All text, concepts and images ©2009 - 2021 Debra Healy
unless otherwise stated.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

David Webb and The French Connection

Vogue July 1962, jewelry by David Webb 

When  Penny Proddow and I wrote,  American Jewelry: Glamour and Tradition, Rizzol, 1987,   we interviewed Stanley Silberstein about the founding of David Web Inc.  Stanley Silberstein must have been in the myth-making mode when we spoke with him.  He told us his mother Nina Silberstein was the co-founder of David Webb Inc. and that she was David Webb's sole business partner since 1945.

In 2009 when David Webb Inc.  filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  Information came to light that refuted what Mr. Silberstein told us .  Read about it (Here)

Forced by these revelations Stanley Silberstein had to tell the truth, more or less as reported in Cathy Horyn's article, The Ring Cycle,  In the New York Times , November 28, 2011. (Here)

“according to Stanley, his mother Nina had become Webb’s partner years earlier when she helped him buy out his original backer, a well-connected woman named Antoinette Quilleret, in 1963. “

An extract of  Mrs. Antoinette Quilleret's obituary in the New York in 1989 reads as follows:

Antoinette Quilleret, a a co-founder and former president of David Webb Inc., the jewelry concern, died of complications of cancer on Thursday at her home in Marbella, Spain. She was 85 years old.
Born in Paris, she came to the United States in 1937. She met Mr. Webb, and the two went into business together in New York City in 1945. Mrs. Quilleret retired in 1963 and returned to Europe...
New York Times obituaries -November, 22, 1989

Stanley Silberstein's incorrect version, which we received in good faith, was published in our book American Jewelry,  subsequent books by Penny Proddow, and Marion Fasel, and countless auction catalogs. 


The story of interest to me is not that we were given false information about the founding of David Webb Inc.,   but the obscuring of David Webb's 18 year association with Antoinette Quilleret,
  and the true story of the evolution of David Webb the designer.

The David Webb company was sold and reincorporated as
David Webb LLC in June 2010 – It is owned by Sima Ghadamian along with Mark Emanuel and Robert Sadian. They are re-launching the brand.Visit them (Here)

A book is in preparation. Ruth A. Peltason, the author has unlimited access to the archives, client records, and to the people who worked with David Webb creating his jewelry.

What follows is a rewriting of our original chapter with some new thoughts and Illustrations.


For Penny Proddow (1944-2009).
A truly original thinker.

David Webb ( 1925- 1975) was an enormously talented American jewelry designer who died far too young. He left his mark on the world with his imaginative and highly distinctive jewelry. 

Ernestine  Carter summed it up perfectly in The Changing World of Fashion, 1977
"In the sixties David Webb found himself fashion's pet when he lunched his collection of jungle jewelry-in gold , enamel and brilliants. This amusing idea, beautifully executed by Webb was  instantly copied by makers of costume Jewelry like Kenneth J. Lane and the Italian jewelers to whom enamel comes naturally and who were delighted to have a new theme. Mr. Webb kept his Jewelry in the middle price range, using semi precious stones like coral, and jade, he was sparing with diamonds, elaborate with enamel, simple in gold.  The death of this charming South Carolinian in 1975 deprived America of an imaginative talent."

David Webb grew up in the jewelry business in Asheville, North Carolina. From an early age  he was fascinated with gems stones, he helped in his uncle's Jewelry shop where he learned jewelry making and stone setting. He participated in a WPA metal craft program, and after high school studied at the Penland School of Crafts summer program. Then at the age of 16 he came to New York city to become a jewelry designer.  (I can Imagine what it must of been like for this young man to travel to New York city on his own  in 1941,  because my own son is  just 16.)

