2nd Place – Gold/Platinum
Laguna Beach resident and master metalsmith Adam Neeley creates pieces that have a distinct aesthetic. Adam is a unique and charming mixture of jewelry designer, astronomy enthusiast, scientist/inventor, concert pianist (if he wanted to be) and as he says, “bon vivant.”
Where did you get the title?
Star Hen is a galaxy-inspired piece. I watched the TV series “Cosmos” on Netflix at night and was fascinated by it. I wanted to make a design that would capture the universe expanding. Each piece in the Cosmos Collection is inspired by a different galaxy. The citrine is cut by Mark Gronlund; the gemstone pattern is known as concave cutting.
How long did it take to make the piece?
One month from start to finish. I drew and created the components in CAD and then grew 14 pieces that were precision finished when assembled. Ninety percent of the piece was laser welded to keep all the finishes pristine. It is satin finished, and underneath is high polished white gold which acts like a mirror. It is such a clean line piece, so exciting.
What obstacles did you have to overcome with in making this piece?
I had done a couple of “Cosmos” pieces before, and at those times I worked out some of the obstacles. The challenges with this piece were in working with geometric shapes and making them symmetrical so that everything lined up perfectly.
What do you plan to do with the piece?
Some of the award winners I keep, but I think I will sell this one and find a wonderful home for it.
What did you feel when you heard?
Thrilled. It is my first time winning the Saul Bell Design Award; in 2017 I was a finalist. I hope they love the precision. It is such a big honor.
Who did you tell first about winning?
I told my partner, Zach.
Two Tahitian Pearl Trophies 2007
MJSA Vision Awards 2nd Place 2008
MJSA Vision Awards 2nd Place 2009
CPAA’s “President’s Trophy”—International Pearl Design Competition 2010
MJSA Vision Awards 2012—1st place, design
AGTA Spectrum Awards 2012, evening wear 2nd place
MJSA Vision Awards 2013—1st place, overall professional
Smithsonian Museum 2013—Induction of South Sea Glow Pendant into permanent collection
MJSA Vision Awards 2015—1st place, overall professional and laser distinction
MJSA Vision Awards 2017—1st place, laser distinction
AGTA Spectrum Awards 2017—1st place business/daywear
MJSA Vision Awards 2018—1st place, overall professional and laser distinction
AGTA Spectrum Awards 2018, manufacturing honors
CPAA’s “President’s Trophy” and Best of Wedding—International Pearl Design Competition 2018
Name fun facts about yourself.
I love the piano. I was a classically trained pianist. I had to decide between being a jewelry designer and a pianist. I still play but not at a concert level.
Outgoing. Eccentric. Creative. Bon Vivant. I love food and wine and playing the piano at dinner parties.
Of all the arts and crafts why did you choose jewelry?
I started out as a rock hound. At age 12, I became interested in lapidary. At age 14, I was making jewelry.
What was the first thing you ever made?
I cut a cabochon and made a mother opal pendant with a silver braided border.
What or who do you think has been the strongest influence or inspiration on your work?
Initially it would be my father, who collected rocks. Both parents were very supportive from the very beginning. Then when I was studying in Italy, I was particularly inspired by the German and Italian jewelers whom I met and saw.
In such a competitive industry, what do you credit your longevity to?
I would say constantly evolving and my knowledge of technical processes. I created Spectra Gold [patent pending]. It is a gradient that goes from a strong yellow to seven different colors of gold and eventually to white gold.
Do you have any advice for those starting out in the jewelry world?
Work in a technique that is different, to capture your own distinct voice and aesthetic.
What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were 20?
Balance work and life! Take a break to feed your soul and mind.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I would love to be known for influencing this time period in design, and for painting in gold. I am working on several different colors in gold.
What artist dead or alive do you most admire?
The architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Zaha Hadid.
Do you follow long term trends?
In regard to colors, yes. But other than that, no. I want to push the boundaries of emerging trends.
What is your favorite quote in either business or art?
“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” –Vincent Van Gogh
What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your business?
The strongest challenge is the changing generations in the buying market, particularly the move into social media and other markets that translate into sales. Getting the attention of new collectors in the younger generations. Telling them stories about my work, gemstones and techniques.
What is the best advice you received?
Make the best quality piece you can and don’t settle for sub-par craftsmanship.
Why do you think you have been successful?
The combination that people can see is that I have the passion and I keep evolving. People like to see what is new and what I am doing. It keeps my collectors coming back. And, of course, winning awards.
How have you learned about running a business?
It has been organic. My parents were very supportive and gave me a lot of skills, like being able to talk to clients, do basic accounting, and run a business. I was growing and learning as I went along.
What was your training/academic background in metalsmithing?
I had apprenticeships in Italy and at the Gemological Institute of America in New York City. I’m a graduate gemologist.
What is your favorite tool?
A Bergeon hand bench vise that holds metal so you can work precisely.
Is the product or the process more important to you?
The process, because that will make the end product. I also find designs evolve in the process. Your piece changes as parts come together. I enjoy the process and then come out with a beautiful piece. Hopefully the process is fun.
What is your favorite type/piece of jewelry?
I love rings the most because they can be the most sculptural. And the client gets to see and be directly involved with them.
What is the biggest change you have seen in the jewelry world since you have been around?
Through a lot of the ‘90s into the early 2000s, jewelry was small and petite, but there has been an increased interest in dramatic design, different stones, and bigger and bolder looks, and it is a lot more fun. This change gives us more canvas to have fun with.
Describe your studio.
Topographical, organized chaos. My store out front is clean and modern, but the back studio has a lot going on there.
What is your differentiator?
The custom gold colors and gradients and the Adam Neeley aesthetic. I like the use of line. I love seeing beautiful forms in nature, and then making a modern interpretation of that in my own work.
Interview by Marlene Richey