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FEATURE

November 12, 2015

By Jody Hume

WHY DAVID WEBB IS THE STYLE ELITE’S FAVORITE JEWELER

David Webb Jewelry SHOP DAVID WEBB
“When thinking about the most iconic brands and designers in the history of jewelry, it is very easy to focus primarily on the big houses like Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels,” notes Fine Jewelry & Watches Authentication Manager Adriana Krakowski. “What makes David Webb so important is that he was a self-taught iconic American designer and that he has left an amazing legacy of design without having the power of such huge and diverse brands. ”
Webb’s designs are not for wallflowers. “His impact came from a very cohesive sense of design and a commitment to an incredible combination of bold architecture, strong color combinations, new combinations of materials, delightful whimsy and an ever-enduring understanding of chic, powerful, feminine style,” explains Krakowski. They harken back to an era of unadulterated glamour — a time when more was more and style icons and screen sirens alike piled on his ornate animal bangles crafted with precious metals and gemstones set in shiny, colorful enamel. “Established in 1948, the aesthetic of David Webb embodied important changes that were happening for women at the time,” she says. “His designs supported the shift away from the demure, subtle female aesthetic and met head-on with the bold new independence of expression that American women were looking towards. Gone were the days of a simple pearl strand. David Webb reinvented classic designs by adding strong, seductive twists like a strand of pearls clasped with twin diamond pavé lion heads. Snakes, dragons, tigers, zebras, unicorns, monkeys and toads are but a few wildly exciting creatures that leap from his designs. One of my favorite pieces that I have had the pleasure of handling was a white enamel, carved ruby, sapphire and diamond rhinoceros brooch — it was so silly but so classy and really quite amazing that you could take something like a rhino and make it that fashionable.”
His custom designs were popular with fashion icons of the day who were known for their signature looks and outspoken style — women like Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Vreeland and Jacqueline Kennedy. Webb’s bold, fantastical pieces were the perfect match for larger-than-life style figures. Today, stars from Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Garner to Helen Mirren still wear David Webb on the red carpet, whether they’re glamming it up in new designs or heirloom pieces.
“David Webb is very well-known for his use of brightly colored enamel, rock crystal and rich yellow gold,” says Krakowski. Many pieces have combinations of enamel, opaque materials like coral, lapis lazuli, azure malachite, and onyx mixed with diamonds and faceted colored stones. He is a master of highly successful bold color combinations that pop but never offend. One of my favorite David Webb quotes is that rock crystal should be ‘at least as big as Lima beans.’ I think this is such a perfect quote because it shows how much he loved for things to be bold, and although everything he made was exquisite, he didn’t have a precious attitude about his work. Many of his pieces show his sense of humor which is wonderful.”

David Webb Jewelry RingDavid Webb Diamond & Enamel Cocktail Ring, $15,995

Aside from the fact that Webb’s ’70s designs fit perfectly with that decade’s current style resurgence, the common thread from then to now is craftsmanship and quality. “Every aspect of a David Webb piece is handmade in his workshop by master craftsman that have often worked for the company for decades,” notes Krakowski. “Everything from the metalsmithing, stone setting and polishing to the fact that all the work is done by hand — sometimes with tools that they created for the piece— proudly displays itself and is a huge part of what sets the quality apart. The amount of careful consideration that goes into the craftsmanship is something that helps the authentication process. When I look at a David Webb piece I know that nothing is going to be sloppy and rushed, that every aspect will be finished to the highest level, the inside of the piece is as perfectly polished as the outside, and that if a portion of the piece articulates with screws, the screws will be karat gold or platinum. Pieces that have enamel can often be detached so that if the enamel ever gets damaged it can easily repaired without compromising the rest of the piece. It’s this level of detail that really matters in the authentication process.”

David Webb JewelryDavid Webb Green Enamel Earrings, $4,750

“Webb became very popular and with that, many jewelers tried to copy his look,” she warns. “But usually they don’t have the same high standards when it comes to craftsmanship and the finishing process. Webb pieces are typically signed copyright WEBB and have the metal purity stated as 18K or 18K and PLAT. While there is some inconsistency in signature style on vintage David Webb items, one of the company’s current focuses is to enhance consistency that will aid in authentication.”
“It is always a real treat to encounter a Webb piece from his early years. It surfaces here and there, and I think that a major testament to the success of his designs is that a piece that was cherished by someone’s mother or grandmother in the ’50s and ’60s is passed on and still cherished today because the designs have never lost their relevance and appeal. You really can’t say that for a lot of jewelry.”
DWB

Turquoise & Diamond Cocktail Ring

Though Webb passed away in 1975, his designs live on. “Another really great part of David Webb design is that the company has continued to rely on his original drawings and wax casts to release new designs,” says Krakowski. “I think this really speaks to the integrity of the design — they have not been diluted and reinterpreted over time. The David Webb brand of today pays a great deal of respect to its roots which is a special part of the David Webb legacy. Whether you are buying a vintage Webb piece or a newly produced piece, you are getting an equally authentic design.”
“The market for David Webb pieces is always healthy, partly because everything is handmade, which means that nothing is mass produced or over-saturated in the market. This has a big impact on value and demand in the secondary market. Nearly every major auction sale will have Webb included in its offerings. We see people’s love of Webb very clearly at The RealReal, and every piece we have ever had has sold very quickly.”
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