By John Shanahan
Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry, Laguna Beach, California
First Place, Professional Excellence (4 or More Years in Business)
First Place, Laser Distinction
Many jewelers know the feeling: you see an amazing stone, and the inspiration is almost instant. I have to make something with that! With Adam Neeley’s Ombré Pendant, the stone that acted as his muse was a 25.39 carat bi-color tourmaline cut by renowned lapidary Stephen Avery. Neeley instantly saw how well the stone’s subtle top-to-bottom shift in tone from a deep aqua blue to a lush green would work set against the same effect in his own multi-hued SpectraGold.
“When I got the stone in person, I completely fell in love with it,” Neeley says. “It’s completely eye clean, and the color makes a vivid transition from blue to green. Stephen did an amazing job on the cut, which has long facets that run through it vertically and don’t take away from the transition. He knew that I worked with color-gradient gold and that I would appreciate this stone.”
Neeley originally drew up a number of designs, all intended to be used with his ombré gold. Although his signature style tends to be more “curvaceous” and flowing, the cut of the stone suggested a more straightforward approach.
“This was the most minimal of the designs. I wanted to get the eye to focus in on the subtle color gradients,” he says. “The form allows the eye to take in the transitions of the metal and the accent stones together along with the center stone. It’s minimalist but modern, and these types of projects are sometimes the most challenging because they have to execute very well. If there’s any variation, the eye will find it very quickly.”
The first step in creating the pendant was to create a sheet of SpectraGold. This custom alloy is a combination of different golds that Neeley fuses together and rolls out. The result starts at around 24k yellow and ends as a bright, silvery-white 14k. “The process to get the alloys created, fused, then rolled and ready to be fabricated into something takes about 40 hours,” Neeley says.
Getting the gradients of the metal and stones to match was imperative to the piece. A complementary color flow would enhance the visual appeal, while any strong disparity would take away from the overall effect. Having made his ombré gold sheet, Neeley placed the stone on it and moved it around until he found an appealing flow in the elements. “I could, in effect, alloy it to have more of a yellow to it, but what I usually do is make a good piece of it, then go through it thinking in terms of each design—if I want it to lean in one direction or another. Then I pierce it out of the area that best suits the design.”
The pavé-set border of white and canary diamonds was also matched against both gradients, although the choice to use colored diamonds wasn’t originally in the plan. “I was only going to do white diamonds. But after laying it out and looking at it, it was almost distracting.” He chose to use rich yellow natural canaries, then fade the colors to the white diamonds that line the top of the pieces. “My goal was to match the tonality of the gold and give it a bit of sparkle and finesse without having your eye get stuck on the diamonds.”
With colors matched across all the elements, it was time to fire up his laser welder.
“One of the biggest challenges with the SpectraGold is soldering,” Neeley says. “That’s where the laser comes in. This particular alloy contains no copper, and most commercial solders do. The copper will want to alloy quickly with the SpectraGold. It can be used very sparingly and carefully to weld a seam, but it has to be a seam that’s not showing. Otherwise you’re going to have one color of metal streaming through a gradient, and you’re going to have an ugly seam. With laser welding, I custom draw laser wire from the sheet, and then weld that particular color in a seam to match each tone perfectly.”
Another design decision Neeley made necessitated the laser as well. The SpectraGold wraps around the sides of the piece, so that the gradient appears from every angle. “Having it go around the corner further enriches the design,” he says. “It also tapers a little as well, so the piece doesn’t feel chunky, but more sleek and modern.”
However, that created exposed seams along the sides. “Soldering would have resulted in a terrible seam that showed from the side view,” he says. “Instead, it was welded with the same tone of gold, using the laser.”
The laser had work to do on the back side of the piece, too. Neeley wanted to be sure the stone’s spectacular colors were not deprived of the light that would help them shine, so he backed the stone with a piece of white gold, high-polished on one side, to act as a mirror. “Sometimes when you enclose certain stones, they can get a little darker,” he says. “I wanted to make sure the light was captured and bounced back through the stone. There is a seam that goes around that entire border in the back that is laser welded with just white gold.”
The laser was needed here because the stone was inside, and set. Another technique may have affected the stone and the high polish on the white gold backing.
Considering that the Ombré Pendant is just 17/8 inch x 3/4 inch x 3/8 inch, there’s a lot for the eye to take in in such a small space. And that’s part of the plan. “The effect I was going for was a piece that is delicate but strong,” Neeley says. “When you look closely, you realize how much is going on.”
It’s the effect of bringing in the power of laser welding to put maximum artistic impact into a minimal—and truly beautiful—space.