He found work in the Jewelry district on 47th street.  In 1945 at the age of 20  he met Antoinette Quilleret (1904-1989),  a sophisticated French woman who was wealthy enough to finance him, and connected enough to introduce  him to clients.  According to the New York Times obituary they went into business together in 1945.
Images Sotheby's 
Seaman Schepps and early  brooches by David Webb
David Webb Sapphire and diamond set circa 1950's

David Webb's earliest work was derivative quite similar to Seaman Schepps.  Mr. Schepp's daughter Patricia Vaill told Penny Proddow and I an amusing story. She told us that young  David Webb was standing looking in her father's shop window and sketching, he was there for so long that her father went outside and asked him "young man would you like a chair?"

I have often wondered how the tall young man from South Carolina developed such a flair with so much savoir-faire.  Since 2009 it has been my opinion  that this was due  to his  "French connection,"  Mrs. Quilleret.  She was 21 years his senior,  and a stylish international woman.  The furthest  David Webb had  traveled was from his home in the south to New York city.  Which makes his transition all the more remarkable.  To begin with he clearly seemed to have had basic jewelry making training, but limited exposure the world of international high end jewelry.

With Mrs. Quilleret's  financial backing and her social connections David Webb made the leap and became a super-star designer. He was the darling of society, and his jewelry still rocks the fashionable world.  I think it was likely that  he would have met her wealthy well-traveled friends, and would have seen  their jewelry.  These women bought jewelry from everybody on both sides of the Atlantic.  With a French business partner he would have had access to the French fashion press as well.  He would have been aware of the work of the following jewelers, Rene Boivin, Suzanne Belperron, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels in France.  In New York after the War there were several  European jewelry designers working notably the Sicilian Duke Fulco di Verdura , and the  Frenchman Jean Schlumberger.   Both  Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels had stores in New York city.

Rene Boivin
(Left) Brooch, Rene Boivin, 1957 enamel, sapphire, emerald, ruby, and diamonds.
Image Rene Boivin by Francoise Cailles, Quartet books, 1994
 (Right) David Webb, bracelet,  enamel, gold, diamonds, platinum, and rubies.

Rene Boivin

Images form Bijoux Art Deco et Avent-Guarde(left) Boivin bracelet, rock crystal, silver and sapphires.
(right) Webb Bracelet, rock crystal, patinum, and diamonds Image Sotheby's April, 7,8 1997

 The  French firm of Rene Boivin worked with imaginative geometric and  naturalist forms. Often incorporating  semi-precious and precocious stones in dramatic and  innovative ways.

Verdura/ Belperron

1933, smoky quartz, diamonds, and platinum
Suzanne Belperron was  known for her sensuous organic carved hard stone and precious gem stone pieces.  The Duchess of Windsor and Diana Vreeland were  both clients of Madame Belperron and David Webb.
(left) Cartier panther bracelet 1958, and Cartier panther brooch 1958, both white gold,  sapphires, diamonds with  emerald eyes., 
Note: Cartier's first panther motif appears as early as 1914.
(right) David Webb bracelet  yellow gold, enamel . diamonds, platinum, and emeralds.
(left) Images above, Cartier by Hans Nadedelhoffer Chronicle Books, 2007
(right) Image
American Jewlery: Glamour and Tradition, by Penny Proddow and Debra Healy, Rizzol, 1987 

Cartier jewelry and Cartier's artistic director
 Jeanne Toussaint were a  tremendous influence on David Webb throughout his career.

David Webb was also influenced by his contemporaries
Fulco di Verdura, and Jean Schlumberger  .
(Right)Schlumerger brooch diamonds, ruby, platinum, yellow gold
 (left) Fulco di Verdura Brooch 1940's aquamarine platinum and diamonds
Images American Jewlery: Glamour and Tradition, by Penny Proddow and Debra Healy, Rizzoli, 1987 

 In America it is likely that Mrs. Quilleret's contacts would have been buying from the Duke Fulco di Verdura, and Jean Schlumberger.  Also from Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels in New York. This is a heady mixture of influences, and it is apparent  that David Webb absorbed them all.  How  else did he  attract stellar clients like the Duchess of Windsor, and Doris Duke?

