A Modern Jewelry Alchemist: Adam Neeley

The design prodigy and metallurgist combines art and nature in his works, which are the focus of a new retrospective.

May 23, 2024  |  Sonia Esther Soltani
Adam Neeley image

For thousands of years, alchemists have aimed to turn lead into gold. Adam Neeley set his sights instead on capturing the light of sunrise in this precious metal, and this is how SpectraGold and three other custom alloys were born.

Visitors to the Smithsonian National Gem and Mineral Collection can admire Neeley’s South Sea Glow earrings from 2010, the first of his creations in SpectraGold. The jewels feature golden to white pearls, perfectly matching the metal’s ombré effect; they “transition gradually from a rich yellow into a bright white gold seamlessly,” explains the designer, who works in Laguna Beach, California. “Through 185 trials, I’ve perfected the alloy with increased hardness and workability.” The gold parts he uses are hand-fused and forged; there is no soldering involved, and they require over 80 hours to produce.

Neeley’s masterpieces have been lavished with awards for their remarkable color palettes and use of extraordinary gemstones. Having received dozens of prizes from the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA), Neeley is now the subject of a retrospective exhibit.

“Modern Alchemy: The Fusion of Art and Nature in the Jewelry Designs of Adam Neeley” runs through July 29 at the Laguna Art Museum (LAM), showcasing his most iconic creations. The curator is art historian and goldwork scholar Timothy Adams, who specializes in the work of Peter Carl Fabergé.

Adam Neeley garnet ring image
Camila ring with a Mahenge rhodolite garnet and diamonds in RevaGold (Adam Neeley)

“We collaborated on the selection of pieces from the last 25 years,” relates Neeley. “Our intent was to explore my early journey as a jewelry artist, feature key themes that reflect my evolution as a designer and metallurgist, and highlight several of my award-winning pieces.”

Early talent

The exhibit offers a cohesive overview of Neeley’s career, starting with his youth collecting rocks in his native Colorado and making his first pair of earrings at age 12 for his mother, using lapis lazuli and silver. As a teenager, he apprenticed with silversmith Jim Walker and started selling his jewelry at a local arts festival.

His first award-winning piece was the Rings of Saturn pendant, which he made out of ammolite and sapphires when he was 17. A work of tremendous maturity and confidence, it shows off his enthusiasm for fossilized gems and ideal harmony. “Having explored Southwestern motifs in my early work, [this] pendant was when I began to explore the possibilities of contemporary design and abstract minimalism,” Neeley shares.

Adam Neeley necklace image
Dionysus necklace with grape garnet, green tourmaline, amethyst and tsavorite (Adam Neeley)

The precocious artist won a full scholarship to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), graduating in 2003. He then studied design and advanced techniques with master goldsmith Gio Carbone at one of Europe’s top institutions, Le Arti Orafe in Florence, Italy. He completed his formal education and learned computer-aided design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) before opening his studio on the west coast.

Following the masters

“Modern Alchemy” emphasizes the Renaissance man in Neeley. The jeweler draws inspiration from nature — as seen in his mesmerizing Calla Violette earrings, which feature vibrant garnets in anodized titanium and white gold. A deep appreciation of classic art and avant-garde architecture nurtures his creative process as well.

adam neeley earrings image
Calla Violette titanium and white gold earrings with purple and tsavorite garnets and diamonds (Adam Neeley)

“From the ethereal color combinations of Monet to the dramatic and moody works of Caravaggio, art serves as a boundless wellspring of creativity for me,” he says. “Whether exploring impressionism or baroque periods, I find endless inspiration in the vast tapestry of artistic expression throughout history.”
Other design giants he admires include architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Zaha Hadid. “Wright’s modernist and geometric style, along with Hadid’s organic and radical deconstructivist designs, ignite my imagination.”

It’s been 25 years since the aspiring artist sold his first turquoise and silver pieces in Colorado, and his stated desire “to explore new possibilities and reinterpret the essence of design in my own creative endeavors” remains unextinguished.

Main Image: Adam Neeley (Adam Neeley)

This article is from the May-June 2024 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

Stay up to date by signing up for our diamond and jewelry industry news and analysis.


Adam Neeley image A Modern Jewelry Alchemist: Adam Neeley

Share with others


Clear all search filters