Rapaport Magazine

Moving Art

Innovative, eye-catching decor attracts customers to Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry stores in Laguna Beach and San Francisco, California.

By Joyce Kauf

South Sea Glow pendant with golden South Sea pearls transitioning into Akoya pearls set in Spectra Gold. Photo by Hap Sakwa.
From gold foil wallpaper to displays that appear to float in the air, Adam Neeley entices you into his stores — even before you see his jewelry. His two stores, Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry in Laguna Beach and San Francisco, California, feature a “modern, clean and luxe” decor that complements the sinuous, curved lines of his jewelry. Creating a unique ambience to showcase his work is an important consideration for this award-winning designer, who this year saw his South Sea Glow pendant inducted into the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. 
   Neeley sold his first piece of jewelry at age 14 and opened his first store in Laguna Beach in 2006, when he was 23 years old. “I wanted to open my own store to create an elegant, modern buying environment to professionally display my pieces. It was a good starting place and much easier to open a first store here rather than in New York or San Francisco,” explains Neeley, who researched locations from San Diego to San Francisco before making his decision. Located in affluent Orange County, which has 70 to 80 art galleries, Laguna Beach caters to residents with an appreciation for art. “It is a prime location to build a loyal clientele and has allowed me to also sell higher-price-point pieces,” he points out.

First Impressions
   As you enter the store, the “wild” wallpaper in gold foil and dark gray immediately catches your attention. “It makes a great impression,” says Neeley, pointing out that it accents a wall case of ten individual squares where he showcases individual pieces of jewelry. “The setting helps to tell a story,” adds Neeley, who likes to develop a narrative for his designs.
   Building on his experience in Laguna Beach, Neeley decided to expand to an urban setting. In 2012, he opened in San Francisco’s Union Square, again focusing on finding an optimal location with high foot traffic. His 400-square-foot store is surrounded by luxury boutiques. A floor-to-ceiling gray mirror imparts a “smoky feel” and reflects the black acrylic display boxes that seem suspended in air. Lit from below, 3-D panels create the effect of rippling waves of sand. “People come in and want to touch the wall. It pulls them off the street, and then we’ve got them,” says Neeley.

European Sensibility
   The designer frequently refers to the “clean lines” of his designs and store decor, often citing the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright. But Neeley also acknowledges the influence of the modern angles and minimalism of Italian and German art that he was introduced to as a student at Le Arti Orafe Jewellery School & Academy in Florence, Italy, where he went after earning his graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “Studying in Italy gave me a different sensibility. I learned about the old-world techniques of craftsmanship,” explains Neeley, adding, “The pieces were beautiful front to back.”
   In Italy, Neeley also learned about the technique that enabled gold to change from a rich yellow to different gradients of color. Fascinated with the potential design opportunities, he soon realized that the gold’s softness presented a problem for some pieces. “I focused on how I could make this metal achieve the hardness of 18-karat gold so that I could use it in a wider array of designs, as well as making the piece durable for the customer.” He developed a process he named Spectra Gold, for which he is now seeking a patent. He incorporated this technique in his South Sea Glow pendant, matching the gradient of gold to the glow of the pearls, with both gradually fading from gold to white, capturing the story of the pearls coming out of the sea.
   “Especially for a young artist, it was a thrill and an honor to have one of my designs selected for the Smithsonian,” says Neeley. But his South Sea Glow pendant is just one of several of his pieces to win acclaim. In 2009 and again in 2011, Neeley was awarded the “Best in Show” at California’s prestigious La Quinta Arts Festival. In 2012, his Moonlight and Caviar diamond and pearl ring won the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) Vision Award. In 2013, his Spectra earrings won the MJSA Vision Awards for Professional Design Excellence and for Gold Distinction.
   “My goal is to create a piece that is clean, beautiful and makes the eye travel along its lines. You end up focusing on the stone as the eye moves.” Even the names of Neeley’s designs — Flamenco, Waltz, Champagne Bubbles, Cascade, Wave — evoke movement. This theme of movement is also reflected in his men’s jewelry collection that he launched this spring in his San Francisco gallery. He describes his Vibe ring as “rocking with a California feel.” An advocate of cause-related marketing, Neeley donated a portion of the sales of the men’s collection to support marriage equality.
   “I want someone to walk away and say they have never seen anything like it before,” concludes Neeley. “A ring doesn’t have to be a simple round band. It can be a sculpture that is very dimensional and unusually shaped. Of course, it has to be comfortable as a piece of jewelry, but it could also be a miniature sculpture sitting on the counter.” 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2013. To subscribe click here.

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