August 15, 1953
Vogue  September 15, 1955
Jewelry by David Webb

During the 1950's Webb  wholesaled his Jewelry at Bergdorf Goodman and Bonwit Teller from their office at 6 East 57th Street, he also worked with private clients. Through adept marketing Webbs' jewelry appeared on Vogue covers in the 1950's . The partners appear to have the understood the power of fashion editorial coverage and advertising.

(right) Fulco di Verdura sculpture, coral, gold malachite, diamonds, and peridots.
(left) David Webb compact, real tortoise shell, gold, diamonds, and emeralds
Images from Americna Jewelry: Glamour and Tradition, Rizzoli, 1987 and
Diamonds: A Century of Spectacular Jewels by Penny Proddow and  Marion Fasel, Harry N. Abrams,1996

David Webb also made precious objects, like his contemporaries  Fulco di Verdura and Jean Schlumberger.  Some of these were precious sculptures, biblots,  others were utilitarian objects like compacts and evening bags.  Some of these were commissioned as gifts of State most notably by the White House. For example for President Fanfani of Italy he wrapped a piece of Arizona malachite in a gold rope. 

David Webb was in business with Mrs. Quilleret for 18 years until she retired and moved back to Europe in 1963. These were definitive years.

Vogue January 15, 1962 jewels by David Webb

In 1963 David Webb's bookkeeper,  Mrs. Nina Silberstein  bought Mrs. Quillert's share of the business. Becoming David Webb's partner for the next 12 years until his  death in 1975.  David Webb Inc. opened a salon at 7 East 57th Street.  Later under Silberstein management the salon  moved to  445 Park Avenue where they continued to make jewelry in David Webb's name until the company was sold.

Image from The Windsor Style By Suzy Menkes

David Webb, Seaman Schepps, Vurdura,  Margarita Stix, and other jewelers all worked with natural shells. The collection above belonged to the Duchess of Windsor.  She brought her collection of Cuban tree snail shells to David Webb in 1964. The  long shells in the center are from Haiti this pair was mounted by Darde in Paris.  Darde  who incidentally made some of Suzanne Belperron's Jewelry.

David Webb was known to have a large  reference library of beautifully illustrated art books. He was also an avid museum goer, and a prolific designer, it is reported that there are 40,000-50,000 designs in the archives. These designs reflect his wide-ranging interests and influences. He looked to the ornaments of earlier civilizations, (mainly, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, Russia , India, ancient Mayan and Aztec) for his inspirations. Often working in yellow gold with bold combinations of semiprecious and precious stones.

David Webb  might have gotten  his inspiration for his frogs from Faberge pieces like these.  He was a great admirer of the carved semi-precious stone animals of Faberge.

David Webb gold, enamel, ruby, and diamond frog brooches
Photograph by David Behl

Harper's Bazaar December 1963
Jeweled Amphibian brooch by Verdura

The personal jewelry of Jeanne Toussaint who was
the artistic director of Cartier. She was associated with Cartier form 1910-1965.  
Her coral and diamond jewelry was photographed  in her
Paris apartment in  Vogue 1949.

David Webb add December 1966  Harper's Bazaar

David Webb's advertisements were in dazzling full color while
the firms of Cartier, Harry Winston, and Tiffany and Co. were mostly still in black and white.

Image from Diamonds: A Century of Spectacular Jewels by Penny Proddow and  Marion Fasel, Harry N. Abrams,1996
the caption reads as follows
"Diana Vreeland's zebras were among the first in Webb's animal kingdom, which won him the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics Award in 1964. Black and white enamel and gold zebras form a ring and bracelet with diamond manes set in platinum and cabochon ruby eyes. The earrings upper left feature Zebra stripes and diamond accents."

