Local jewelers create exquisite pieces inspired by Laguna Beach’s seaside setting.
By Kat Ernst | Photos by Jody Tiongco
From the nearly 7 miles of shoreline to the fluidity of the pulsing surf and the rugged terrain of the canyons, Laguna Beach’s picturesque coastal environment constitutes something of a muse to local artists of all kinds. Jewelry designers are hardly exempt to the area’s allure. In Laguna, jewelers are lucky to have not only a fountain of inspiration but also the support of an artistic community with ample shops, galleries and festivals to display their finished pieces.
Laguna Beach Magazine consulted several locally based jewelers to better understand how their idyllic surroundings influence the creative process. Unsurprisingly, these designers unanimously cited nature as the primary inspiration for the remarkable pieces they produce.
Owner and Designer,
Adam Neeley Fine Art Jewelry
A childhood habit of rock collecting in his home state of Colorado led an adolescent Adam Neeley to jewelry making. He maintains fond memories of his early experience in the industry: “I did my first show in Telluride, Colo., when I was 14,” Adam says. “Daryl Hannah bought a piece; we sold out within a couple of hours the first day!”
After attending the graduate gemologist program at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, Calif., Adam embarked on an adventure to Florence, Italy, where he enrolled at the famed Le Arti Orafe Contemporary Jewellery School & Academy. Since graduating from the academy, he has built a career as a fine jeweler, opening shops in Laguna Beach in 2006 and San Francisco in 2012.
Adam’s pieces evoke the movement of the ocean—swirling metals ensconce delicate pastel pearls and boldly colored gemstones. He recently debuted a men’s collection, Vibe, which reimagines rings, cuff links and dog tags in sleek, contemporary shapes. “This is inspired by the Southern California guy,” he explains of the line.
While in Italy, Adam developed Spectra gold, a singular technique that he deems his “specialty.” The process, which must be done by hand and is exceptionally labor-intensive, alters the color of gold to create a graduated sheen on pendants, rings and earrings. “It creates an ombre effect; [the gold] goes from a 24-karat rich yellow to a cool 9-karat white gold,” he says.
Adam integrated Spectra gold into his award-winning South Sea Glow pendant, a delicate configuration of sloping gold and pearls of various sizes. In 2013, the pendant was inducted into the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. “This piece is one of my most iconic pieces,” Adam explains. “I find inspiration for pieces like this from nature’s curves and clean forms.” (adamneeley.com)
Owner and Designer,
Lance Heck Design
A native Southern Californian, Lance Heck was raised by an artistic mother and a father who had a deep love of the outdoors. Naturally, he developed an appreciation of the arts that remains influenced by the native landscape. After earning degrees in fine arts and gemology, Lance landed an apprenticeship with master jewelry craftsman Jim Grahl. Upon turning 18, he was admitted as an exhibitor into the Festival of Arts; nearly 30 years later, he continues to display his pieces at the annual festival.
Lance mainly works with yellow gold but also incorporates platinum and silver into his pieces. His obsession with fine craftsmanship reflects Old World tradition. “I work in 18-karat [gold], which is more of a European standard,” he says. “I put a lot of these traditional skills of jewelry making together with modern design.” That modern design primarily entails geometric shapes, avant-garde cuts, and exaggerated bands and settings.
Like many artists in Laguna Beach, Lance enjoys spending time outside of the studio biking, hiking and surfing. Of his aptitude for outdoor activities, he explains, “It’s a good stress reliever, and it’s good to get a little inspiration and break from the tedious demands of being a jeweler.” (lanceheck.com)
Studio 44 Jewelry
Inspired by a mother who dabbled in media ranging from knitting to ceramics, Lorraine Hornby cultivated a love of the arts from a young age. “I learned to sew first; I used to make my own clothes as a child,” she says. Later, she became attracted to stone collecting in her own backyard. Now recognized as an established designer, she shows her work at the world-renowned Sawdust Art Festival.
Lorraine’s collection, called Studio 44 Jewelry, embraces contemporary style, unstructured form, and muted stones and minerals like freshwater pearls, quartz, pyrite and labradorite in asymmetric settings. “The fact that there are a lot of beautiful things that can be dug up out of the earth, or produced by an oyster, is stunning,” she explains of her materials. “Nature just gives them to us.”
