Jewelry Anthropologist

Temple St. Clair Considers Herself a Jewelry Anthropologist

Examining the human condition one couture piece of jewelry at a time.
By Laurel Pantin
Photography by Weston Wells

Temple St. Clair is stunning. There’s no other way to put it—beyond being gorgeous (she is), she speaks with the most incredible mix of a Southern drawl and faint Italian lilt, and when she talks about her jewelry, everything else just goes kind of...fuzzy. Even her name, Temple St. Clair, is lovely and dramatic! See? Stunning. Then you start to really look at her pieces—heavy orbs of rock crystal wrapped in strands of gold dotted with gemstones, or miniature fantastic beasts rendered in the most intricate detail, or pyramid-shaped emerald cabochons that have been smooshed into heavy gold rings—and you fall a little deeper in love with her world. “I got here by chance. I completely fell into the world of jewelry,” she tells us. (Hire a Storyboard Artist) “In my twenties, I was studying Italian renaissance literature, and was pursuing a (somewhat) nomadic lifestyle that let me maintain my insatiable interest and curiosity in things.”

While living and studying in Italy, Temple’s mother gave her an antique coin that she wanted to have set in gold. “She gave me this task to have a coin set in a necklace. I found a goldsmith in Florence and went in—it’s basically like I crossed into the middle ages or something. I crossed into the world of these goldsmiths and became really enraptured in the history of gold, the global history of jewelry, and I’ve been in it ever since.”

She took a historical approach to design—Temple’s early work mirrored early Greek and Roman jewelry designs, and as she’s evolved, her influences have remained on that linear, historical tract. “The very first gemstone I bought was a small cabochon, cushion-cut emerald. I made a ring out of it in 22-karat gold. My jewelry design has sort of followed the course of jewelry history, as in, in the beginning I used only cabochon stones because in ancient jewelry, they didn’t have the means to facet stones; they could only really smooth cut stone. As I’ve gone forward, my jewelry itself has followed a little bit of the history of jewelry. Sometimes I think I’m more of a jewelry anthropologist in that I like the storytelling and the connection to the past.”

18K Falcons from Wings of Desire from The Golden Menagerie.

Now, Temple’s work is divided between her main collection and her haute couture collection (“Haute Couture for me means taking complete creative liberty and expressing something that I love and what I want to do”), which takes the form of lifelike animals, both real and imagined—all housed in precious boxes (the falcons live in hand-embroidered leather boxes embroidered by an expert in Renaissance lace). These pieces are called the “Golden Menagerie.”

“I have a great love of culture and art history, but I also have a deep love for nature,” she said. “I’d always want to explore different depictions of animals. It started with the mythical creatures. I wanted to really come up with a group of creatures, and there ended up being nine that were sort of magically depicted animals. It was really very personal, delving into personal memories and my own childhood or my own experience with creatures in the wild, also through the eyes of my children and their experience catching frogs and snakes in the countryside. It was all about maintaining that sort of childlike awe you have around animals, particularly when you’re growing up and you’re reading all of the fairytales and myths.”

18K Cosquez Emerald Necklace.
18K Fantasy Birds from Wings of Desire from The Golden Menagerie. 

Now, she’s taking that same feeling of awe of animals and translating it into a collection that’s a bit more grounded. “The ‘Lion’ collection benefits Lion Guardians, which is an organization based in Kenya in the Maasai tribesmen area. After the Gold Menagerie, I was really looking for an organization that I felt was doing something very impactful. This organization supports the Maasai to become conservationists and to become lion guardians. It’s a women’s-run organization—I’m not so sure it could have been as successful without a woman’s touch—but these women went in and really got to know the tribe, and communicated this idea that it will benefit them to coexist with the lions because tourism is important for the economy. A portion of the sales at retail will go back to Lion Guardians. I’m hoping that, if people choose, they’ll go directly to Lion Guardians and donate.”

While most of us will never be able to own a piece of the golden menagerie, it’s nice to think that there are pieces you can own that will help guarantee further generations will feel that same sense of awe we do when talking about (and touching!) these pieces. “We’re currently in what’s called ‘the 6th great extinction.’ We’re losing creatures at an accelerated rate—we’re losing daily. You see all the poster-child animals, the big pretty ones, but there are so many others that we’re losing. It’s just crazy.”

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