Why David Webb Jewelry Still Captivates After 70 Years

Left: David Webb Pinwheel Brooch. Enamel and diamond. The original design, black and white, was very popular in the 60s. Sold for $10K by Bonhams, US (June 2014). Right: David Webb Cross Maltese Brooch. 18kt Gold, diamonds, and enamel. Sold for CAD7,500 by Dupuis Auctioneers, Canada (November 2016).

Thanks in part to a variety of high-profile sales and notable exhibitions, the popularity of designer fine jewelry has been on the rise in recent years. In this article, we turn our attention to American jewelry icon, David Webb, looking at his signature designs, how to care for them, and how to spot a counterfeit. His designs not only stand the test of time, but are unique concepts in their own right, and have reinvented fine jewelry as bold statement pieces. 2018 marks the brand’s 70th anniversary, making his pieces a particularly wise (and timely) investment.

Wonder, Whimsy, and Webb

David Webb ‘Tutti Frutti’ Ear Clips, New York, c. 1955. 18kt gold, platinum, rubies, sapphires, cabochon emeralds, and diamonds. Sold for €5,500 by Auctionata Paddle8 AG, Germany (May 2014).

Born in North Carolina, David Webb’s career started as a young apprentice in his uncle’s silversmith workshop, before arriving in New York at the age of 17. During this time, he was introduced to his future business partner, Nina Silberstein. Together, they established David Webb Inc. in 1948, opening a store on 57th Street in New York.

In addition to possessing a creative eye and having a meticulous attention to detail, Webb was a highly skilled craftsman. Starting with more conservative designs from the 1950s onward, Webb established a reputation for a bold use of color, volume and structure using a “broad spectrum of cutting, ranging from straightforward faceting to cabochons to carving,” explains Alexander Eblen, director of the Fine Jewelry and Timepieces department at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

Webb drew inspiration primarily from nature, which is evident in his signature animal motifs such as zebras (featured in the company’s logo), among other creatures.

Left: David Webb Brooch, Platinum, 18kt gold, and enamel. Sold for AUD 8,450 by Sotheby’s Australia (August 2015). Right: David Webb Twin Frog Bracelet, 1960s. Enamel, cabochon ruby, diamond, gold and platinum. Sold for CHF27,500 by Christie’s Switzerland (May 2015).

Webb’s inspiration also came from fellow designers Fabergé and Cellini in their approach to creating wearable art pieces, as well as designs from ancient civilizations and the Art Deco movement.

Left: David Webb Necklace, commissioned by Doris Duke, 1969. Ruby, cultured pearl and 18k Gold. Sold for $93,210 by Christie’s New York, US (June 2004). Right: David Webb Darjeeling Ring, 1973. Emerald, diamond, cabochon rubies, and 18k gold. Sold for $27,500 by Sotheby’s New York, US (December 2015).

Often using enamel and precious stones, Webb favored coral and turquoise, followed by rubies, amethysts, diamonds, and emeralds, before turning his attention to crystal, pearls, jade and ivory in the 1970s. Eblen explains that “the important jewels centered on fine gemstones have historically commanded the highest prices at auction.” Webb would mount these stones into platinum, replacing white gold with yellow gold by the mid-1960s.

Left: David Webb Pinwheel Brooch, Enamel and diamond. The original design, black and white, was very popular in the 60s. Sold for $10K by Bonhams, US (June 2014). Right: David Webb Ring, Rock crystal and 18k gold. Sold for $5,250 by Bonhams, US (April 2016).

David Webb Zebra Bracelet, Enamel, ruby, diamond, and 18kt gold. Sold for €22,500 by Minerva Auctions, Italy (November 2013).

Webb’s jewelry was sought after by both the Manhattan and Hollywood elite, particularly Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, as well as Leonore Annenberg, Doris Duke, Evelyn Lauder, Andy Warhol, and Princess Grace of Monaco, among others. Fashion editor Diana Vreeland’s iconic look was enhanced by Webb’s enamel zebra bracelet. As with any auction item, provenance is key in increasing its value, often driving staggering prices.

