It was the 1970s, and Neville was an offensive tackle for the New England Patriots. Jewelry wasn’t exactly his thing.
But that callus was bugging the heck out of him.
That’s when Neville invested in a dapper antique pocket watch. He liked it so much, he bought another, then another – and that pretty much changed the course of his life.
“I started buying watches while I was up there (in Boston) and started taking courses just to find out what it was all about,” said Neville, who has owned Tom Neville The Source jewelry store in downtown Montgomery since 1983.
At a recent luncheon at the Capital City Club, Neville wowed the Ladies Luncheon group with a display of some of his treasured pocket watches – ranging from the 1820s to the 1920s – and jewelry pieces from the Victorian and Art Deco ages.
His enthusiasm for his watches – and all his jewelry – was evident.
He demonstrated a 1920s “repeater watch” – set the time, and the watch chimes out long notes for the hours and short ones for the minutes. He seemed to savor the reactions people had to such long-lost treasures.
Also on hand: a collection of actual-size and -weight replicas of some of the biggest, most famous diamonds in the world, such as the deep blue Hope (45 carats), the Koh-I-noor (186 carats), the Pigot (200 carats), the Grand-Mogul (280 carats) and more.
Seeing and handling the replicas is an experience totally removed from simply viewing pictures of the real things.
Louise Cunningham, one of the coordinators of the luncheon, was among the women dazzled by the displays.
“What woman doesn’t want jewelry, particularly diamonds?” Cunningham said.
Also on exhibit, an example of the cutting process, as well as real diamond crystals.
Then there was Neville’s rare shell cameo that was based on a painting that hangs in the Vatican Museum – something he did not know until he visited the museum. He spotted the 19th-century painting across the gallery and told his traveling companion, “That’s my cameo!”
“She thought I was crazy,” he said, laughing.
When Neville lived in Boston, a friend owned a jewelry store, and Neville found himself spending more and more time there – on days he wasn’t roughing it out on the football field. That friend suggested he study to become a gemologist, but Neville said his response at the time was, “Ehh …”
Football, after all, was his life. He’d played for Sidney Lanier in high school then had made a name for himself at Mississippi State University. He signed with the Patriots (then known as the Boston Patriots) in 1965 and stayed with that team until 1977, then played with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants before retiring from professional football.
Though his feeling about studying jewelry was ambivalent at first, he finally ended up earning a degree from the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, Calif.
Before enrolling, it just so happened there was a cancellation at the school, opening up a spot for Neville. Around that time, he was playing in the George Lindsey Golf Tournament and met up with an old Lanier classmate, actor Jackson Bostwick (best known as Captain Marvel in the ’70s series Shazam!).
Bostwick, who lived in Santa Monica, was able to help Neville find a place to live.
“It was sort of a godsend,” Neville said. “Everything just fell into place.”
After opening Tom Neville The Source in 1983, this hometown native has become one of the top go-to guys in the region. Not only for football reminiscences – but for jewelry. Working in his store in the old Union Bank building, he has a customer base of more than 15,000 people – some who come from all over the United States, he said.
And clients aren’t just customers, he said. They’re friends.
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