American jeweler David Webb, who lived from 1925 to 1975, only published one article: the 1963 manifesto “Why Not Hang Gems?,” in which he argued that jewelry should be seen as art. This vision is evident in Webb’s jewels, which have become some of the most iconic and collectible pieces from the 20th century.
Born in Ashville, North Carolina, the self-taught Webb launched his studio in New York in 1948. To celebrate the brand’s 75th anniversary, author, editor and jewelry historian Ruth Peltason has explored the connection between the creations of the “quintessential American jeweler” — the title of her previous book on Webb, which came out in 2013 — and the artworks, architecture and fashion that influenced or shared a resonance with them.
In the richly illustrated The Art of David Webb, she showcases his jewelry in 120 images — all photographed especially for the book — alongside photos and paintings that she thoughtfully selected to emphasize their inner dialogue with the pieces. In her erudite prose, she shows the wide-ranging sources of inspiration Webb encountered while exploring museums, and how he translated these into instantly recognizable jewels.
“While I think that the argument that jewelry is art can be made for many houses, in this case I was looking at the vernacular of David Webb and how it addressed the broader world of art,” Peltason shared in a recent Jewelry Connoisseur podcast episode on the artist’s career.
The book also celebrates Webb’s living legacy; the house that bears his name is still producing signature jewels in its American workshop. The volume covers jewelry “all the way up to the present, because the great sign of any jewelry house is, of course, having a distinctive voice,” Peltason says. “And that voice has been present since the earliest days of David Webb up to now.”
The Art of David Webb was published by Rizzoli in September. The Jewelry Connoisseur Podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and YouTube channel RapaportJewelryPro.
Main image: David Webb Totem necklace. (David Webb/Ilan Rubin)
This article is from the November-December 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.