Webb tragically died of cancer in 1975, but left an incredibly rich and diverse archive of jewelry designs, including more than 40,000 original drawings and sketches.

Today, the company still creates designs in the spirit of his vision. The original approach to craftsmanship by skilled artisans has also been retained by workshop (still located above the original flagship Madison Avenue store).

Signature Designs and Collectible Jewelry

Webb’s designs are always in demand, says Astrid Fialka-Herics, head of the Jewelry and Watches department at Dorotheum. “His creations attract both national and many international customers.” Fialka-Herics also notes that pieces from “his active period” are of greater interest to collectors, “as well as the more unusual-looking ‘one-off’ creations.”

David Webb Brooch, 1960s-70s. Gold, platinum, and diamond. Sold for € 9.375 by Dorotheum House (April 2013).

Popular David Webb jewelry motifs include:

  • Animals
  • Seashells
  • Garden-themed
  • Geometric and spiral-themed
  • Signs of the Zodiac
  • Heraldic jewelry
  • Art Deco

Webb is best known for his animal-inspired jewelry, especially his bracelets, first launched in 1957 and continued from 1963. Enamel animals and carved bodies are considered Webb classics, followed by gold repoussé, which were created as bracelets, brooches, rings, cufflinks and more.

Left: David Webb enamel Tiger Bracelet, c. 1965. Platinum, 18kt gold, diamond, and emerald. Sold for $20k by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, US (December 2014). Center: David Webb carved brooch, mid 1960s. Coral, diamonds, cabochon emerald, platinum and 18k gold. Sold for $65,500 by Sotheby’s New York (December 2008). Right: David Webb Frog Bracelet, 18kt Gold and cabochon emerald. Sold for $16,250 by Freeman’s, US (November 2015).

In his further exploration of nature, Webb designed limited edition seashell-inspired jewelry in the early 1960s.

Left: David Webb Shell Cufflinks, Enamel and 18kt gold. Sold for $2,400 by Leland Little Auctions, US (December 2014). Right: David Webb Shell Earclips. 18kt gold, cabochon coral and shell. Sold for $2,250 by Doyle New York, US (December 2015).

Also popular are his garden-inspired designs. From 1962 to 1964, he designed an array of fruit and vegetable brooches, which sell particularly well at auction. In the late 1960s, he began designing elegant floral brooches.

Left: David Webb Pea Pod (1962), Melon (1963) and Tomato (1962) Brooches. Coral, diamonds, emerald, and gold. Sold for $122,500 by Sotheby’s New York (April 2012). Right: David Webb Flower Brooch, 18kt gold. Sold for $1,875 by Doyle New York (February 2010).

Another iconic design is his geometric and spiral-themed jewelry from 1960s and 70s. These pieces are typically found in solid gold, sometimes with diamonds.

Left: David Webb Demi-parure, gold. Sold for £11,250 by Sotheby’s London (December 2014). Center: David Webb Necklace, 18k gold and diamond. Sold for $10,800 by Sotheby’s, New York (December 2005). Right: David Webb Necklace, 18k gold. Sold for $13,750 by Christie’s New York (December 2014).

Rare at auction are Webb’s zodiac jewelry. Designed from 1968, Webb created pendants, bracelets, buckles, rings, sautoirs and brooches; made in solid gold and sometimes found with diamonds.

Left: David Webb gold Taurus Belt Buckle, Sold for $2,500 Phillips, New York (December 2012).
Right: David Webb Lion Brooch/Pendant, Rock crystal and 18kt gold. Sold for $10,000 by Phillips, New York (December 2011).

He also embraced heraldic pieces. Since the early 1960s, he designed a series of Maltese crosses in a variety of enamels and stones mounted onto gold.

Left: David Webb gold Cross Maltese Brooch, Sold for $5,625 by Freeman’s, US (November 2015). Center: David Webb Cross Maltese Pendant, 1960s. Emerald, diamond, and 18k gold. €3,828 by Tajan, France (March 2015). Right: David Webb Cross Maltese Brooch, 18kt Gold, diamonds, and enamel. Sold for CAD7,500 by Dupuis Auctioneers, Canada (November 2016).

