Based in New Orleans, Ashleigh Branstetter is an award-winning jeweller who focuses her designs on the beauty of simplicity. For Ashleigh, nothing says sophistication quite like the effortless and clean lines of a classic design. Her jewelry isn’t designed for trend-followers, it’s designed for those who want to buy jewelry they have a connection with and that will last them a lifetime. We chat to Ashleigh about her love for gemstones, her dependency on a microscope and how she winds down after a long day making jewelry.
How did you start your brand?
“I started studying painting, drawing and sculpture but quickly made my way into jewelry. Early on, I developed the Ruffle© design. I entered the design in competitions and received great feedback and recognition. The Ruffle design has gone on to become a signature piece in my line.”
When did you first fall in love with jewelry?
“I’ve always loved the idea of adornment; of creating beautiful objects that can be worn and used. I love jewelry that can easily become part of everyday life. When I was studying sculpture in college, I was drawn to doing smaller and smaller works.”
How would you describe your jewelry?
“For me, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I’m drawn to clean, effortless design. I work to subtract extraneous elements to create pieces that are elegant and timeless.”
What inspires your designs?
“Living in New Orleans, I’m very inspired by the city and by everything around me, particularly nature. If you look closely at something like lichen, there is so much to draw on there – it’s an endless variety of colors, textures, and forms.”
How is your jewelry crafted?
“My process is very hands on. I draw on traditional techniques that have been used for several generations and try to use minimal tools and equipment. I seek to create a refined simplicity, not only in the finished product, but also in the process that goes into making it.”
Do you use any specific techniques?
“I am very dependent on my microscope. It’s so important for me to be able to see each and every detail. There are so many things that are only ever revealed when you look very closely.”
How do you source your materials?
“I’m completely obsessed with gemstones. I don’t work with any one kind of stone, but there are some, like pearls, that I come back to time and time again. I choose stones that speak to me, whose shape and color draws me in.”
How do you ensure your jewelry is ethical and sustainable?
“I do my best to source all of my materials ethically and sustainably. On a personal level, I strive to create timeless designs that will last a lifetime, not something trendy that you will discard after a few years.”
Tell us about a customer who you are proud of…
“You don’t always know who is buying your jewelry. A woman bought a ring from me once in Aspen, I later found out that she gave the ring to Laura Bush. I only know this because I got a call from the White House - they had to document the gift! But I never did see Laura Bush wearing the ring.”
Are there any celebrities you would love to see wearing your jewelry?
“For me, the most meaningful thing is when I see my jewelry being worn by everyday people. When it becomes a part of their style and, ultimately, their lives.”
How do you want someone to feel when they wear your designs?
“I want people to find a piece that's a perfect fit for them. A piece that will help them to look their best and feel great about it.”
What’s been the highest point of your career so far?
“My work has won four AGTA Spectrum Awards and two North American Tahitian Pearl Trophy awards.”
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be?
“I always, always wear the same pair of Ruffle earrings. They go with everything, dressy or casual. I can wear them with my work out clothes or with a formal ballgown. I love how versatile they are.”
If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you be doing?
“It’s hard to see myself doing anything else. I used to work part-time for my dad in his dental office; I would make jewelry out of the plaster he used to make moulds of people’s teeth. Making is just fundamental to who I am - it’s an instinct, a passion.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Do what you love and take it day by day.”
If you could travel to one place in the world right now, where would it be?
“I love to travel, and I love to be in nature. Lately, I have been going to Patagonia, just off Tic-Toc Bay. In March, the orcas come in and swim almost right up to the shore. It’s the most incredible thing to watch!”
What drew you to JewelStreet?
“It’s an honour to be alongside such talented designers. I’m excited to be part of a connected community and to share my designs with the world.”
How do you ensure you have a good work/life balance?
“I think when you enjoy your work, there is a certain balance in that. If you work in a way that doesn’t feel like work, you don’t feel overworked by it. Even when you’re sometimes working long hours!”
What’s your signature dish?
“Crawfish Étouffée - a Louisiana classic.”
How do you wind down after a long day?
“I walk Lulu (my dog), do yoga, or have a glass of wine.”