I will add to this.  The enamel is opaque enamel,  the technique employed in the zebra jewels is called champleve enamel, which  means raised field.  The process requires filling  a recess in the metal with moistened powdered enamel ( a bit like wet sand) drying it, then it is fired at about 1400 degrees for just under 2 minutes. This process is repeated multiple times until the metal and the enamel are at the same level.   Then the entire surface is ground down sanded smooth and re-fired to fire-polish the enamel.
The metal is polished last. These were intricate labor-intensive pieces made in the European tradition. That's why they took America by storm.

 David Webb advertisement Vogue June, 15 1964

 A traditional Indian makara bracelet. Makara  means crocodile.

Cartier bracelets in the traditional Mughal jewelry forms. 
 Image from Cartier by Hans Nadedelhoffer Chronicle Books, 2007

David Webb's animals where not merely the  direct descendants of Mughal jewelry, although the forms of the bracelets were similar to those originally adapted by Cartier in the 1920's.

Carousel zebra, Birmingham ZOO. Birmingham, AL. via Flicker

His creations have  the playfulness and pure child-like joy of the delightfully painted American carousel animals.

Vogue September 15, 1964

 David Webb  panda, bracelet and ring
Image, Christie's St. Moritz February 1997

Diana Vreeland By George Platt Lynes
 working with Marisa Berenson.
Image from Diana Vreeland The Eye Has To Travel, by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Abrams, 2011.

 David Webb white enamel and gold  radiant  brooch
Image American Jewlery: Glamour and Tradition, by Penny Proddow and Debra Healy, Rizzol, 1987

David  Webb's reintroduction of enameled jewelry was revolutionary.  Colorful and exuberant these jewels were  right instep with the swinging 60's.  He called these jewels his “enamel jungle”

Panther brooch gold, enamel, diamonds, and emeralds
Image Tajan August 2011

Vogue reported that “The big Cats are riding the crest of a wave--the return of enamel with its molten pure color brilliance.”
Jeanne Toussaint Cartier Archives

The Popularity of David Webb's animals brought fame back to a towering jewelry innovator of the Past. Jeanne Toussaint who joined Cartier Paris In 1910. She retired in the 1960's. She was world renowned for her great cats, panthers, tigers, her serpents of the Nile, coral ladybugs, turtles, exotic birds, and her mythological double headed bracelets and chimeras. When pressed by his client, Diana Vreeland, who knew them both David Webb had to say "It's completely Toussaint's influence of course, she is the inspiration of us all."

The bright and colorful precious daytime jewelry inspired Harper's Bazaar and Vogue to out do each other in Photographic tableaux.  By the 1960's precious Jewelry was being worn with abandon. Hands with a ring on every finger and two on the index finger; arms adorned with multiple bracelets, and ropes of beads--the bulk and the vibrant colors created a very different look from that of the styles in which diamonds predominated. 
Vogue called it 'Scheherazaderie” after the beautiful Oriental storyteller of 
the Thousand and One Nights.

November 1965 Harper's Bazaar editorial brooch gold enamel diamonds and a ruby.

Image Tajan,  Paris December 7, 2011
David Webb, Siren brooch, matte yellow gold, enamel, sapphires, and diamonds.

Davis Webb bracelet, earrings, and ring, ivory, gold, and turquoise.

 Yellow gold, enamel,  turquoise and a ring with diamonds.

 Yellow gold, coral, enamel and diamonds on the  brooch.
Image Sotheby's
( I regret I do not have a record of the dates of the sales for the above two images)

 Jessica Alba, Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Jessica Alba wears a contemporary David Webb necklace.
Image from WWD
" The famed photographer,Terry Richardson, did double duty for the Carine Roitfeld-styled series of print ads for the fine jewelry brand when he shot the campaign, which also features a plastic, doll-sized version of himself front and center (holding a strategically placed camera)."
... co-owner Sima Ghadamian, who described the three ads as “sexy, young, abundant” and “full of saturated color.”  The ads will run in Vogue, Town and Country, V and others." WWD

We all owe Penny Proddow  our thanks, not only for her contribution to the field of jewelry history,  and for her wonderful books,  but  it is a little known fact that in  the 1980's while working part time at Christie's Penny suggested to Francoise Curiel that he  should include and index of designers and makers in every auction catalog.  I know, how could we live without this index, right?

