In the late 1940's on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, the doors opened to the flagship store of one of America’s greatest jewelry manufacturers: David Webb. Webb’s designs are distinguished by a bold use of color, dimension, and meticulous attention to detail. David Webb is possibly best known for his enamel jewelry of animal themes, where frogs look like they could jump off of the wearer’s cuffs or lapels, and bangles host zebras, crocodiles or intertwining dragons. These pieces have been beloved by socialites and Hollywood for more than sixty years. Webb’s designs also include carved crystal, abstract enamel designs, mixed with an eye catching combination of diamonds and semi-precious stones. Design inspiration came from many sources. Taking the animal kingdom as inspiration, Webb used enamel and colored stones to bring the creations of his imagination to life. Other important influences on his design sense included Faberge, Cellini, and other master jewelers from the 1800's and early 1900's who approached jewelry as art, not a commodity. He was also taken with the aesthetics of the ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Egyptians. The boldness of these designs was reinterpreted to suit the modern era using modern materials. The result was a look that established David Webb as a groundbreaking jewelry house and the destination for statement jewelry.
Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, David Webb began designing jewelry as a young boy. He apprenticed in his uncle's silversmith shop and learned metal smithing techniques. Webb arrived in New York at the young age of seventeen and got a job repairing jewelry in Greenwich Village. Blond, handsome, and positively brimming with Southern charm, Webb navigated his way through New York society and met Antoinette Quilleret, a wealthy socialite who immediately recognized his design talents. They opened a shop in 1945. Business wiz Nina Silberstein was brought in by Quilleret to handle the bookkeeping, and eventually she and Webb bought out the socialite and founded David Webb Inc. The jewelry designs immediately caught the attention of department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman. Besides his design genius, David Webb was a highly skilled jeweler who would often take the time to sit with his artisans and demonstrate precisely how he wanted his jewelry to be crafted. No detail, no matter how small, escaped his expert eye. Before long, David Webb jewelry was sought after by the most stylish and demanding design connoisseurs.
Although best remembered for his animal and nature inspired designs, the breadth of his design legacy is actually staggering. In particular, his Art Deco pieces combining diamonds, enamel and south sea pearls remain completely modern. The jewelry designer was known as an innovator, brightly colored bold animal motifs, and luxurious necklaces are the firm’s signature.
David Webb jewelry has been closely associated with socialites and movie stars virtually since its inception. Movie sirens Ava Gardner and Lana Turner wore their David Webb jewelry both on and off the big screen. Style mavens like Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, Merle Oberon, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were loyal customers. Elizabeth Taylor featured 4 pages of David Webb jewelry in "My Love Affair with Jewelry," the photo book of her legendary collection. Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Harper's Bazaar, was rarely seen without her beloved David Webb black and white enamel zebra bangle with tiny diamonds interspersed on its mane and cabochon ruby eyes. In the seventies, the image of a young Diane von Furstenberg with her thick mane of dark, wavy hair wearing a big, bold David Webb necklace on the cover of Vogue epitomized the best of that glamorous style period.
Tragically, David Webb died young of an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer in 1975 but not before leaving an incredibly rich and diverse archive of bold, beautiful and intricate jewelry to be treasured and carefully preserved for generations to come. To this day, his vision and legacy are carefully preserved by Nina Silberstein, his original business partner and her family in the Manhattan atelier bearing his name. Each piece is still carefully crafted from start to finish by skilled artisans in a workshop located above the flagship Madison Avenue store, the last of its kind in New York City. David Webb original jewelry still remains highly collectable.