ABOUT DAVID WEBB
Since 1948, David Webb has been the quintessential American jeweler of highly original, modern jewelry. Best known for distinctive carved and enameled animal bracelets, dramatic gold necklaces, colorful sautoirs, Maltese cross brooches, dynamic use of pearls and diamonds, and exquisite rock crystal pieces. David Webb is one of the country's most important, distinguished jewelers. All of the jewelry is made on the premises in New York, as it has been since 1948.
David Webb was born in dogwood country - Asheville, North Carolina - with a thirst for big city life. Creativity was David Webb's calling card, which he honed apprenticing for an uncle who was in jewelry manufacturing. His first design? A copper ashtray signed with a spider in his web. The training was modest but it fueled big dreams.
David Webb the self-starter made it to New York and by 1948, at the age of 23, he opened shop. Manhattan was fast and fun: daytime visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dinner parties with clients, and in 1962 he became First Lady Jackie Kennedy's choice to make the official Gifts of State.
"I had a tremendous feeling of art in me. I wanted to be an archaeologist, a ceramicist, or a jeweler. Jewelry won out."
David Webb's favorite pets are bejeweled and enameled. They roar and whinny, some of them chatter nonstop, and all are members of the jeweler's Animal Kingdom. The first David Webb animal bracelet was in 1957, and by 1963 the company had a bestiary all its own. Frogs, especially, and horses-the zebra is the company mascot-kept company with monkeys, snakes, elephants, and all the Big Cats, among others.
By the end of the 1960s, the smart set and all of Hollywood wore their David Webb animal bracelets. Animal lover Elizabeth Taylor was a devoted client, and even wore her diamond-studded lion and pearl jewelry in her films.
David Webb in his boutique.
"Women are tired of jewelry-looking jewelry, and they want one-of-a-kind pieces... Animals are here to stay."
"Pack of Jeweled Animals" Life Magazine, 1964.
David Webb Archives.
David Webb was the Houdini of gold. His ambition was to make the new look old, and to do so he called on his own bag of tricks: he analyzed the composition of gold and came up with alloys that had the patina of ancient gold; he went on weekly trips to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and studied gold objects from the Incas, from Turkey and Syria, from Egyptian artifacts unearthed in the tombs of Tutankhamun, and then refashioned them in his own hand.
He pored over books of art history, teaching himself the defining characteristics of a given culture. And he was a dedicated collector of antiquities, especially Chinese works, whose glyphs and symbols made their way into the incised patterning on his broad gold collars and sautoirs. His passion for the past was so evident that even the fashion press in his day remarked that his designs were "taken from early Greek, Oriental, and primitive African originals."
David Webb the modernist tended toward more geometric and architectural form over figurative, which shows up in so many ways: cascading Celtic forms and Mayan stepped pyramids decorate pendants; Chinese Ru-yi and ushnisha, tightly wound curls, on chunky necklace links; inverted C-scrolls dominating brooches. This is not gold for the timid but for the bold. If there is one overall message from the Ancient World Collection, it's that women are powerful-declarative in their taste and their actions. Who knew that something this old could be so refreshingly modern?
"The thing women want most today is a smashing piece of jewelry they can wear in the daytime and on into the evening."
David Webb, right, and Rudy Reiter, left, in the workshop circa 1975. David Webb Archives.
In New York, there is only one street where Society and Commerce meet: 57th Street. Walk along 57th Street and you'll cross Park, Madison, and 5th-avenues that matter to the fashionable shopper and the urban dweller.
Significantly, this is where David Webb had his flagship boutique for years. The smart set, the fashionable set, the set that works and plays hard in equal measure is what makes 57th Street a symbol for the glorified urbanite. For this woman, David Webb took his love of gold and brightened it with diamonds (he never thought diamonds were just for evening, anyway) and made jewelry that could be worn anywhere at any hour of the day.
David Webb Archives.
David Webb Archives.
