Margaret Ellis has been putting smiles on women’s faces for decades. Known for her distinctive hammered pieces in gold and silver, Margaret is one of Nashville’s premier jewelers. The art of hammered jewelry is almost as rare as finding a jeweler whose specialty is truly hand-crafted jewelry. Margaret does both with exquisite skill. Recently, Margaret announced her plans for retirement, and it is with great pleasure that StyleBlueprint pays tribute to her today and celebrates the impact she has had on fashion and design.
Are you from Nashville? If not, how did you arrive here?
I feel like I am, because I came here when I graduated from college in 1965. When my first husband came here to go to graduate school at Vanderbilt, I came along for the ride. My whole life has changed dramatically since then, but I still live in Nashville.
As one of Nashville’s most respected jewelry designers, how did you get into this type of business?
Actually, my motive wasn’t really to “start a business.” I have always loved jewelry. I first learned to make jewelry about 38 years ago and I became like the girl who learned to sew so that she could make herself a prom dress. I felt that I was meant to design jewelry. But, in order to do that full time, I had to sell some of it. So, that’s how I ended up starting a business.
Did you have a mentor in the business?
The person who influenced me most was Heikki Seppa, a teacher I had at Penland School. He is the person who taught me how to hammer, and hammering has defined so much of my style. When I first started, I didn’t know anyone in Nashville who was doing what I wanted to do. I wanted to go straight to New York and sell hand-crafted jewelry on a national level to the fashion market. That is a very tough market to crack. I had a lot of rejection and discouragement in the beginning, but there were people who got what I was trying to do and I appreciated them very much. There are still very few designers who sell totally hand crafted jewelry in the fashion market. It has been a big challenge to do that, but I am proud that I have been able to hold to this approach. I think there is a real need for this kind of work in our “Walmartized” world.
Where do you get your inspiration when creating such gorgeous jewelry?
My inspiration has always come from listening the the materials I was working with – metal, pearls, stones. I have been primarily motivated to work with metal in such a way as to defy the fact that it is a hard substance by bending, folding, and manipulating it into three dimensions.
If a woman is considering purchasing a piece of jewelry as an investment piece, what advice do you have for her?
Always let your heart be your guide when you are acquiring jewelry. Do you love it? Can you afford it? Will it make you feel special to own it and wear it? Then buy it. Time and time again I have seen someone look at my work and fall in love with a fairly expensive piece (keep in mind that expensive is relative). Then she will talk herself into spending the same amount of money but buying three other pieces because she will then have “more.” That makes no sense to me. I would much rather have one truly fabulous thing. Let jewelry be an investment in joy!
As a savvy business woman, what has been some valuable advice you’ve been given?
Always say thank you and be grateful to anyone who helps you along the way. You can never go wrong by knocking yourself out to make people feel good about themselves. I don’t see this as a “means to an end,” but as an end in itself.
You announced at the end of 2012 that you were retiring. What prompted this decision?
Many things. As more years pass, the years pass faster. I wanted time to pursue other interests, travel more with my husband, Fred, who is also my business partner, and begin the Third Act of this play called My Life. I had not thought about turning the business over to someone else until Mclaine Richardson started working for us. She is an exceptional young woman in many ways, and a light started to go on in my head that she could take it from here. Her mother is Connie Richardson, well known in Nashville fashion circles, and she will be helping Mclaine in many aspects of the business. They are a dream team for this job. Mclaine designed the collection of jewelry that she will take to New York’s wholesale accesory show in January. I like the collection very much. It fits right in with my classic pieces confirming that Mclaine understands my established aesthetics. Mclaine is keeping the name, Margaret Ellis Jewelry, and Anjy Smith and Edward Tomlin, the same two wonderfully talented people who have been making the jewelry literally for decades, will remain on board. I think that both Nashville and New York will approve, and that all will be well. I foresee a very smooth transition.
Your campaign featuring local women (not models) is so recognizable. How did you come up with that idea?
I actually started doing this almost as soon as I started running local ads. My jewelry has always been designed for real women, and I love to see them wear it. The ads were much more personal for me when I used a real woman, rather than a model. I love to take pictures of people and I have really enjoyed selecting the women for these ads. A good friend of mine, Nancy Lee Andrews, had been doing the photography for all my ads and I had learned a lot from watching her. When I told her I was going to start shooting the ads myself her response was, “Well, I saw this coming.” She was a true mentor to me and I am grateful. I will miss doing the ads more than anything I have been currently doing. It’s funny, but since I started doing the photography for the ads, I have wondered if I wasn’t designing jewelry mainly to photograph it. I eagerly look forward to having more time to really get serious about my photography. My favorite photographers are Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbus, so I have a feeling things are about to get interesting.
What event are you looking forward to in Nashville?
I am, at this moment, most looking forward to getting on an airplane with Fred and going to Costa Rica for an extended stay.
What books are on your bedside table?
In One Person, by John Irving, Prime Time, by Jane Fonda, I’m Over All That, by Shirley MacLaine.
What is your favorite restaurant in Nashville?
My favorite restaurant in Nashville is closing on January 1. ChaChah has been such a hangout for me. I love Chef Arnold Myint and I know that whatever comes next for him will become my new favorite.
When it comes to relaxation, where do you vacation?
Latin America. We have gone to Mexico for years, but are looking forward to going further south. Our favorite places in Mexico are San Miguel and the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. I am looking forward to shifting from what I think of as a “vacation” to a brand new lifestyle that is far more relaxed than what I am used to. Fred and I plan to spend much more time in Latin America, and one of my goals is to really learn Spanish.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God).
- My computer
- My camera
- My makeup bag. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Thank you Margaret! And thank you Ashley Hylbert for the beautiful FACES photographs you deliver each week! For more information about Margaret Ellis Jewelry, visit this website: www.margaretellisjewelry.com. And to see more of Ashley’s photography, visit her website: www.ashleyhylbert.com.