It’s pretty special when a flourishing mentor-mentee relationship results in a true dynamic of collaboration. Or better yet, a new jewelry brand that somehow manages to present two distinct voices in perfect harmony with one another.
You do hear about All About Eve situations and that’s what many might picture if you read the headline—something like “26-Year-Old Buys Jewelry Business Founded by Beloved Industry Veteran”—out of context. But the real story behind Nashville, Tenn.–based jewelry brand Margaret Ellis centers on the passing of a torch. It’s about two Southern ladies—the founder and her young protégée, Mclaine Richardson—at opposite junctures in their careers who figured out a way to prolong the life of a jewelry brand with a rich heritage and a devoted following, especially among locals.
Founded in 1983, Margaret Ellis had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s—representation at Fragments, editorial placements in Mademoiselle and Vogue; there was even a Sex and The City appearance.
Margaret Ellis jewelry in the 1980s-era pages of Glamour and Mademoiselle (both images courtesy of Margaret Ellis Jewelry)
A necklace and bracelet suite by Margaret Ellis circa 1980s
Richardson joined the company in 2009 as a temporary hire before transitioning to a full-time bench jeweler who also looked after the company’s marketing, social media, and shipping. Her collegiate and post-grad studies in metalsmithing, fine art, and design, as well as her on-the-job training in production techniques with two Margaret Ellis senior designers, would have prepared her amply for a top position with another jeweler.
But opportunity knocked as Ellis made plans to retire.
“Three years after working with her, she said, ‘I always thought I’d lock the door and walk away, but you can do this. And I’d love for you to carry on my name and brand and take care of my friends and customers, so let’s find a way to make this work,’” says Richardson.
The young designer purchased the assets in 2013, including a 30-year catalog of archival designs. The two pros who trained her are still on staff. “The three of us are proud to carry on Margaret’s legacy,” says Richardson.
But is it possible to honor an established brand’s DNA while ushering it into a new era, and evolving its look and feel to stay current with trends? And draw in younger customers?
“I’ve chosen to simplify many of her timeless designs while keeping the general design aesthetic as a way to hold prices down since labor and business costs continue to escalate,” says Richardson. “Each unique design is still made with love in our Nashville studio from the highest-quality materials, with a distinctive style that is easily recognizable as ME, which is how we’ve been referring to the brand of late.”
A Margaret Ellis print advertisement from the archives
Current Margaret Ellis lookbook photos highlighting the Spring 2018 collection
Sadly, Margaret Ellis passed away earlier this year, a tragic event that weighs on the current team but also motivates them to keep moving the brand forward.
In fact, the loss of their designer emeritus seems to have empowered and emboldened Richardson to explore and develop new horizons and narratives.
“It’s important to me to keep the brand fresh with three full collections each year,” says Richardson. “This spring I added colorful chalcedony stones to the Bloom collection. Margaret used a lot of stones, but I have found that stone collections have been more difficult to sell. But this season I craved a pop of color and my clients have responded very positively to the pastel and bright hues, as well as our pearls.”
Below, a look at some of the new pieces…and a window on what ME fans can expect in the future.
Stone Drop Earring with aqua, blue, and pink chalcedony cabochons and aqua chalcedony briolettes in sterling silver, $465
Stone Triangle Earrings with blue chalcedony cabochons in sterling silver, $415
Doldrum Cuff with large freshwater coin pearl in bronze, $565
Horn Collar Necklace in sculpted bronze, $590
Eddy Curve Pearl Necklace with freshwater pearls and silver pendant, $640
(Top image: A piece from the Margaret Ellis spring look book, courtesy of Margaret Ellis)
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