David Webb jewelry at auction
My auction buddy and I went to this week’s Quality Auction at one of our favorite auction houses to drool. We knew we couldn’t afford anything, but who knows, we might get lucky.
We sat in dumb amazement at one point when the bidding skyrocketed on a 3-carat diamond ring set in a 14-karat yellow gold Florentine band. Bidding started at $3,000. Then it gradually increased as the auctioneer waited patiently for bids via the phone. $4,750. $5,500. $5,750. $6,500. $7,000. $7,250. $7,500. The bidding ended, and the auctioneer moved on.
A little later, the owner of the auction house hurried to the auction floor. The buyer of the diamond ring, an absentee phone bidder, had bid on the wrong piece of jewelry. He thought he was bidding on the David Webb 18-karat fur clip with diamonds, coral and onyx. The bidder was very very angry, said the owner. The winning bid was rescinded.
The David Webb clip – total weight of diamonds= about 1-carat, 54.6 pennyweight, with its original suede pouch – had been sold a few minute before. “David Webb, need I say more,” the auctioneer had announced just before the bidding started at $3,000. The clip went for $4,000. The poor phone bidder could have had it for less than the $7,500 he paid for something he didn’t want.
I had never heard of David Webb, which wasn’t unusual since I learned later that his jewelry sells in the high thousands of dollars. I felt sorry for the phone bidder. The fur clip, which looked like an early piece, was a bargain compared to some of the prices for Webb’s jewelry that I found through Google.
David Webb was one of the foremost American jewelry designers of the 20th century, and is best known for his enameled animal themes. His elegant jewelry is and has been worn by the rich and famous, including Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Princess Grace, Jackie Kennedy, the Duchess of Windsor and Doris Duke.
Actor Morgan Freeman wore Webb’s diamond and crystal shirt stubs and cufflinks when he accepted his Oscar for Supporting Actor in “Million Dollar Baby” in 2005.
Webb, who was born in North Carolina, died in 1975 of cancer. The company he founded in the late 1940s with Nina Silberstein filed for bankruptcy this year. David Webb Inc. has stores in New York and Beverly Hills.
Webb’s jewelry is highly collectible. Carol Elkins, senior vice president for jewelry at Sotheby, said in Washington Life Magazine earlier this year:
“Savvy U.S. collectors are looking at mid-20th century jewels ‘on trend’ with current tastes for fashions from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. David Webb’s signature enameled animal bangles and textured gold jewelry have re-emerged as the ‘look’ for a new generation of collectors, for example, a coral and diamond elephant bangle bracelet by Webb brought $95,500.”
Sotheby had a sale last week of what it called “important jewels” that included designs by Webb. Here’s a sampling.
Abalone pearl, cultured pearl, diamond and emerald brooch, $41,250.
Ruby, diamond and green enamel frog bangle-bracelet, $23,750.
Pair of gold and diamond earclips, 6,250.
White enamel, emerald and diamond leopard bangle-bracelet, $32,500.
18 karat gold and coral pendant-necklace, $31,250.
Cabochon ruby and diamond ring, $33,750.
18 karat gold platinum and diamond ring, $4,375.
What I found most interesting about the Sotheby auction and the one at my auction house is that the bad economy is not hurting everyone. As I whispered to my auction buddy, “Somebody has money.” Those who do still invest in their collectibles, perhaps knowing that paying a recession price now may bring a big profit in the end. Or maybe the Webb jewelry was purchased to be worn: Some of the pieces are magnificent.
As for my auction buddy and I getting lucky, we didn’t. She had her eye on a set of four 19th century miniature bronze figures, no more than ½” to 1” tall. They were a Black Americana black boy, a Black Americana dancing couple, a hen on a nest and a devil on a pig. They went for $160. At our regular sales, she probably could have gotten them for $20.
For me, I wanted the 18k Wedgwood abolitionist pin, which sold for $325.