New Exhibition Spotlights David Webb’s Collaboration With Doris Duke

Jeweler David Webb and tobacco heiress Doris Duke were famous and frequent collaborators.

“Doris Duke often visited the David Webb boutique in New York and would bring various gemstones for the house to create fresh and inspiring designs,” says Mark Emanuel, co-owner of David Webb. “Doris Duke holds a treasured place within the world of David Webb.”

All in all, the iconic jeweler created roughly 10 pieces for the philanthropist, who was something of a style icon in her day. Each design began with a detailed sketch—several of which will be featured in an upcoming exhibition that pairs two of Duke’s great loves: jewelry and architecture.

Designing for Doris: David Webb Jewelry and Newport’s Architectural Gems, a collaboration between David Webb and the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) in Newport, R.I., will run from April 5 to Nov. 11 at Rough Point, the oceanfront estate of Doris Duke, which is owned and currently operated as a museum by NRF.

David Webb Doris Duke blue necklace
A sketch of a necklace David Webb made for Doris Duke

David Webb Doris Duke emerald earrings
Custom emerald and diamond earrings David Webb made for Doris Duke

David Webb Doris Duke diamond brooch
A sketch for a piece for Duke by David Webb

The exhibit will highlight the parallels present in the architectural plans and jewelry sketches Duke commissioned. Thirty drawings, several pieces of David Webb jewelry, and related artifacts will occupy a single jewel box gallery.

“The exhibition came about through the fortunate meeting of Prema O’Grady, David Webb’s general manager, and Margot Nishimura, director of museums for the Newport Restoration Foundation,” says Emanuel. “The two met last summer during a David Webb trunk show in Newport. Doris Duke was a cherished figure in the history of David Webb, so a collaborative exhibition at Rough Point…was a natural fit.”

Nishimura, in a prepared statement, said, “These are beautiful drawings that are not often thought of as such because of their utilitarian origins…. But if you take the time to look closely, you begin to appreciate these drawings both for what they can tell us about the close personal role Doris Duke played in the work she commissioned and for the inherent beauty of the skillfully manipulated line, whatever the application.”

Emanuel adds that Webb and Duke’s “deeply personal collaboration” allowed them to “meld his iconic design sensibility and jewelry expertise with her singular style, and with the exceptional stones she inherited. The result was jewelry she cherished for the rest of her life, and which lives on in this marvelous exhibition.”

Top: A sketch of a custom earring design David Webb created for Doris Duke (all photos and sketches courtesy of David Webb)

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