His Art Deco pieces remain particularly fashionable, such as the chandelier style, which can achieve high prices at auction.

Top Left: David Webb Ring, 18k gold. Sold for CAD2,200 by Dupuis Auctioneers, Canada (November 2014). Top Center: David Webb Crossover Ring, 18kt gold and South-Sea semi-baroque pearl. Sold for $6,875 by Doyle New York, US (April 2015). Top Right: David Webb Ring, 1970s. Turquoise, sapphire and 18kt gold. Sold for €7,656 by Tajan, Monaco (July 2014). Bottom Left: David Webb Ring, 1970s. 18kt gold, diamond, coral, and enamel. Sold for $3,360 by Wright, US (June 2005). Bottom Right: David Webb Frog Ring, 18kt gold, lapis lazuli and enamel. Sold for $2,928 by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, US (April 2009).

Similarly, Webb’s rings also perform well at auction. With a variety of designs available in the market, rings can sell anywhere from $750 and up for a simply designed 18k gold piece.

Lesser known and rare to find are Webb’s zipper pulls, hair pins, and money clips, making them all the more desirable.

Tips for Spotting Counterfeit David Webb Pieces

With designer fine jewelry, stone quality and materials must be authenticated. Additionally, one must ensure that the piece is an original Webb design. Fialka-Herics explains, “One should pay very close attention to how the pieces are made.”

Other considerations to keep in mind:

  • Acquaint yourself with industry standard materials and vocabulary.
  • Hallmarks are crucial for proving authenticity and provenance.
  • When buying online, check Trading Standard websites like Brand-i, or request information on hallmarking.
  • Beware of unusually low prices; this can be a sign of counterfeiting.
  • Finding signed Webb jewelry is always a plus. However, according to Alexander Eblen, “the manner in which authentic items were stamped is not uniform throughout their history,” and that “there are instances where [he] did not sign [his] work.” Eblen’s advice is to acquire a letter of authenticity from David Webb.

In an effort to preserve the item’s condition, Fialka-Herics cautions collectors to wear it with care. “Jewelry is meant to adorn and not to be an everyday object.” She also advises owners to ensure that “storage conditions (such as temperature and humidity) are not overly harsh,” and not to be afraid to ask questions on specific items before attempting to clean them.

Left: David Webb Necklace, c. 1965. 18k gold and platinum, diamond, rubellite, tourmaline, and sapphire. Sold for $93,750 by Christie’s New York, US (October 2013). Right: David Webb Bracelet, 18kt gold, diamond, and rock crystal. Sold for $28,800 by Christie’s New York, US (October 2005).

Webb’s bold and luxurious jewelry is still worn today, and notable celebrity fans include Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez. These pieces not only make a great statement in your wardrobe but are also a good investment, with his unique jewelry remaining highly collectible.

With the brand’s 70th anniversary on the horizon, now is a good time to invest. As Fialka-Herics asserts, “one-off creations will most certainly become more expensive.” Similarly, Eblen suggests that collectors seek out Webb’s classic designs from the 1950s and 1960s that “took advantage of stonework to a greater degree; […] intricately sculpted stonework using materials such as rock crystal, onyx, turquoise, and coral, especially when combined with diamond accents; [and for saleability], earrings and bracelets.” However, Eblen advises that whether making an impulse purchase or strategically acquiring the next addition to your growing collection, always buy what you love. “That is the single most important message that all of the best collectors I have ever worked with have shared.”

On the hunt for the perfect statement piece? Explore more dazzling jewels available now on Invaluable.


About Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete

Fiona and Xenia are fashion curators and exhibit makers, and founders of White Line Projects, a curatorial and creative studio based in London. White Line Projects curates, designs, and produces a diverse range of outcomes including exhibitions, installations and digital experiences, and websites for a wide range of clients in the fashion and cultural sectors. Fiona, Xenia, and the team at White Line Projects bring a diverse combination of skills and background experience ranging from visual communications and 3D technologies to architecture, art history, and exhibition design to theater design and performing arts.