One of the nation’s paramount contemporary jewelry designers, tastemaker Adam Neeley creates sculptural pieces that are works of fine art. His pendant “South Sea Glow,” an innovative piece that incorporates seven shades of gold to create a seamless ombre effect, was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution last year. Only 30 years old, Neeley began his career as a teenager, apprenticing with Native American silversmiths in his native Colorado before going on to train under Italian master goldsmith Gio Carbone in Florence and study high-tech design in New York.
How would you describe your designs?
Modern, architectural, fashion-forward forms adorned with fine gemstones.
And your boutique on Union Street?
Very clean. Very modern. It’s set up like an art gallery for jewelry pieces—we have boxes mounted along the wall that highlight individual pieces or groupings that tell a story. Jewelry can also be a piece of art.
Where’s your favorite spot in the city?
The Fairmont Penthouse. It’s comprised of several rooms and a really exceptional outdoor courtyard that has the most exceptional view of the Financial District from the top of Nob Hill, smack dab in the middle of everything. The most interesting room is the billiard room that has all this beautiful Moroccan tile.
What are your favorite art galleries?
How does San Francisco inspire your work?
Walking through the city, I see a modern elegance—men wearing pocket squares, cufflinks, suspenders. Old World elegance with a modern twist. And San Francisco has an incredible art and food scene. Coming from SoCal, I notice that whether it’s dinner at Acquerello or the opera or ballet, everyone has fun getting dressed up for a formal night and puts their own twist on it.
What artists influence you?
Frank Lloyd Wright for architecture. Monet for color. And Joan Miró.
Do you admire any local designers?
What is your favorite San Francisco museum?
The de Young. Last year I went to see “The Art of Bulgari” exhibit and was blown away. It was beautifully done, exquisite. A couple years ago I went to the Gaultier exhibit, and that was just stupendous.
What do you love about working in the city?
I love the fashion-forward clientele that is looking for more independent design, not necessarily needing name brands for everything. They have a personal style and are looking for something suited to the occasion that fits that style.
Which neighborhood do you explore on a free day?
Describe San Francisco style.
Urban and modern with a nod to Old World elegance.
Any favorite stores?
Where is your go-to spot for nightlife?
Martuni’s. Delicious strong martinis, great live singing and karaoke. I’m a sucker for a piano bar—it’s in the back room. There are lots of very talented regulars.
Are you a regular at any restaurants?
Gary Danko and Acquerello. I order anything with truffles. They’re both very elegant. The chefs are really producing a top quality innovative cuisine with a lot of Italian inspiration. I used to live in Florence and fell in love with the food there.
Where do you take visitors?
I love to taking them to Sausalito. We eat at Sushi Ran, which some say that is the best in the Bay Area. They serve lots of unique fish, all very fresh. More traditional Japanese style. And I take them to the de Young.
Favorite day trip?
Sonoma for wine tasting. Martinelli Winery has a Zinfandel that’s one of the most beautiful wines I’ve ever tasted. It feels like velvet in your mouth. The Cabernet Franc at Lambert Bridge winery is exceptional; a rich red with depth that’s very complex. They do hand sorting and go the extra mile for each bottle, and you can tell when you taste it.
Tell us about your piece in the Smithsonian.
“South Sea Glow” is a piece that won the 2010 International Pearl Competition and was inducted into the Smithsonian’s permanent collection in 2013. It features five pearls that graduate from a golden color to a white color. The patent pending technique is called Spectra.
What inspired you to become a jewelry designer?
I got started rock collecting with my father in Colorado growing up. I learned how to cut stones and how to make silver jewelry. My first couple of art shows in Telluride sold out, and I realized I could make it into a business at age 14. I became a gemologist after I graduated high school and studied with an Italian master goldsmith in Florence, Italy, learning how to make advanced technical jewelry as a piece of art work. I was influenced by Italian sculpture and design.
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I’m working on a new collection called Dripping Diamonds. The black diamonds are faceted all the way around and strung like a bead with what look like liquid drops of gold. One necklace has over a thousand karats.
Where next for you?
I’m going to Paris in the fall. Paris is producing some of most exciting jewelry worldwide, particularly the designer JAR (Joel A. Rosenthal). I would love to see his work and meet him.
My Perfect Day
10 am Breakfast at Café des Amis on Union Street. I start with oysters and the bijou cocktail. The omelets are to die for.
11:30 am Walk off the heavy breakfast, heading to the Palace of Fine Arts. I love it over there. It’s so peaceful, and the monument is so stunning. If it’s a nice day, I’d walk a little more to get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and find a spot to sit underneath a tree and people watch.
4 pm Stop at Saint Frank Coffee. It’s a natural light-filled space with a friendly and chic feeling atmosphere. The perfect setting for relaxing or catching up with a friend. And the house-made almond milk, mmm... I order the almond macadamia latte.
7 pm I’m a big foodie and love the food scene in San Francisco. I’d do dinner at Gary Danko with friends. I love their tasting courses. They take you on a wonderful culinary adventure and do an exceptional job at wine pairing. It’s really an experience—three or four hours of telling great stories with friends and enjoying the artistry of the kitchen.
10:30 pm If we can still move after Gary Danko, head over to Top of the Mark for a nightcap with an amazing 360-degree view of the San Francisco skyline.
Following Day Make a trip out to de Young and walk through Hayes Valley’s independent boutiques, which I find so interesting in this city.
Visit Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry at 2030 Union St., Ste. A