Jennifer Meyer wears her jewelry in the shower. And she's built a business on that idea.

"I don't want you to take your jewelry off. I want it to become a part of you," says the designer over lunch, sweeping her hand across the subtle gold pieces on her wrists, neck and earlobes. "All of these have been in the shower with me this morning — it's 18-karat gold, it's diamonds and it's an investment, and if it turns color, then someone's ripping me off."

Meyer is holding forth on a weekday, in the less hectic garden room of L.A.'s Soho House — down a long hallway, away from the see-and-be-seen power dining center.

"We're busy people," she says. "You wake up, you jump in the shower, you get breakfast ready, you get lunches ready, you take kids to school, you go to work, you pick your kids up, you put them to bed, you have dinner with your husband. Whatever it is, your jewelry doesn't need to change."

Your jewelry needn't necessarily change, but Meyer's jewelry business is poised for some changes after she was named first runner-up in November in the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund competition. Placing in the top three (alongside winner Greg Chait of Malibu-based knitwear firm the Elder Statesman and the second runner-up, shoe designer Tabitha Simmons) is more than just an honor. She'll receive $100,000 for her business and some intense mentoring, in her case from the CFDA president herself, Diane von Furstenberg.

"She's the most amazing woman on the planet," Meyer, 35, says of her mentor in a tumble of words. "She's not just interested in having tea with me. The first week after I won, she came to L.A. and she sat in my office for two hours with a notebook and a pen and literally had a zillion questions about my company. Everything. Who I needed to hire. Where my offices should be. This. That. She is such a genius."

The feeling's mutual. Reached in New York, Von Furstenberg raves about Meyer: "She's very talented, she's determined, she has clarity. She's a star."

The award capped a five-month process that proceeded through an initial application, then a winnowing down to 50 candidates, who "each have to send in a massive presentation on who you and your company are. I don't know what other people did, I did a sort of coffee-table book," Meyer says. Then 10 finalists continued in a competition designed to showcase their skills through such things as a spread in Vogue and an intimate fashion show at the Chateau Marmont pitched to the celebrity crowd.

And what of the fact that two of the top three are from Southern California? "L.A. is kicking!" Von Furstenberg says.

Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barneys New York, where Meyer's jewelry is most extensively featured, says her West Coast heritage is a part, but not all, of her appeal. He pronounces Meyer's work — delicate wishbone bangles, jeweled bar-shaped studs, winsome script necklaces that say "sweetheart" or "mommy" — to be "very nuanced and subtle."

"At the end of the day, she's a serious designer. The pieces are wonderfully thought out," Doonan says. "She presents as an easygoing Malibu girl, but her work is very unusual and beautifully crafted. She really understands the Barneys girl, who maybe spends a lot of time at the beach, but she's still very urban."

The beachy vibe extends to the stones Meyer's been using more of lately, including turquoise, blue lapis and watery opal.

"Turquoise I love," says Meyer. "And my grandmother loved lapis and I've always wanted to work with lapis but I really wanted to figure out a way that was authentic to me. I've been doing a lot of inlay and then [came] the lapis pyramid and all of the stones are hand-cut, they're all custom-made. So it took a really long time to figure out a way to make them in a way that was very Jennifer Meyer."

The result is striking, the triangle shape set flat in a square frame of tiny diamonds, seen in everything from her "everyday" pendant necklaces to a gob-smacking pair of special-occasion earrings with sapphire pyramids holding sizable lapis teardrops.

Mention of her grandmother had caused her to mist up, and the story of 6-year-old Jen sitting in the late Edith Meyer's kitchen doing cloisonné and enamel, firing up the finished pieces in her home kiln while snacking on Celeste pizza, homemade matzo ball soup and coffee ice cream, is a well-known part of her story. She held on to that interest through her early career as a fashion publicist in Beverly Hills for Giorgio Armani and, later, Ralph Lauren — kind of an expected path for the well-connected L.A. native and daughter of an industry titan (Ronald Meyer, president of Universal Studios and one of the original founders of CAA).

"I really always wanted to design jewelry, but I never talked about it," she says. "I never talked about it because I didn't know the first thing about it. I never went to school for it." She was talking, though, to her then-boyfriend (now her husband, actor Tobey Maguire) about trying to start somehow and he encouraged her with a favorite quote from "Star Wars" — "Do or do not. There is no try."

So she saved up some of her own money from her paychecks, as she tells it, "and then I felt it was OK to blow it on my dream.... I started going downtown and [to] Beverly Hills and Culver City and, if it said 'jeweler' on the door, I knocked on the door and went in and tried to get some pieces made."

She was particularly interested in one piece she had in mind — a leaf pendant that "took about eight molds to do," she says. She showed that and a couple of other pieces to stylist friends from her day job as a publicist, and they took it to their client Jennifer Aniston. Meyer ended up with an order of three of everything for Aniston's "The Break-Up."

From that beginning in 2005 came placement in specialty stores such as the trendy Caviar & Kind (now Roseark) and Ylang 23 and majors like Barneys and Net-A-Porter.

"She understands that customer because she is that customer," Doonan says.

Or, as Meyer puts it, "I really listen to my customer. I listen to what they like. I see what they love and I try to make them happy, while pushing the boundaries here and there."

At lunch she's dressed in an eclectic mix of a muted print Paul & Joe silk dress ("I got it when I was living in Australia last year for five months while my husband worked" — Maguire was filming "The Great Gatsby") and an oversize Burberry cardigan in the shade of mustard that really looks good only in either London or Los Angeles light, along with favorite beat-up brown Rag & Bone ankle boots.

And, of course, the jewelry she doesn't take off, pieces from her own line along with her customized gold bar necklace (for her daughter, 6, and son, 3) and a couple of sentimental pieces from her husband, like a gold Cartier love bracelet from their courtship.

"I'm loving my company right now more than I ever have," she says, digging into a brown rice bowl with salmon before heading back to the office and then her daughter's ballet class. "I'm so excited to watch it grow, and really find the balance in being a great mom and a great wife and [to] have a really successful company, and I really feel like when you find the balance and you work hard, it can all be successful. And I think that's sort of my goal at the moment."

image@latimes.com