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Pet Project: David Webb Unveils Exhibition Of Animal Jewels


On Sept. 19, the famed American jeweler David Webb will open its first-ever in-house exhibition at its boutique on Madison Avenue. Entitled A Walk in the Woods: David Webb’s Artful Animals, it’s a many-splendored salute to one of the founding designer’s most enduringly chic inspirations: the animal kingdom.

The iconic David Webb zebra is, of course, at the center of this gathering of sexy beasts and is joined by frogs, cats, snakes, horses, and monkeys, most sporting some combination of precious metals, exquisite gems, and gleaming enamel.

Originally slated for spring 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic, the exhibition will run through Oct. 2 and be by appointment only. It will showcase over 40 jewels and objets alongside curated archival materials and multimedia.

David Webb zebra jewelry
Zebra bracelet, brooch, and ring in black and white enamel, 18k gold, and platinum with cabochon rubies and brilliant-cut diamonds, prices on request
David Webb giraffe bracelet
Giraffe bracelet in black and white enamel, 18k gold, and platinum with cabochon rubies and brilliant-cut diamonds, price on request

Founded by Asheville, N.C.–born jeweler David Webb in 1948, the house has been steadily reenergizing since 2010, when Mark Emanuel, a former estate jewelry dealer, acquired the company. An encyclopedic archive of design sketches is a defining part of the legacy that Webb left behind upon his death in 1975. Since 2013, Levi Higgs, a key hire for the brand, has made those archival works his playground on social media and beyond and now heads the archives as David Webb’s director of brand heritage.

Which may be how Higgs became aware of a film that is being reimagined for the exhibition: In 1964, when David Webb received the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award for his groundbreaking animals, the committee showed a film by fashion photographer Milton Greene and fashion illustrator Joe Eula called A Walk in the Woods, depicting Webb’s zebras, horses, frogs, and giraffes in enamel, diamonds, and gemstones. The Coty award affirmed Webb’s  status as one of America’s preeminent jewelry designers.

The new film was created by photographer and videographer Noah Kalina, known for his viral work Everyday and his photography book Cabin Porn, and set to music by cellist Patrick Belaga.

David Webb archival sketches
Archival images are interspersed among the jewelry exhibits. Left: Sketch of an owl brooch (1969) designed in 18k gold and platinum and white and green enamel, with briolette-cut amethyst and brilliant-cut diamonds; sketch of frog brooch (year 1964) that led to a final piece made in 18k gold and platinum, green enamel, and brilliant-cut diamonds (photos courtesy of David Webb).

Another exhibition highlight: two owl jewels, plucked from the archives and created especially for the exhibition from original David Webb sketches.

David Webb owl
Winking Owl brooch in black enamel, textured 18k gold, and platinum with tumbled and cabochon turquoise and brilliant-cut diamonds, price on request

“After reviewing the archives and discovering the two owls, which had never been seen before, it was a fitting opportunity to introduce them as finished works during the exhibition,” says Higgs, who revealed a personal fondness for owls in this story he wrote for The Adventurine on a custom “pandemic jewel.”

He writes, “I have always liked owls…. If I had to pinpoint events that lead to this being so, I’d say perhaps the interest stems from spotting one huge barn owl out my window one snowy morning in Wyoming growing up, sitting high atop a telephone pole. To me, they represent the forest. I’m a Virgo, an earth sign, and I feel most at peace while hiking through a mountain path, the mist retreating in my wake.”

And when Higgs was conducting research for the David Webb exhibition in 2019, he uncovered quite a few owl jewels from David Webb’s archive. It inspired him have a David Webb gold owl ring specially created for him when he and his team finished the catalog.

Here’s a peek at some of the other creatures that will be on display in the exhibition so you know where to look for them. No one likes surprises in the woods!

David Webb horse brooch
Horse brooch in 18k gold with natural black pearl, marquise-cut ruby, and brilliant-cut diamonds, price on request
David Webb animal boxes
From left: Snake box in 18k gold and enamel with carved sapphire, marquise-cut rubies, and old mine–, brilliant, and single-cut diamonds; Monkey and Turtle obelisk in 18k gold and rock crystal with brilliant-cut diamonds; and Monkey Head box in textured 18k gold and enamel with cabochon cat’s-eye tourmaline, oval-cut emeralds, and pear-shape and brilliant-cut diamonds; prices on request
David Webb leopard bracelet emerald eyes
Leopard bracelet 18k gold, platinum, and enamel with diamonds and emeralds, price on request


Top: Lounging Leopard brooch in 18k gold, platinum, and black enamel with oval cabochon emeralds and brilliant-cut diamonds, price on request (photo: Noah Kalina)


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Amy Elliott

By: Amy Elliott

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