Back in the day, during the time of America’s Prohibition, it was all about going out and having a grand time. Under the terms of the Eighteenth Amendment, the production, transport and sale of alcohol were banned from 1920 to 1933, but that didn’t stop folks, especially women, from getting dressed up in their finest flapper outfits and celebrating like there was no tomorrow. It was an era of freedom, speakeasies and the rise of the now-classic cocktail ring—bold jewels that serve as glamorous accessories, worn with a drink in hand.
Cocktail rings stayed in fashion throughout the years but perhaps became most prevalent in the 1950s and ’60s, when women often wore them out to dinners and parties. This was also around the time when American jeweler David Webb was at the prime of his design. Over the course of his life, Webb designed pieces for a number of notable ladies, including Marisa Berenson, Diane von Furstenberg, Doris Duke and the Duchess of Windsor. To this day, the brand is still adored by celebrities and A-listers alike. Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Webb moved to New York at the age of 17 to start his career. His eye for bold, colorful gems combined with studies in metalwork (influenced by his grandfather, a metal engraver, and his uncle, a jeweler who taught him gold work and stone cutting), gained attention in the press, including on the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. David Webb became a household name.
In the same building as the brand’s flagship store on 942 Madison Avenue, is the workshop, where all the intricate pieces are made, and the archive department, housing more than 40,000 of Webb’s original sketches, as well as design cards and inspiration books, many on how to draw animals, which became his signature design motif. “For inspiration, David Webb references archival designs, while taking liberty to change color palette and design scale to make it current and modern,” said Dianne Batista, the company’s archive manager. “David Webb was a charming southern gentleman, who attracted many high-profile clients to the company. He was very hands on and created many special orders. If a client came in with their own gemstone or family heirloom, he would source inspiration and design around that.”
On the walls in the archive department are framed art, also of Webb’s original sketches, including a cocktail ring he designed for Marisa Berenson in 1973. The piece is still prominent in the brand’s Twilight collection and is a statement piece nonetheless. Another gem in the extensive collection is a cocktail ring the jeweler designed for Diane von Furstenberg in 1972. Stylish then and stylish now, these rings perfectly encapsulate the timelessness of the brand, one that truly values its core roots. As Mr. Webb once said, “Today a woman is not looking for just a bracelet, clip or ring, but a jewel that proves her individuality.”