Collecting guide David Webb jewellery

Collecting guide: David Webb jewellery

Best known for his zebra and frog bangles, the American jeweller David Webb has long been a favourite with movie stars and fashion icons for jewels that combine ancient motifs, bold colours and fabulous beasts

From apprentice silversmith to star jeweller

David Webb was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1925, and discovered his love of design as an apprentice silversmith with his uncle.

Dreams of the city took him to New York, where he found a job in Greenwich Village and a patron in the form of the wealthy socialite Antoinette Quilleret. In 1945, they opened a store together.

Webb’s innovative modern designs quickly captured the attention of the social elite and, by 1948, he had bought out Quilleret and established his own company, David Webb Inc.

By the 1950s and 1960s, movie stars and fashion icons including Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy and Diana Vreeland could be seen wearing his bracelets, brooches, rings and necklaces — jewels fashioned in hammered gold, black enamel and colourful gemstones, many in the shape of exotic animals.

A pair of gold earrings, by David Webb. Estimate $2,000-3,000. Offered in 
Jewels Online Iconic Designs, 13-27 October 2020, Online

A pair of gold earrings, by David Webb. Estimate: $2,000-3,000. Offered in Jewels Online: Iconic Designs, 13-27 October 2020, Online

Tragically, the jeweller died in 1975 from pancreatic cancer, but the company he founded lives on, creating jewellery based on his archive of more than 40,000 drawings and designs. It’s a legacy that embodies glamour and sophistication — plus a touch of over-the-top whimsy.

Antique gold

The art and architecture of ancient civilisations were a big influence on Webb. He was a regular visitor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he studied different alloys to create a gold reminiscent of ancient jewellery.

A gold necklace, by David Webb. Sold for $27,500 on 26 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

A gold necklace, by David Webb. Sold for $27,500 on 26 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

A classic example of a textured gold Webb jewel is this hammered 18k gold necklace designed as a series of scrolls — a motif from Ancient Greece that is also found in the Art Deco designs of jeweller René Boivin.

In the 18k yellow gold and platinum bangle and ring below, the diamond details adds a touch of sophistication.

David Webb gold and diamond bangle bracelet. Sold for $13,750 on 6 December 2018, online

David Webb gold and diamond bangle bracelet. Sold for $13,750 on 6 December 2018, online

David Webb diamond set ring. Sold for $25,000 on 7 December 2017, online

David Webb diamond set ring. Sold for $25,000 on 7 December 2017, online

A love of colour

Webb is well known for his love of yellow gold — and his bold use of colour in general. Part of the ‘Totem’ collection, which mixed and matched gemstones, textures and shapes to create entirely unique pendants, the late-1970s design below, from the collection of Betsy Bloomingdale, sold for $21,250 at Christie’s New York.

A multi-gem and diamond pendant brooch, by David Webb. Sold for $21,250 on 7 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York

A multi-gem and diamond pendant brooch, by David Webb. Sold for $21,250 on 7 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York

Webb’s colour combinations often showcase specific gemstones, as in the set below left, which focuses on the blue-grey star sapphires and sold for $250,000 at Christie’s New York in 2018.

The pendant earrings below right offset emeralds and sapphires — with characteristic elegance and playfulness.

A set of sapphire, emerald and diamond jewellery, by David Webb. Sold for $250,000 on 17 April 2018 at Christie’s in New York

A set of sapphire, emerald and diamond jewellery, by David Webb. Sold for $250,000 on 17 April 2018 at Christie’s in New York

A pair of emerald, sapphire and diamond ear pendants, by David Webb. Sold for $149,000 on 10 December 2014 at Christie’s in New York

A pair of emerald, sapphire and diamond ear pendants, by David Webb. Sold for $149,000 on 10 December 2014 at Christie’s in New York

Webb’s love of colour endeared him to celebrity stylists and his jewels have made frequent appearances on the red carpet, worn by Helen Mirren, Rihanna, Catherine O’Hara, Cynthia Erivo and Renée Zellweger, among others.

