There are many jewelers throughout history who have made impressions on the jewelry industry. Harry Winston, Alfred Van Cleef, Salomen Arpels, and Louis-Ulysse Chopard are just a few that come to mind. Today, however, we would like to discuss the man referred to as “America’s Quintessential Jeweler” – David Webb. This creative visionary’s incredibly rich and diverse statement pieces have been highly sought after by everyone from celebrities to jewelry enthusiasts, and long after his passing, his legacy continues to make an impact on the jewelry and fashion worlds.
Below details seven facts you should about David Webb’s life, his work, and how his vision is preserved today.
1. He’s a southerner and self-taught designer
David Webb was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina and began designing jewelry at a young age. At age 9, Webb was introduced to metalwork and quickly developed a passion for jewelry making. He eventually apprenticed at his uncle’s factory and at 17, he moved to New York City to pursue his craft full time.
2. Opened his first shop in New York City at 23 years old
In 1948, Webb opened his own business with three employees around the corner from New York’s Diamond District. He crafted his own jewelry designs in his workshop, which caught the attention of elite department stores like Bergdorf Goodman. Webb also became popular with the Ladies Who Lunch crowd. These women would travel in their chauffeured limousines to Webb’s business to make a number of jewelry purchases before returning to their Upper East Side homes for the day.
3. Vogue magazine was one of the first to feature his jewelry
By the time he was 25 years old, Vogue came calling. The magazine featured a pair of Webb’s earrings on the cover of their October issue. In addition, Diana Vreeland, a noted columnist and editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, was often seen wearing a David Webb black and white enamel zebra bangle.
4. His designs were bold and richly colored
Webb’s jewelry designs were distinguishable by their decorative, bold use of color and complete attention to detail. His design influences include his boyhood memories of the South to his explorations of faraway places and ancient cultures. Other important influences included Faberge, Cellini ,and other master jewelers from the 1800s and early 1900s.
Ruth Peltason, author of the book, “David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler,” comments on Webb’s style, “It was breakthrough jewelry. It was large. It spoke volumes. The rings are big. The jewelry has presence.”
5. He’s best known for his animal themed jewelry
Webb is possibly best recognized for his animal jewelry made of enamel. Inspired by an Indian sea monster, he created his first animal bracelet featuring cabochon emeralds, circular cut diamonds, platinum, and gold in 1957. The bracelet was purchased by Elizabeth Taylor and has been referred to as the Elizabeth Taylor Makara Bracelet. Webb also excelled in his use of yellow gold as well as combining diamonds and semi-precious stones.
6. Clients included movie sirens, fashion icons, and America’s upper class
Webb’s jewelry has been donned by everyone from socialites to Hollywood A-listers to American royalty since its inception in the late 1940s. Some of his clients included Elizabeth Taylor (who commissioned jewelry from him), Ava Gardner, Doris Duke, Barbara Streisand, Jackie Kennedy, Princess Grace of Monaco, and even generations of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. More recently, you see Jennifer Lawrence, Eva Mendez, Jennifer Garner, and Cameron Diaz wearing Webb’s jewelry to Hollywood parties, award shows, and galas.
7. He died tragically, but his legacy lives on
Webb died at the age of 50 from an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer in 1975, leaving behind an archive of beautiful, bold, and intricate jewelry. After his death, his legacy was preserved by his original business partner, Nina Silberstein and her family…