The Madison Earrings are as smart for the office as for cocktails and dinner; the Link Necklace – a clever riff on nautical ropes - is more of a neck collar that brightens a woman's face; and the iconic Origami Necklace and matching pendant has grace and swing in one glamour-packed piece. The geometric patterning of David Webb's gold-and-diamond rings are riffs on sidewalks and Broadway marquees, roads, and bridges. This is jewelry that celebrates the always fashionable in the country's most glamorous crossroads, 57th Street.
For David Webb the urban modernist, combining color with geometry resulted in jewelry made for the woman who appreciated style with a capital "S." The Manhattan Minimalism collection celebrates David Webb's love of architecture. After all, this is the man who debated whether to become an architect or jeweler, and whose love of form and volume ultimately found expression in his many bracelets, rings, necklaces, and earrings. Manhattan Minimalism is also about color-introduced through hard stones, such as turquoise and coral, as well as enamel-and the everyday appeal of yellow gold.
"Crystal is the one white alternative for diamonds."
Diamonds further direct the eye to the contour of a bracelet, for example, such as the Arabesque Cuff, or perform as a leading design element, shown in the elegant Tuxedo Earrings. The rings are a bejeweled street map of Manhattan: the Lex Ring, Billboard Ring, and Checkerboard Ring were all inspired by the city's vibrant life. David Webb's love of art appears here as well: it crops up in the Bastille Cuff, for example, designed in 1972, recalling the Bastille fortress in France, though David Webb brought it up to date using with sugarloaf turquoise, tiger's eye, or coral. Enamel, which is painted by hand in the company's workshop, gives a pronounced Art Deco design voice throughout the collection. The city sophisticate will always be in good company wearing Manhattan Minimalism jewelry.
How does a designer make jewelry with a splash? How do you design with diamonds? For David Webb, the fallback answer was one that guided him throughout his career: make what you love, design what you know, stay true to who you are, consider your client. Just as David Webb revisited Art Deco with his use of hand-painted enamel jewelry, he dipped once more into the deco well when he made several collections featuring rock crystal. Both Twilight–named for the glow cast by the crystal–and Cross River, a nod to the river near his country house, are the designer's most elegant and dressy collections.
"Everybody wants something original. Women will shop all day for originality. Design is the most important thing."
Although Webb used white gold sparingly, it appears more center stage in both of these collections, although he never forsakes his beloved yellow gold. Rock crystal is scored, as in the sculptural Notre Dame Cuff, it's fluted and scalloped, as in the Halo ear clips, and it pairs with sapphire and enamel in the Marisa Berenson Ring, named after the actress-model who was known to wear masses of her David Webb rock crystal jewelry. In Cross River, the designer ratchets up his game and makes eloquent statement pieces with precious and semi-precious gems. The Couture Bracelet is a showstopper: step-cut Colombian emeralds, baguette and brilliant-cut diamonds in a dramatic yellow gold and diamond structure.
David Webb Archives.
Other dazzlers include a pair of ear pendants, three graduated loops with pavé-set and brilliant diamonds; the Crossover Ring, a dressy play on the traditional toi et moi, set with emerald and sapphire cabochons; and for emerald lovers, the Maharaja Necklace, with oval-cut emeralds, three tiers of emerald drops, brilliant-cut diamonds, and center medallion featuring an emerald cabochon. It takes your breath away. We borrow the "C" in the Cross River collection and create one-of-a-kind Couture pieces, where at David Webb, excellence, craftsmanship, and design have been our standard for more than 65 years.
But in December that year, David Webb died at the young age of fifty, a little more than a quarter-century after founding his company. The reins were taken up by the president of his company, Nina Silberstein, who continued working with and interpreting David Webb's designs. Then in 2009, the third and present ownership of the company passed to Mark Emanuel and Robert Sadian. Since that time, the owners have returned to the archive of nearly 40,000 drawings and designs, faithfully restoring David Webb's original designs and presenting them for today's clientele. The constant from 1948 to the present is the enduring appeal of David Webb's singular style and the careful craftsmanship of all the jewelry, made on the premises in New York. This is jewelry boldly created, boldly worn.
– Written by Ruth Peltason, author of David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler.
David Webb Archives.