#thisispearl Nov. 2021 - Page 30

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CPAA Affiliate Member Spotlight

Ashleigh Branstetter of

Ashleigh Branstetter Jewelry

Ashleigh Branstetter’s dad once had high hopes for dental school for his daughter, but a summer drawing class in New York City shifted her sights and interest to a more artistic field.

“Everybody in my family was in the medical field—and I started off as a pre-med major—but after that drawing class, I went back to Louisiana State University to study sculpture, jewelry, and metalsmithing,” she says.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts, with a major in sculpture and a minor in metalsmithing. Branstetter made her first piece of jewelry out of dental plaster—a little heart brooch. “That pink plaster was easy to shape,” she recollects.

Next up was an 18k gold ring rolled out of dental gold, but the design didn’t match up with her dream. “It came out of the oven as a nugget.”

Disappointment aside, Branstetter went on to selling tools with some well-known jewelry tool firms, traveling to trade shows, and learning more about the business. She also had exposure to high-end gems and pearls. Her first big purchase was cabochon-cut stones for $2,500. “I nearly broke out in hives writing that check!” she says, having only previously used Swarovski crystals in pieces.

As her skills developed, so did her design DNA—a ruffle effect with etching and scrollwork that has won her numerous design awards. The star of most styles? South Sea pearls. “I love baroque South Sea pearls, from silver to golden to black, all the different hues and color ranges.”

What would you have done if you didn't work in the pearl industry?

Painting or drawing—a different kind of artist.

Why are pearls your favorite gem?

I’ve just always loved them, gravitated toward them. No other reason!

What was your first break in the pearl business? 

It was probably when I won an Honorable Mention in an early International Pearl Design Competition from the CPAA. Business picked up after that.

What is your best pearl memory?

I remember Fran Mastoloni grabbing my hand at a trade show and telling me that he had a pearl lot for me. I said, “I’m not doing the lot,” but eventually I caved in and bought the lot of white South Sea pearls ranging in size from 10 to 15 mm rounds and ovals. He knew I was ready for a lot!

Who is/was your pearl mentor? 

Fran Mastoloni of Mastoloni Pearls, Allen Moshi of Alsol, and Danny Moshi of Daniel Moshi.

What pearl was the hardest for you to sell?

It was a big baroque gray Tahitian pearl, upwards of 15 mm, with green and pink hues. It was just a beautiful pearl. I set it as a pendant necklace, with beautiful blue-green sapphires on top, they were the color of the sea. I reluctantly sold that piece to a consumer.

Favorites

Hashtag? 

#sustainabilityinstyle and #jewelryaddict

Dogs or cats?

Dogs!

Type of pearl? 

South Sea because of the luster and it can go with anything.

Piece of pearl jewelry?

My Ruffle earrings with white South Sea pearls or a golden South Sea pearl ring in yellow and rose gold with pink diamonds. The ring was an award winner.

Wine or whiskey?

I’m not really a drinker.

Coffee or tea? 

Both.

Ocean or lake?

Ocean.

Winter or Summer?

Both. I love the beach and I love skiing.

Vacation spot? 

The mountains of Sun Valley, Idaho.

City or suburbs? 

I love the country, but I live in downtown New Orleans.