Above: Lounging Leopard brooch with emeralds, diamonds, black enamel, gold, and platinum.
Some jewels require a wearer to lend them vivacity and substance. David Webb’s pieces, however, have their own distinct lives. Every design by the North Carolina native—who founded his eponymous house in 1948, and whose work was revered by the likes of Marisa Berenson and Gloria Vanderbilt—has a soul, but his animal creations are perhaps the best testament to his ability to imbue metal and stones with personality. Webb crafted his first animal, a gold-and-emerald bracelet featuring the mythical Makara creature, in 1957. Over the next few years, his Kingdom collection came to encompass a full menagerie of enamel zebras, coral fish, gold lions, and diamond leopards. In 1964, when Webb won the prestigious Coty Award for jewelry design, the fashion photographer Milton Greene and illustrator Joe Eula made the film A Walk in the Woods, featuring Webb’s beloved creatures.
This month, the brand is paying homage to its late founder’s whimsical legacy with the exhibition “A Walk in the Woods: David Webb’s Artful Animals.” Running from April 16 through 27 at the company’s Madison Avenue flagship (by appointment only), it is the first such in-house endeavor by David Webb New York, which has previously collaborated with the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach and Rough Point, Doris Duke’s former home in Newport, Rhode Island.
The New York space “houses not only our flagship boutique, but also our exceptional workshop, where all David Webb jewelry is made by hand,” says Mark Emanuel, a co-owner of the famed jewelry house since 2010.
Among the pieces on display in the exhibition, culled from an archive of more than 50,000 creations, sketches, and invoices, are a ruby, diamond, and black and white enamel zebra bracelet that was once owned by Diana Vreeland, and a carved-coral, emerald, sapphire, and diamond monkey brooch that was the last piece Webb designed before his death in 1975. The brand will also debut two new owl jewels as part of the show: a brooch of amethyst and green and white enamel (shown below), and a bracelet of animal heads and gemstone beads, both of which customers can purchase after the exhibition closes. “Owls are wise and mystical,” notes Levi Higgs, who is the David Webb archivist and cocurator of the exhibit with Dianne Batista.
Additionally, David Webb enlisted the photographer Noah Kalina to reimagine the original A Walk in the Woods film for the exhibition’s visitors. It was a fitting assignment, given that Kalina lives full-time in the woods of upstate New York. “Once you lay eyes on David Webb’s animal pieces and make a connection, it’s almost impossible to look away,” Kalina says. “I just want to hold and covet them. I think only the best kind of art does that.”
David Webb Through the Years
Webb founds his eponymous jewelry house.
Webb designs his first animal piece, a gold-and-emerald bracelet featuring the Makara sea creature (above).
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy chooses Webb to make the official gifts of state.
Webb wins the Coty Award for jewelry design.
Diana Vreeland (with C.Z. Guest and Truman Capote) wears Webb’s diamond-and–black and white enamel zebra bracelet (above left) to a premiere in New York.
A carved-coral monkey brooch (above left) is the last piece Webb designs before his death.
David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler is published.
The exhibition “A Walk in the Woods: David Webb’s Artful Animals” opens.
For more information about the exhibition, visit davidwebb.com/woods.
This story appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE Decor. SUBSCRIBE
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