David Webb’s Animal Jewels

Appreciating The Works Of An Iconic Designer

by Virginia Salem, Graduate Gemologist, Antiques Roadshow Appraiser

David Webb was born in North Carolina in 1925 and had a creative vein in his family. He was influenced by an uncle who was an engraver and made souvenir ashtrays. In his late teens, he moved to New York City. By 1948, at 23 years old, he started his own business. He had a particular charm and befriended wealthy socialites, which brought him business and launched him into the social scene. 

two of webb's most popular designs, the two headed mythical dragon and the zebraBy 1957, he made his first animal piece – a mythological figure of a double-headed dragon. This creation was inspired by a children’s book called The Big Book of Wild Animals (Sutton, Felix, pub. 1954), which is what he based his renderings on.

By 1963, Webb had a plethora of enameled animals: frogs, zebras, monkeys, snakes, elephants, and all the big cats, among others. By 1964, animal themes came into their own, and Gloria Vanderbilt hosted a party for him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

David Webb’s favorite animals are bejeweled and enameled. His concern was not in using the highest quality gemstones, but rather to embellish and add a shock of color. Therefore, the gems used in his animal jewelry accent the enamel work.

By the end of the 1960s, all of Hollywood wore their David Webb bracelets. Animal lover Elizabethelizabeth taylor in a webb broach, bracelet and ring. Taylor was a devoted client. She even wore her diamond-studded lion and pearl jewelry in her films! Pictured here, Taylor is wearing several Webb creations – a coral and white enamel maltese cross, a coral ring, and a carved coral, gold, enamel and bejweled lion bracelet.

From compact shapes like tortoises to carved coral bracelets inspired by the Hindu makara sea dragon, Webb’s designs were coveted by the likes of Diana Vreeland and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Summer is a perfect time to wear these whimsical, timeless jewels, especially for all of the animal lovers out there!


Virginia Salem is a USPAP-certified member of the American Association of Appraisers and an international jewelry specialist. She has appeared on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow and as a lecturer and jewelry consultant. You can contact her at virginiabsalem@gmail.com.