in my history with California, people respond to color. There is a little more casual lifestyle, and my pieces are very wearable. I have been known for my color for a long time. People are more comfortable with color out here and maybe it’s because of the light.”

When you first started, was your intention not to create jewelry that was not mass-produced?
“When I got into this, I had no intention of making this a career, which is probably a good thing and bad thing. On the positive side, I don’t come at it from the constraints of being a manufacturer and how do I fit into the market. I’ve always designed things and made things in a very personal way. I’ve never followed specific trends. I’ve always marched to my own beat. I always describe what I do, I could have been in some other creative form, but jewelry has been my vehicle of expression. In that way, it continues to be a very personal endeavor. It’s not commercial. There is a lot more story telling and sharing of what the work is, what the inspiration is, not simply putting out product. I like that involvement. I like hearing back from people who get joy out of what I do, how they wear it, and what it means to them.”

In your book, “Alchemy”, you make a point of how people tend to be defined by what they do or the position they have. Was it important to you not to be defined that way?
“I think as a young person in my 20s, I was very lucky to have been exposed to a lot of travel and cultural influences. That has always been very important to me. That cultural stimulation and being exposed to different environments. I think whatever I did needed to have that stimulation. My father wanted me to go to law school. It was hard for me to get around a certain career. The jewelry world has been such a generous career because there are so many elements I can draw from to complete the work, whether it’s traveling, spending a day in a museum, cooking, gardening, and scuba diving. I’m also a big skier. I love being in nature. So many things I draw upon that enrich my imagination and I bring it back into my work.”

In this age of computer-generated images, do you continue to sketch your jewelry designs first?
“I find I need the hand drawing. With my goldsmiths particularly in Italy, the hand drawing conveys a feeling that you cannot capture on a computer. I still do very rough doodles that contain a lot of expression that I try to put into the jewelry. That’s why I work with certain goldsmiths who get what I am trying to communicate.”

Would you say your jewelry is just for women?
“I have men who are wearing my rock crystal amulets. I remember taking an studio art class, and my instructor said to me, ‘I don’t want to be sexist, but if I had seen your drawings and I didn’t know if was you, I would think you were a man’. I think I have a strong line of expression A lot of rings and things, some or the all gold pieces, they are very classic in a way that they could go for men or women. I do cufflinks and have done wedding rings for men.”

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