Constance Ensner moved to Asheville from Los Angeles in 1985, and, with no prior business experience, launched CONSTANCE BOUTIQUE, featuring artfully modern women’s couture for 29 years. Then, in 2021, she quietly debuted her own handmade jewelry collection — primarily showcasing gemstones set in sterling silver.
How did you get into jewelry making?
Over a period of about 10 years, I took classes at Penland [School of Craft] and with Nancy Fleming — a jeweler from Weaverville. Then I went to a metalsmithing school taught by this guy in Mexico.
That sounds lovely.
Except he was a totally crazy nutcase who had been in prison, was very intimidating, and class was a nonstop monologue about how stupid all of us were and every other word out of his mouth was f**k. His studio was a pigsty. He’d eat and throw the bones on the floor. Disgusting. It was the weirdest experience; I just cried.
But then I met a woman who told me about another jeweler and I started classes there the very next day. I learned a lot, had a lot of practice, and when I came back here, I began taking classes at Ignite jewelry studio in the River Arts District. That kicked me into a higher gear. I produce clothing for Mary James’ MAISON MARY store in Asheville, so I produced my first jewelry collection for a trunk show there.
Do you envision your jewelry with clothing and fabric, as you’re designing it?
No, it’s more about asking, “What does this beautiful stone want to be?” A lot of time is spent figuring out what it needs to become. Which stone looks the best on what shape, and where to position it. It’s whatever you can dream up, but at the same time, it’s within a confined space. Not like painting. To me painting is daunting, confronting that big blank canvas. And I’m attracted to cleaner, more contemporary aesthetics — although even pre-Columbian works of art were very simple. When I had my store, I’d go to big wholesale shows in NYC and it was very hard to find jewelry that was very simple. I think that’s because simple pieces might be perceived as not challenging enough, and jewelry designers want to showcase their skills.
Simplicity is often underrated.
One of my teachers said simple is hard. Clean lines are hard because all of your mistakes show up, so you have to be more precise. Hearing that emboldened me. There is merit in disciplining yourself to do a clean line.
Why do humans wear jewelry?
It’s very primitive, the human impulse to decorate oneself. But for a lot of us, wearing certain signature pieces becomes a daily ritual. I don’t like to change out my jewelry. Personally, I like the weight of it. It’s about the joy and self satisfaction of putting on something beautiful that starts you off on a good foot for the day. You can count on jewelry.
Constance Ensner, East Asheville. Ensner’s jewelry is available at WONDERFUL jewels+wears, located in the Radview Building (across from Wedge Studios) at 20 Artful Way, Suite 104, in Asheville’s River Arts District. For more information, call 828-575-6011 or see @wonderful.asheville on Instagram.