When experts speak about wine, they often use the word terroir – a French term which means the wine is very much a product of the place it comes from. The same could be said for Yonna Derofe’s jewellery.
The co-founder of Australian jewellery label Temple of the Sun produces artisanal pieces that point to a distinct place and time, namely the rich cultural experience of her upbringing in 1970s Istanbul. Now based in Byron Bay with her husband and Temple of the Sun co-founder, South Australian-born Darren Gallant, Yonna’s hand-crafted rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelet designs channel the art, culture and symbology she grew up with. “I was born in Istanbul and spent my early years visiting museums and spending time in the Grand Bazaar, where the ancient European-inspired aesthetic really made an impact,” says Yonna
She moved to Australia when she was nine and eventually studied sculpture and jewellery making in Sydney, where she met the young entrepreneur Darren. The pair eventually ended up in Byron Bay, where they raised their family and Yonna made ceramic ware and silver jewellery that was offered through local galleries. “But it wasn’t at all scaleable,” recalls Darren.
“We were inspired to share the Jewellery with a wider audience, and at the time I was working in both business management and product development… so in 2014, we decided to pool our skillsets and take it to the world.”They called their business Temple of the Sun.“I was reading a lot of archaeology books at the time,” says Yonna. “So temples of the sun were top of mind. And when the name came to us, we felt such a strong alignment with all that it speaks to– to a timeless sacred space of honouring, of the divine, of each other, and of oneself.
That small operation has now grown to 20 staff, including three jewellers. Their meticulously crafted jewellery is worn all over the world, sold from a shop attached to their studio, as well as via their website and more than 70 wholesalers and retailers globally.
Their customer base is diverse, ranging from 16-80. “A lot of our younger customers may choose silver or vermeil (plated) jewellery, however, of course, we find many of our customers are turning solid gold,” says Darren, who is managing director and in charge of business development while his wife heads up the design team.
“They love not only the soft lustre and beauty of solid gold but also that it is forever, never to fade nor tarnish… Solid gold jewellery is an heirloom.”
The team produces two collections of silver and vermeil jewellery a year, while the solid gold jewellery offered in 9, 14, 18 and 22 carats is developed and released more organically throughout the year. The latter is made in the purpose-built ByronBay gold studio the couple opened within their studio in 2022.“Having the gold studio allows us to oversee every aspect of the production process and ensure that our jewellery is both handcrafted ethically and finished to the highest standards possible.”
‘We’re committed to minimising environmental impact by selecting our materials carefully and operating a closed-loop production process,’ says Yonna. ‘We believe in promoting transparency and ethical practices in the industry, and hope to lead by example.’
All of Yonna’s designs are produced in-house, aside from the 22-carat Temple Heritage range which she’s collaborated on with artisans in Istanbul. Today the label maintains around 300 styles across both silver and solid gold ranges.
“We also love to co-create bespoke designs for customers who are looking for a unique piece that really speaks to them,” says Yonna. Popular with brides, the couple chose to call their range of wedding jewellery ‘ceremonial jewellery’.
“For us, “ceremonial jewellery“ speaks much more broadly to celebrating milestones in life, whether that’s an engagement or wedding ring, or simply buying oneself a piece of jewellery to honour a moment of significance.
Yonna’s inspiration is twofold — both the ancient artistic treasures of her youth as well as the environment she and Darren surround themselves with.
“We live on a coastal property, very much within nature, which also informs my design aesthetic,” she says. “Those two influences — the ancient and the modern — come into play throughout my designs.”
Sustainability is one of the couple’s key values, not just in their work but also in their daily lives.“It’s how we move through the world,” says Darren. This is reflected in how they source their materials, using 100% recycled silver and Australian-sourced gold, and extends to the gemstones they use, such as opals and sapphires from Queensland, rubies from Greenland, and conflict-free and lab-grown diamonds.
Discover the mesmerizing world of Temple of the Sun, where beauty and craftsmanship intertwine.
Words: Sharon Sharon Stephenson / Photography Nina Claire Photography