Zebras, frogs, and other fabulous beasts

Since the early-1960s, when Diana Vreeland was spotted with a zebra on her wrist and the Duke of Windsor surprised his wife with a twin frog bangle, the name of David Webb has been synonymous with animal designs. Today, the zebra is the company mascot.

Diamond, ruby and enamel Zebra bangle bracelet, by David Webb. Sold for $50,000 on 11 December 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Diamond, ruby and enamel Zebra bangle bracelet, by David Webb. Sold for $50,000 on 11 December 2019 at Christie’s in New York

A diamond, ruby and enamel Frog bracelet, by David Webb. Sold for $31,250 on 10 December 2015 at Christie’s in New York

A diamond, ruby and enamel Frog bracelet, by David Webb. Sold for $31,250 on 10 December 2015 at Christie’s in New York

The first animal bracelet was made in 1957 and a procession of brightly coloured monkeys, elephants, snakes and big cats followed. Jeanne Toussaint had popularised big cat jewellery at Cartier in the 1940s, but Webb had his own playful take on the feline form, incorporating it into necklaces, earrings, brooches and bangles. His lionesses were a particular hit with Elizabeth Taylor.

A set of diamond, emerald and cultured pearl jewellery, by David Webb. Sold for $218,500 on 14 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A set of diamond, emerald and cultured pearl jewellery, by David Webb. Sold for $218,500 on 14 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A diamond Panther brooch, by David Webb. 6.3 x 7.4 cm. Estimate $6,000-8,000. Offered in 
Jewels Online Iconic Designs, 13-27 October 2020, Online

A diamond Panther brooch, by David Webb. 6.3 x 7.4 cm. Estimate: $6,000-8,000. Offered in Jewels Online: Iconic Designs, 13-27 October 2020, Online

Black enamel

Webb is also synonymous with geometric enamel, specifically black designs, such as this black enamel and baroque pearl necklace and matching earrings from the estate of Carroll Petrie, which was offered for sale at Christie’s in December 2015 and April 2016.

A baroque cultured pearl, diamond and enamel necklace, by David Webb. Sold for $56,250 on 10 December 2015 at Christie’s in New York

A baroque cultured pearl, diamond and enamel necklace, by David Webb. Sold for $56,250 on 10 December 2015 at Christie’s in New York

A pair of diamond, baroque cultured pearl and enamel ear clips, by David Webb. Sold for $10,000 on 20 April 2016 at Christie’s in New York

A pair of diamond, baroque cultured pearl and enamel ear clips, by David Webb. Sold for $10,000 on 20 April 2016 at Christie’s in New York

The black enamel sautoir pictured below left sold at Christie’s New York in 2011 for $52,500.

Other enamel pieces incorporate colourful hardstones in juxtaposition with an otherwise polished finish, such as the geometric coral bangle, below right, which sold for CHF47,500 at Christie’s Geneva in 2012.

A diamond and enamel necklace, by David Webb. Sold for $52,500 on 14 June 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A diamond and enamel necklace, by David Webb. Sold for $52,500 on 14 June 2011 at Christie’s in New York

A coral, diamond and enamel bangle, by David Webb. Sold for CHF 47,500 on 13 November 2012 at Christie’s in Geneva

A coral, diamond and enamel bangle, by David Webb. Sold for CHF 47,500 on 13 November 2012 at Christie’s in Geneva

Rock crystal

David Webb’s rock crystal designs are an elegant alternative to his bolder designs, particularly when paired with diamonds or set with gemstones. In 2017, this sautoir sold at Christie’s New York for $106,250 — more than five times the low estimate. 

A rock crystal, diamond and gold sautoir, by David Webb. Sold for $106,250 on 26 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

A rock crystal, diamond and gold sautoir, by David Webb. Sold for $106,250 on 26 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

In other examples, carved, faceted sapphires add texture and geometry to the otherwise smooth polish of the rock crystal.

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By the mid-1970s David Webb’s jewels were a regular feature on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country, where they were worn both singly and in stacks.

Some 75 years after the young jeweller opened his first store in Manhattan, his jewels continue to be coveted by collectors, designers and stylists all over the world.