Books: David Webb – The Quintessential American Jeweler

Cover of David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler
By Ruth Peltason, 367 pp., illus., Assouline Publishing, New York, 2013, $85.00.
In this large-scale, impressive look at David’s Webb life and work, Ruth Peltason opens a window into the artist’s world.
A native of North Carolina, David Webb apprenticed as a jewelry manufacturer during his teenage years before moving to New York City. There he made his name and fortune creating unforgettable jewelry and objets d’art for the elite from the 1950s through the early ’70s. The women of style and glamour who wore his jewelry included the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand, Jackie Kennedy, and Estée Lauder. Webb’s design style is unmistakable yet varied. His pieces are almost exclusively bold and substantial, with designs that range from geometric to naturalistic forms. Many feature bright, bold color in the form of gemstones and enamel, while many others are monochromatic. All share a fine attention to detail and amazing workmanship, serving to highlight the designer’s creative vision.
As famous as his jewelry became, the designer himself was rarely seen, seldom heard from, and almost never photographed. Webb allowed his jewelry to speak for itself, as his company continues to do almost 40 years after his death. Therefore, I found the writing notable for what is revealed about David Webb himself. As he often purposefully placed himself in the background, one seldom gets to read about his personal life. And with chapters such as “Crazy for Color,” “Elegance Supreme,” “Solid-Gold Fun,” and “Animals as Decoration & Heavenly Delight,” Ms. Peltason manages to capture every mood that Webb’s jewelry might convey. The large, high-definition images prove that no detail is too small to escape the fine attention of Webb’s present-day jewelers, who are all accomplished craftspeople in their own right.
David Webb – The Quintessential American Jeweler is highly recommended for followers of fine jewelry and design history in general.

Jana Smith is a subject specialist with Gems & Gemology at GIA in Carlsbad, California.