For additional information see the following:

American Jewlery: Glamour and Tradition, by Penny Proddow and Debra Healy, Rizzol, 1987
Hollywood jewels: Movies, Jewelry, Stars by Penny Proddow, Debra Healy, Marion Fasel, Harry N. Abrams, 1992 and 1996

Diamonds: A Century of Spectacular Jewels by Penny Proddow and  Marion Fasel, Harry N. Abrams,1996
Bejeweled: Great Designers Celebrity Style, by Penny Proddow and  Marion Fasel, Harry N. Abrams, 2001

The new owners are carrying on the legacy of David Webb, and history is repeating itself hopefully with the best of Webb,  starting again at Bergdorf Goodman.

From the Bergdrof Goodman blog (here):

Jewelry Revival

Once upon a yesterday, David Webb was one of the most sought-after jewelry designers, sparking conversation with his floral motifs, animal imagery and modern geometry.  His custom pieces glinted among the City’s social registry, reflecting the aesthetic of the ancient Greeks, Chinese and Egyptians while also making bold statements that quickly came to define Hollywood glamour and later reflect the spirit of the 1970s.Today we are thrilled to announce the return of the David Webb jewelry collection to the Main Floor of Bergdorf Goodman. For more details, call 212 872 8900.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Niki De Saint Phalle:Art Provocateur

Niki de Saint Phalle 1930–2002 is a major retrospective of Franco-American artist
     Grand Palais Paris September 17, February 2, 2015 
Niki de Saint Phalle, cover French Vogue, 1952

Niki De Saint Phalle was born in 1930 to a patrician American mother and a French aristocratic father. She was raised in two cultures and two languages. She was a fashion model, she married young,  had children, and then she had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized.  While in the mental hospital she started painting. 

Self Portrait, 1958, plaster and mixed media on wood
141 X 141 x10 cm
Through art she found her “voice”. She said, " I was lucky enough to find art because on a mental level I had the makings of a terrorist." In fact she had great sensitivity and an extraordinary eye.  After a lifetime of travel with frequent museum visits, she evolved the techniques she needed in order to express herself.   In these early works from the 1950’s,  she demonstrates a keen eye for composition, color, and balance. She had an instinct for survival, which required rebellion and distancing herself from the world of her parents. She was driven to express herself, in her own words she wanted to “ show everything, my heart, my emotions” she said “Painting, calms the chaos that was agitating my soul, it was a way of taming the dragons”
She grew up in two cultures American and European. Her early work uses plaster in the manner of Jean Dubuffet and paint splashing and dripping in the style of Jackson Pollack. 

She was  highly original,  and a self -taught artist.  She evolved her own unique style, digging deep inside her psyche, exploring her inner most dreams and nightmares .  Above is a  detail of her Pink Nude in Landscape, 1956.  The breasts and the pubis are studded with pins pointing out in an effort to protect and empower the woman.
La Mariée or Eva Maria, 1963 plaster , wire mesh, lace  and found objects
222 X 200 X 100 cm
Questioning the “Bride” is she chattel this large infanta, sealing a profitable alliance ?

Saint Sebastien (Portrait of my Lover), 1961, mans shirt ,paint, nails ,darts,dart board
on wood 100 X 74 x15  Hanover Sprengel Museum gift of the artist

A very bad boyfriend inspired the creation of this effigy, a voodoo ritual and ceremonial exorcism. It is also an exploration of archetypes. She found the creation a powerful ceremony empowering her to remove the very bad boyfriend. She said that ritual became very important part of her work.  She imbues this object with sacred intent.  She stole one of the bad boyfriend's shirts and drove nails into it substituting the head with a dartboard. Even though it was created with rage and violence it is an evocative work of art.

