Cabochon rubies, brilliant-cut diamonds, black and white enamel, 18K gold, and platinum.
INTO THE WILD
A zebra never changes its stripes, the saying goes — but who would want it to when the zebra in question is the iconic ruby-eyed David Webb bracelet?
Combining animal motifs and enamel patterns, two signatures of the American jewelry house, the Zebra Bracelet is as striking today as when it first made its appearance in the David Webb workshop in 1963 — and, the following year, within the pages of Vogue shot by Irving Penn.
Now this iconic David Webb Zebra bracelet is the first David Webb design to be acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for its permanent collection. It debuts front and center in the exhibition "Jewelry for America" which is currently on view in Gallery 773 in the American Wing. Curated by Beth Carver Wees, the exhibition displays 300 years of jewelry in America. David Webb features in this vast history with his innovative enamel animal bracelet that continues to enamour jewelry collectors around the world today.
Diana Vreeland had newly transitioned to Vogue from Harper’s Bazaar, and had been gifted the Zebra bracelet from David Webb himself. Clearly the piece had an impact on Vreeland, because she had internalized the zig-zagging black and white patterns so much that they crept their way into every aspect of the September cover. The graphic and bold striped eyeshadow, the black and white typographic treatment of the word “Vogue” and of course, the edition of the zebra ring by David Webb, a nod to its big sister, the zebra bracelet. Vreeland even wore the ring and bracelet to an evening at the theater with Truman Capote and Nan Kempner.
The Zebra bracelet wasn’t David Webb’s first foray into the animal kingdom — Elizabeth Taylor was already a fan of his emerald and gold Makara bracelet — but it quickly became his most memorable. In 1964, the Zebra Bracelet and the other fierce and fashionable creatures in Webb’s collection helped him win a Coty American Fashion Critics' Award.
Considering how comfortable the glamorous bracelet is in the spotlight, its modest origins can come as a surprise. While many famous and powerful women — the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy — have adorned themselves with this bracelet, a book from David Webb’s library, The Big Book of Wild Animals by Felix Sutton, hints to the heart of these friendly beasts.
It’s easy to see why the designer was charmed by the animal. Like those on a wild zebra, the hand enameled stripes on each David Webb Zebra bracelet are unique, an homage to the inimitable Webb woman and a reminder of the dedication to craftsmanship that the brand has continued to maintain for decades. The daring zebra also speaks to the brand’s ethos that jewelry can be wearable art that’s bold, unique, and fun — so much so that it has become the David Webb logo.
One thing you can count on, David Webb’s animals are never cute. -- Eugenia Sheppard
Today, the Zebra Bracelet is handcrafted from enamel, circular-cut diamonds, cabochon rubies, platinum, and gold almost exactly as it was in 1963 — now with Lorenzo Belevan, the son of the original craftsman, at the workshop table. “As far as tools, nothing has changed, really. I mean, I still got, like, tools that are forty years old with me,” Belevan tells Antiques. The only change to the bracelet in 55 years has been the addition of internal screws that make the bracelet easier to repair.
The construction process itself remains technical, unhurried, and meticulous. “It can take around 30 hours to make a bracelet like the Zebra bracelet,” master polisher Benjamin Ray told Town & Country. “I polish it after every step.”