MODERN creations with an old world aura - that's how best to describe Temple St Clair jewellery. Inspired by European Renaissance aesthetics, they may be old world but they're certainly the hot rocks of this age - recognised as timeless modern classics.
Temple St Clair jewellery made its debut in Barneys New York in the late 1980s, setting the tone for the iconic department store's fine jewellery section. From there, a hobby and a means to support an interest in travel and research became a business for American designer Temple St Clair Carr who has crafted it further ever since.
|Egg-shaped crystals and gems are a signature of the bold, yet classic-looking jewellery designed by Temple St Clair Carr
Ms Carr's eponymous jewellery is now distributed through over 100 retailers in the US, and leading stores in a few countries, such as Harrods in London as well as Isetan in Japan. There are plans to roll out more points of sale in Asia by late next year, but the American designer was in town a couple of weeks ago to present her jewellery in an exclusive jewellery showcase, Zenith Affair, held at the Raffles Hotel.
Making jewellery is something she 'fell into', she explains, when studying Italian Renaissance art and history in Florence. 'I was very deep into 14th and 15th century Italy and looking at all the art and architectural details and then reading the great literature of the centuries, and I wanted a piece of jewellery (that reflected that). Italy is famous for its jewellery but nothing appealed to me. It was all quite commercial.'
So she decided to design her own, seeking out Florentine goldsmiths. 'The goldsmith guild in Florence has been and largely remains a man's world, so it was quite something for them to be approached by a woman,' records Ms Carr, in a new coffeetable book on her jewellery, published by Harper Collins.
One piece she sketched that was made by the goldsmith led to another, and yet another, and Ms Carr ended up staying in Florence for close to 12 years, designing jewellery that she would sell in small, private shows in America whenever she returned. The jewellery was spotted by a Barneys' scout in Italy and the rest is history.
'My early collection of jewellery designs were very historically-based inspirations then,' she says, as she studied goldwork of ancient Etruscans and early Greeks, and had incorporated a lot of tiny gold beading and granulation work into her 22-karat gold designs, featuring coloured cabuchon gemstones.
These days, her jewellery is much more contemporary, made with 18-karat gold, for example. Besides designs which still hint at ancient and classical worlds, egg-shaped rock crystals are another signature Temple St Clair design. Her latest Fall/Winter collection features serpents and dragonflies; while butterflies featured in the Spring collection.
For Spring 2009, the mermaid will be the central theme - what mermaids might wear, such as a crystal amulet with a 'netting' of royal blue moonstones and blue sapphires and diamond-studded starfish. She's already designing the Spring 2010 collection, disclosing that it'll be Matisse-inspired.
Asked to describe the Temple St Clair brand, Ms Carr says it's a young heritage brand, much like Bulgari and Cartier when they first started out, with individual designers at the helm. And yes, she already has fans who buy her jewellery as collectibles.
'People are looking for unique, special things, not only stylish, but made in fine way' - that, she reckons, is the appeal of her jewellery.
For the accidental designer, jewellery gives her the luxury of being both an artist and an academic, says Ms Carr, because she is constantly researching themes and ideas. Many factors have coincided to bring her interests and passions together in a career in jewellery, she notes in her book's foreword; but then again, it's a rare artist who is able to make art - in her case jewellery - that is collected as timeless pieces.
» For details of next year's Zenith Affair, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in The Business Times on Oct 18, 2008.