Though Lorraine’s loyalties lie with yellow gold and silver, she typically hammers and folds both metals to create textured finishes. She also specializes in fabrication, a technique that refers to the manipulation of metals. “The pieces are done as lost-wax castings, which is fun because you take a piece of wax and carve your design out of it,” she explains. “It’s like … a mini sculpture. Some of my customers are architects, and they’ll admire the jewelry just because of the structure and design.” (studio44jewelry.com)
Growing up in the concrete jungle of downtown Boston, Karin Worden rarely had the opportunity to experience the overwhelming beauty of nature. Upon arriving in Laguna Beach, she immediately began to draw inspiration from the environment’s botanical wonders.
Her pieces—designed in a variety of floral shapes—incorporate sterling silver, gold and unusual stones such as Namibian blue chalcedony. She showcases these pieces in her studio, the aptly named Silver Blue & Gold, which opened spring of 2010. “I opened it after six years of working out of my art studio in Laguna Canyon,” she says.
Before opening her studio, however, she sold her work at craft shows, like the American Craft Council show in Baltimore, Md., and the Washington Craft Show in Washington, D.C. In the summers, Karin sold at the Fesival of Arts in Laguna Beach. During those years, she met some great jewlers who were working by hand, one piece at a time. “I thought it would be great to introduce those small-scale collections to my clientele here,” she says. “[My philosophy was] since you love my jewelry, let me show you this other artist you will surely love, too.”
At the Laguna Beach-based location, Karin presents not only her own work but also the work of several other international jewelers. She oversees a range of both logistical and creative duties at the studio, and even offers instructional workshops to those who are interested in creating their own pieces. “In addition to managing day-to-day operations and marketing, I produce a line of jewelry and complete custom orders in our on-site studio, which also offers one-on-one lessons,” Karin explains.
Recently, she has been experimenting with different methods, including forging and photo etching, which creates one-of-a-kind detailed textures. “Using a photograph that I took, I’m able to do a photoresist process etched with an acid into a plate, then I use this plate to get the textures I use in many of my pieces,” she says of her technique.
Karin’s coastal surroundings, which she regularly explores while hiking, continue to influence her work. In addition, she finds inspiration in her materials. She explains, “I’m really using the metal and the process of goldsmithing as a source of inspiration.” (silverblueandgold.com)
Rock Martin Custom Jewelry
Michael McFadden’s father-in-law Rock Martin opened Rock Martin Custom Jewelry’s current Forest Avenue location in 1972. Though Rock retired in 2005, he continues to create pieces as an independent jeweler; meanwhile, Rock’s daughter Heather McFadden and son-in-law Michael McFadden have assumed control of the business’ days-to-day operations.
A local institution for more than 40 years, Rock Martin Custom Jewlery takes pride in offering custom pieces that are created during a meticulous design process. After compiling sketches of the pieces, the shop’s master jeweler and goldsmith carves wax models using a process that is thousands of years old. The wax models are affixed to a rubber base inside a metal flask, where a plaster and fiberglass investment is then poured around the wax inside the flask. After the models dry for several hours, they’re placed in a burnout oven to cook for an additional 12 hours.
Consistently evolving, Rock Martin Custom Jewelry’s style can range from vintage to contemporary based on the client’s preference. “My most successful [pieces] are retro/vintage-looking but with a modern feel,” Michael says. “But at the same time, we can do just modern.”
The jeweler is known for its use of rare and unique gems. “We like to use exotic gems from all over the world,” Michael adds. “We use types of collector gemstones that many people haven’t heard of.” Examples include a 4.66-carat oval cut Burmese peridot in a 14-karat white-gold band and a 10.23-carat African pink tourmaline set in a square shank. (rockmartinjewelry.com)
Dan Miller Owner and Designer
Dan Miller Jewelry
In 1978, Dan Miller Jewelry opened in a historic landmark building in downtown Laguna Beach. Now, after 35 years of residency, the jeweler has moved to a new showroom just around the corner and a half a block away.
Using diamonds, colored pearls and rare gemstones—typically set in platinum, 14- and 18-karat gold—Dan creates custom jewelry that is entirely unconventional in style. His coveted pieces have stolen the spotlight at the Festival of Arts for more than 40 years.
Now, following in his father’s footsteps, Sean Miller, Dan Miller’s son, creates his own handcrafted jewelry, which can be found at his father’s store in downtown Laguna Beach. “I like to design stuff that mirrors some modern form of universal archetype,” Sean says. “Coming up with something truly unique is a very rare and difficult endeavor.” (danmillerjewelry.com) LBM