David Webb (1925 – 1975)
David Webb’s jewelry is synonymous with strikingly bold colors and large scale — and remains astonishingly popular today, nearly 50 years after the designer’s early death in 1975. The tens of thousands of sketches that David Webb left behind not only document his evolving style, but provide his eponymous firm with a treasure trove of designs that has kept it in business to this day.
David Webb was one of America’s premier postwar jewelers and his designs were largely tailored to a young and stylish clientele with a growing taste for a more casual style in women’s fashion. Webb’s subject matter varied widely — the bounty of the garden, African art, royal orders, astrology, Chinese works of art and pre-Columbian artifacts - as did his choice of stones. Among his favorites were coral, turquoise, jade and rock crystal. His look was always fresh and visually strong, and this has ensured that Webb’s jewelry remains highly prized in both primary and auction markets to this day.
Born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1925, David Webb was nothing if not precocious — settling on a career as a jeweler before he hit double digits. He moved to New York City at 17, opened his first shop at age 23 and had landed his first Vogue cover by 25. By age 30, Webb’s work graced four Vogue covers in one year alone, and he jettisoned his wholesale business to commit wholeheartedly to a retail operation.
While natural talent and the unwavering admiration of fashion critics and publicists helped to garner lucrative jewelry placements (Revlon, Elizabeth Arden and movies such as “Pillow Talk” to name just a few), Webb was further aided by the patronage of style setters like Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor. One of his biggest breaks was Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1962 commission to design the Gifts of State for the Kennedy administration.
Color was of paramount importance to Webb — evident in his use of colored enamels and stones. Webb favored colored precious and semiprecious stones over diamonds, elevating their importance and incorporating them into jewelry suited to both casual and evening dress. Traditionally, diamonds and platinum had been reserved for important jewelry, but in 1963 Webb said, “No longer does a woman think that her important pieces of jewelry need be diamonds. …The look today is color, flattered by diamonds in platinum or gold or mixed with other stones.”
Both modern and vintage works by David Webb remain highly collectible. In 2017, Rago Auctions sold an enameled yellow gold, diamond and ruby frog bracelet by David Webb for $37,500.