David Webb Jewelry: More Than Just Vintage Appeal
Dec 03 2007
If you're like me, you've probably had quite enough of the ubiquitous trend of white diamonds set in platinum. We've been saturated with the same bland platinum set diamonds since the early nineties, all more or less similar in design with the only real variation being in the number of carats used to create it. Whatever happened to individuality? That's precisely why I'm intrigued to see women with impeccable personal style like Estee Lauder executive Aerin Lauder and designer Tory Burch turning to David Webb jewelry when they need to make a statement. I'm all the more fascinated when I see someone like Gwen Stefanie and Jennifer Lopez who have much edgier styles also opt for David Webb jewelry.
David Webb jewelry has been closely associated with socialites and movie stars virtually since its inception in the late 1940's. Clients included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwell, Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Windsor, Doris Duke, Gloria Vanderbilt and Nan Kempner. Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue and one of my favorite style icons, 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. These were all women with fantastic personal style and unlike today, they didn't rely on professional stylists and designer freebies to put themselves together. They did it all themselves. Their fashion choices were therefore deeply personal and consequently, made a lasting impression.
A Brief History
Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, David Webb began designing jewelry as a young boy. He eventually apprenticed in his uncle's factory and by the time he was a mere teenager, he moved to New York City to pursue his craft. His 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. His repertoire of design influences spanned everything from Etruscan culture to 18th century jewels from Jaipur. In particular, his Art Deco pieces combining diamonds, enamel and south sea pearls remain completely modern. The collection of carved crystal pieces with small, discreet diamonds interspersed in the design is refreshingly subtle yet no less show stopping. My personal favorites however remain his coveted animal cuff bracelets - interlocking dragons, roaring crocodiles, slumbering turtles, regal lions - all exquisitely crafted in gold with eyes faceted of precious stones.
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. In 2008, David Webb will proudly celebrate its 60th anniversary.
An Independent Brand
I suspect that part of the reason why David Webb jewelry remains so bold and distinctive is that it happens to be one of the last remaining independent luxury brands of its kind. The push towards consolidation in the luxury industry has produced mammoth conglomerates that need to cater to shareholders. In contrast, David Webb remains an entirely family run operation with at its helm, Nina Silberstein, CEO. Mrs. Silberstein freely admits that the commitment to quality and craftsmanship has sometimes meant smaller profit margins for the company. Whereas many of David Webb's competitors outsource production overseas, at David Webb every aspect of production from design to stone setting to fabrication takes place under one roof: its own. In this respect, the company remains true to its design traditions. As a result, a David Webb client acquires an heirloom quality jewel, not a fashion bauble. This commitment to quality and independence is shared by Mrs. Silberstein's children, Stanley Silberstein (President, David Webb Inc.) and Sharon Silberstein (Vice President and Creative Director, David Webb Inc.).
To associate David Webb exclusively with its illustrious past however would be a mistake. It is currently enjoying a revival amongst young, influential tastemakers like Eva Jeanbart Lorenzotti, founder of online style emporium Vivre. Moreover, in addition to the archival pieces, David Webb is in the very talented hands of Sharon Silberstein. Sharon achieves the delicate balance of respecting David Webb's past while breathing new life into the company's designs. Having travelled extensively and lived abroad for many years, Sharon brings a fresh, modern and incredibly cosmopolitan vision to her family's business. A gifted musician, fluent in several languages and a fierce martial arts expert, her designs are modern yet very respectful of the David Webb esthetic.
Check back with The Luxe Chronicles soon for my upcoming interview with Sharon Silberstein, David Webb's Vice President and Design Director and pictures of her beautiful designs. For more information about David Webb jewelry, you can visit their website at www.davidwebb.com. You can also drop by the stores:
New York: 789 Madison Avenue (Between 66th and 67th Street).
Beverly Hills: Regent Beverly Wilshire, 9500 Wilshire Blvd.
Also, a number of classic David Webb designs including the gorgeous animal cuff bracelets are available from Vivre.
Row 1: Diana Vreeland; Jacqueline Onassis and Aristotle Onassis; Doris Duke; Lee Radziwell and Jacqueline Onassis.
Row 2: Zebra bangle with enamel, ruby and diamonds; Enamel and gold frog bracelets; Ruby and diamond necklace.
Row 3: Aerin Lauder; Gwen Stefanie; Tory Burch; Eva Jeanbart Lorenzotti.