 The above video  is from the Tate  Liverpool exhibition in 2008
Shooting Paintings, Tirs
Ready aim fire!   The shooting series, Saint Phalle invented participatory Interactive and art performance art.  These works evolved over the next ten years of her life, they were meticulously assembled cast plaster assemblages encasing bags of richly pigmented paint; which when hit by a rifle shot would burst open, randomly transforming the composition. Thanks to her work she would assert herself in society on her own terms “ For me my sculptures represent the amplified world of women and women’s delusions of grandeur, women in today's world, women in power”

 “ By shooting at my self, I was shooting at society and it’s injustices. By shooting at my own violence I was shooting at the violence of our times.” She felt she was able to die at her own hand and be reborn again.  In many ways she was reborn.

          Alter Black and White, 1962 Plaster paint and found objects on wood panel 250 X 206 35 cm

Leaping Nana, 1970 Silkscreen on Arches Paper 76 X 56 cm. Hanover Sprengle Museum

above and below Niki de Saint Phalle in American Vogue, April 15, 1968
double page spread photography by Bert Stern

Inspired by the pregnancy of her friend Clarice Rivers, the wife of American artist Larry Rivers, she began to use her artwork to consider archetypal female and the position of women in society. Her artistic expression of the proverbial “everywoman” was named 'Nanas'. Nanas are empowered feminine forms the shapes are reminiscent of a Paleolithic goddess. They are voluptuous self possessed, playful, defiantly not the perfect thin fashion mannequin or obedient little wife. Nanas cavorting are potent, proud, celebratory, and glorious in their open-legged defiance.

Saint Phalle said, “Communism and Capitalism have failed. I think the time has come for a new matriarchal society.”
Twirling Nanas definitely not naives

In 1970 Niki de Saint Phalle made an experimental feature length film with the director Peter Whitehead entitled "Daddy" where she explored incest and male domination. The film was inspired by dark episodes of her own childhood. In 1993 she published an autobiographical book "Mon Secret".  Niki de Saint Phalle overcame the trauma of her childhood to emerge as a truly creative artist. She found lasting love and a creative partnership.

Image Telerama France
Niki de Saint Phalle and her partner and collaborator the sculpture,]Jean Tinguely

Together they worked on major architectural commissions  the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris (1983) Golem (1972), the Cyclops (1969-1994) and the Tarot Garden (1978-1998)
The Stravinsky Fountain  in Paris being repaired and restored
Cat Head Tomen, 2000, Polyurathane iron, stones and glass mosaic. Santee, Garfield Park Conservatory

L'impeatrice at the Tarot Garden, Tuscany Italy
Saint Phalle working inside the L'imperatrice at the Tarot garden in Tuscany

Influenced by Antonio Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, Watts Towers by Simon Rodia, Niki de Saint Phalle decided that she wanted to make something similar.  In 1979, she acquired some land in Garavicchio, Tuscany, about 100 km northwest of Rome. The garden, called Giardino dei Tarochi in Italian. The Tarot Garden contains sculptures inspired by the symbols found on Tarot cards. The garden took over 20 years to complete.  It opened in 1998.  It was financed by her own funds from licensing deals, Jewelry and perfume.
When Niki de Saint Phalle died in 2002 . She left behind an wealth of work, sometimes painful, sometimes 

From the Gand Palais
"Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is one of the most renowned artists from the mid-twentieth century. Throughout her prolific career, Saint Phalle created a complex body of work in various media which was deeply embedded with socio-political issues. With themes ranging from joyful to profound to intellectual, the paradoxical nature of her work has yet to be fully explored. She was one of the first women to receive international acclaim and recognition during her lifetime, as well as successfully create a public persona.  Similar to Warhol, Saint Phalle was able to use the media to skillfully guide the reception of her work.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with the kind participation of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation. The exhibition benefits from loans from the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany and the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain (MAMAC) in Nice, France - both recipients of generous donations from the artist."