A new woman-owned jewelry store in the Oakland Hills has taken the place of Montclair Jewelers, whose former owner retired in September after 60 years.
Lindsay Ansley, a jewelry designer and El Cerrito resident, held a soft opening party on Oct. 28 at what is now Aster Jewelers, on Mountain Boulevard. Though under new ownership and a different name, the storefront that formerly housed Montclair Jewelers has been a thriving fixture in the neighborhood for decades.
Montclair Jewelers was, as Ansley described it, a “family heirloom.” Gemologist Joseph Coll, his wife Blanca, and their son David founded the jewelry store in 1963 in Berkeley. After moving their business to the Oakland location in 1970, Joseph and Blanca retired, handing it down to their son and his wife, Sherry. Since its inception, Montclair Jewelers was a full-service shop, offering appraisals, watch and jewelry repairs, bead restringing, and engravings—all of which were important for Ansley to provide at Aster Jewelers, too.
“You see a lot of jewelry boutiques, but not as many people behind the counter who can resize a ring that you brought in, or replace a stone that fell out,” said Ansley. “I liked bringing in this sort of retro vibe of an old-school jeweler, which is kind of a dying business.”
Jewelry isn’t the only inventory at Aster Jewelers—it also sells handmade home goods, such as candles, perfumes, and blankets. As a woman-owned store in a historically male-dominated industry, Ansley was intentional about making sure all 10 of the jewelry brands it carries are also small, women-owned businesses from cities like Oakland, Atlanta, New York, Albuquerque, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
‘It was like the stars aligned’
Last June, David Coll announced in a Facebook group for jewelers that he was retiring after six decades. He wrote that he wanted to hand down his store to a fellow lapidary, a person trained in shaping, cutting, polishing, and engraving precious stones.
Around the same time, Ansley had been considering opening a brick-and-mortar business to house her jewelry brand, Adeline Jewelry. A friend sent her Coll’s listing and “it was like the stars aligned,” said Ansley.
Ansley met with the Colls to tour the shop and, after the Fourth of July weekend, decided to buy it. She renamed the store Aster Jewelers, alluding to asterism, a term used to describe the star-shaped reflection of light from precious gems. Ansley also decided to keep “jewelers” in the name, she said, to pay homage to the former proprietors.
“I wanted to maintain the respect for what they’ve built here,” she said. “It’s a different business, it’s under my name and my vision, but this space has all of this history and David was careful with who he brought in, so it is quite the honor to be trusted with this space.”
Ansley said she wants her store to embody “inclusivity of all kinds,” whether it’s by offering accessories and housewares at affordable price ranges or designing jewelry for all genders.
“I try not to make my rings super masculine or super feminine,” she said, “because it’s important for me to design jewelry for everyone.”
From beads to gemstones: forging her own path
Born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, Ansley traces her fascination with jewelry-making back to her childhood, when her mother took her to a bead store. She was enthralled by the myriad ways she could sort beads and craft colorful accessories with them.
“It was the first time I ever experienced flow state, just completely losing track of everything else,” she said, referring to the mental state of someone effortlessly immersed in an activity they enjoy.
But making a career out of her beloved pastime wasn’t so clear-cut. Putting her hobby on the back burner, Ansley considered becoming a writer, so she studied writing at a university in Ohio and moved to New York after graduation to work for a publishing company. She stayed there for one year, after which she realized it was time to move on.
“I did not love sitting at a desk all day,” Ansley said. “But I knew I wanted to do something creative, and there was something a little more exciting to me about working with my hands and having a tangible piece.”
Almost serendipitously, the weekend after Ansley quit her publishing job, a friend introduced her to a jeweler on the Upper East Side who offered her an apprenticeship. For the next two years, she said, she learned silversmithing as an apprentice while working for an independent jewelry designer in Brooklyn.
In 2010, she moved back home to Oakland and took an intensive jewelry metalsmithing program at Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco. From there, she worked for five years at ESQUELETO Oakland, a jewelry atelier in Temescal, under the owner and fellow jewelry designer Lauren Wolf.
“Lauren really helped me develop my own line and aesthetic and taught me a lot about how to run a business,” said Ansley, who eventually used her skills and experience to launch Adeline Jewelry in 2016.
Reflecting on her lifelong passion for jewelry-making, Ansley said the stories and emotions associated with jewelry have always been special to her.
“I really love that no matter what the purpose of the purchase is, it’s almost always based in love,” she said. “Whether it’s an engagement ring, a wedding ring, a gift for someone you love, or even a gift you’re buying for yourself, it’s imbued with all these positive memories of people and milestones.”
Looking ahead, Ansley plans to use the storied space for more than just retail. She envisions hosting fun community events like pet portraits and “trunk shows,” wherein jewelry designers can preview their latest collections before making them available to the public.
“I love Oakland so much and I love the people that live here, so to be able to have this space where I can bring people in just feels so great,” she said.
Aster Jewelers, 2083 Mountain Blvd. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.