Twenty-five years after being discovered by a Barneys buyer in Florence, designer Temple St. Clair's namesake jewelry line has earned legions of admirers among the glamorous bohemians who fetishize her signature rock crystal amulets and showpiece cocktail rings.
Born in Virginia, Ms. St. Clair grew up traveling and adventuring around the world—going on deep-sea expeditions with explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, trekking through Mayan ruins in the Yucatán and studying literature in northern Italy, where she also discovered her professional calling. Today, Ms. St. Clair continues to globe trot, collecting inspiration and talismanic charms in places like Nepal and Patmos, Greece, commemorating her travels with her covetable gems. When she's not stealing away to the Berkshires with her husband and two sons, the avid yogini and marine life advocate spends time at her SoHo studio conceiving her next collection.
This season, it's East-meets-West with Buddha as her muse. We caught up with the author of "Alchemy: A Passion for Jewels" (a memoir-cum-scrapbook about her travels and designs), who stresses the importance of keeping your aura clean and believes diamonds are definitely not a girl's best friend.
I never take off my pair of steel and gold bangles. I'm ritualistic that way. You're supposed to keep steel in your aura. The Sikhs call it a Kara. Women wear steel on the left.
If nothing else, I put on a pair of earrings. They light up the face. My mother would always say, "put on your lipstick." But as I mature I think that with makeup, less is more.
Three investment pieces every woman should own are a signature jewel (mine's my amulet), a great coat from Loro Piana and a watch from Hermès, Bulgari or Patek Philippe.
I would never wear coral. The Buddhists look at it as a sacred object. The coral reefs are like the rain forests of the sea. It's actually an animal, which many people don't realize. Now the United States is the largest importer of coral for home décor and jewelry.
My favorite gem is a blue moonstone. It's magical and has this great quality called adularescence, which makes a blue flash that is beautiful on the skin. They're just like pearls in the way that they flatter everyone.
The place that inspires me most is Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel in Florence. Even though it looks simple, the way the dome is created is so sophisticated with its rich colors. In my jewelry, I like to take away rather than put too much in.
The best markets are Campo dei Fiori near the Piazza Navona in Rome and Santo Spirito in Florence. There is a trend in Italy called zero-kilometer markets with local, organic and artisanal goods. They're fantastic spots to find great woven wools and obscure lotions and potions. To me, luxury is finding the perfect local honey or simple arrangement of flowers.
My wedding ring is a blue sapphire that my husband bought while traveling with his friend years ago. We went to an antiquary dealer and set it in a band based on a Roman children's ring.
I never forget to pack Sakura Pigma Micron 05 pens, my Holbein sketchbook (I like that it ties with a string), my crystal amulet and my Nikon SLR. I also have a little Canon G11, which my professional photographer friends use as their pocket camera.
The best stores are Il Torchio, a fantastic paper shop in Florence where I buy journals for drawing and writing and Nuno, a contemporary textiles shop in Roppongi Hills in Tokyo that has beautiful scarves and shawls.
The most overrated jewels are diamonds. Apart from a few rare collectibles they are plentiful particularly in the smaller commercial sizes. On the other hand, very fine colored gems are painstakingly difficult to source, thus much more precious in my mind.
I never wear my rings in the ocean. My husband's wedding band is in a coral reef somewhere.
When I entertain, I like to make a big Portuguese fish stew. It's really satisfying in the winter. It takes three different kinds of fish, andouille sausage, potatoes, lots of bay leaves and allspice. It's perfect with great crispy bread and good red wine.
I love to visit Charleston, S.C. It has big cosmopolitan flavor for a little town. One of my favorite eating places down there is Gaulart & Maliclet. It's this little chic sit-at-the-counter café place. It's nickname is "Fast and French."
If I had to design using only three materials, they would be 24-karat gold, aquamarine and tourmaline in their crystal state. I love the basic qualities of pure gold and the sensual range of colors literally makes me feel content.
I like having a uniform. I have about seven Prada boots. I add new ones each season.
It depends where I am, but the best chocolate is from Paris (Angelina is a classic); Florence (Café Rivoire in Piazza della Signoria); and New York, where I keep a stock of MarieBelle Aztec hot chocolate.
I come from a matriarchal Southern familyso I love unlimited refills of sweet iced tea or shrimp and grits. We make them simply as a side dish with salt and pepper. Yes, I make my sons eat grits.
My favorite restaurants are Cave di Maiano in the hills above Florence where "Room with a View" was filmed (they make a black cabbage risotto that I dream of), and a hole in the wall in New York called Minca on East 5th street that has the best ramen outside of Japan.
I treasure my copies of love notes from F. Scott Fitzgerald to my grandmother. They met on a transatlantic cruise in the '20s while she was visiting Egypt for King Tut's tomb opening. He became her admirer and visited her in Virginia Beach. She would never fess up to what went on in the dunes.—Edited from an interview by Nicole Berrie