British fashion designer Alice Temperley is best known for her designs that incorporate luxurious fabrics, elegant embroidery, detailed printed patterns and hand finishes. Since launching Temperley London from a hotel bedroom in 2000, she has dressed celebrities ranging from Demi Moore to Kate Moss. Now stocked in 37 countries, and with a six-floor flagship store in Mayfair, Temperley London has become a mainstay of the fashion scene.
The designer can trace her interest in textile and jewellery design back to her bohemian childhood in Somerset. ‘My nickname is Magpie,’ Temperley reveals in our video, ‘because I was always collecting jewellery.’
The appreciation of fine jewels is a family affair, it transpires: ‘The whole family has always really loved dressing up and wearing head pieces and costume jewellery. My grandmother used to have lots of amazing buckles and jewels, as well as a very large collection of beautiful lace that once belonged to Queen Victoria.’
For Temperley, some of the most magnificent and inspiring jewels in the world come from India, a country with which she has had a long-standing love affair. ‘I’m always drawn to Indian jewellery because of the way the stones are cut,’ she explains.
Then there’s their extraordinary colouring. ‘The Indian palette is very different to any palette you find anywhere else,’ she adds. Whether sourcing Indian textiles, paintings or jewellery, Temperley says she is drawn to their vibrant colours, which she describes as ‘astounding’.
The designer reveals that jewellery drawings serve as a source of inspiration for her own work. ‘We’ve made beautiful dresses that have layers and layers of embroidery that look like jewels,’ she says. ‘It’s a lovely way of incorporating jewellery into the garment, if you can’t get the real thing.’
Temperley came to Christie’s in London to take a close-up look at the collection of extraordinary treasures offered in the Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence sale on 19 June at Christie’s in New York. ‘Maharaja jewels are the most beautiful pieces of jewellery you can get,’ she says. ‘The scale of them, the craft in them — it’s East meets West in the most beautiful, opulent way.’
‘These diamonds are thicker than normal diamonds, but because of their flat cut they’ve got a beautiful depth to them’
Within the collection Temperley admires an emerald, diamond and pearl turban headpiece, signed by Cartier, and a splendid gold, diamond, emerald and enamel necklace. The latter was made for the Nizam of Hyderabad in the mid-to-late 19th century, and is one of the most spectacular examples of princely jewellery in the world. ‘These diamonds are thicker than normal diamonds,’ Temperley points out, ‘but because of their flat cut they've got a beautiful depth to them.’
Temperley was also rather taken by an unusual rose-coloured spinel ring that opens up to reveal an extendable gold key. The ring, which was given to the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad when he came into power in 1884, is inscribed with a Persian poem telling of its owner’s status as a great warrior. ‘I’d love to take this one home with me,’ says the designer with a smile. ‘It’s the stories behind [these pieces] that make them so magical.’