Natural Beauty

Spinal and 18-kt. white gold bracelet; pink sapphire and 18-kt white gold bracelet; aquamarine, diamond and 18-kt. white gold cross.

Ashleigh Branstetter may have taken the long way around to find her niche, but the results are well worth the trip.

A model since high school, she has appeared in print ads for Volvo and Southern Comfort, in national commercials for Bank One, Sprite and Mazda, in music videos—one with Harry Connick Jr.—and in movies, including Runaway Jury and Failure to Launch.

While at Louisiana State University studying for a degree
in Fine Arts with a specialty in painting/drawing, she took a class in jewelry/metals as an elective with Chris Hintz and “something just clicked.” She changed her major to sculpture in order to keep working with metals, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture and a minor in jewelry/ metals. Soon after, she began creating jewelry. Branstetter has also studied at Parsons School of Design in New York City, Revere Academy of Jewelry Artists in San Francisco and Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. She is now completing her graduate gemology degree from Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

Ashleigh Branstetter wearing some of her pieces.

“I just think of myself as an artist,” Branstetter says. “We all have our mediums, and mine are precious metals and gemstones, set in the form of fine jewelry.”

Her work runs the gamut from elaborate custom pieces to casual accent ones, the most well known of which are her award-winning, copyrighted “Ruffle” designs. “I fabricate each piece in either 18-kt. gold or sterling silver, then I add the colored stones and pearls,” Branstetter says. “The ‘Ruffle’ is something I came up with a couple of years ago—inspired by the old-fashioned ruffle of a period dress. I make it modern by using
a bold stone or oftentimes, a Tahitian or South Sea pearl.”

Bold, yet very feminine, Branstetter’s clients like to refer to her work as “conversation pieces.”

Branstetter’s
“Ruffle” design: Tahitian pearl
and 18-kt. gold earrings.

“I like to think that the wearer feels the time and effort I put into each piece,” she says. “I can usually tell you exactly where my pieces are and who has purchased them.”

It’s the process of making the jewelry—from the seed of inspiration until she can hold the finished piece in her hand—that moves Branstetter. “I get inspired by beautiful things I see in the course of a day outside, whether nature, architecture, people or the weather … I also tend to have influences of floral in most of my pieces,” Branstetter says.

After Branstetter finds inspiration, she renders her concept on paper, envisions her materials, then creates a sample piece in her “small, but comfortable … residential-feeling” studio.

Tahitian pearl, fancy sapphires and 18-kt. white gold necklace.

“Some days I’ll get up in the morning and get right into the studio to start turning out pieces. Other days, I’ll feel inspired to be outside and come up with designs, but not do anything other than sketch,” says Branstetter. A person who works better under pressure, holidays and large shows spur her to put in long hours. “I’ll end up working 24/7—and that’s when the magic really happens,” she says.

The time it takes to create each piece varies, though custom pieces traditionally take longer, Branstetter says. “I can spend as little as three hours or as much as three weeks. It just depends on the complexity of the design. For custom pieces though, working closely with the client is really a special part of the process.”

Tahitian pearl and pink diamond ring set in 18-kt gold and rose gold.

At the moment, Branstetter is working on a number of custom holiday pieces and building her inventory for three holiday events. The trend in these pieces includes much larger faceted gems than in previous pieces, and also includes a lot of work with diamonds —both of which she will, “introduce a lot of this upcoming year.”

Constantly exploring new materials and designs, Branstetter says that every day holds new inspirations in the “people, places and experiences of life … My designs will reflect these experiences, which I look forward to sharing with my clients.”

Ashleigh Branstetter, 504/598-6272 (by appointment), www.ashleighbranstetter.com

Categories: Masters of their Craft