A DAY IN THE ARCHIVES AT DAVID WEBB
WHAT EXACTLY DOES AN ARCHIVIST DO ?
DIANNE BATISTA FROM DAVID WEBB GIVES US THE RUNDOWN
As a veteran in the jewelry industry and the mother of three, I work for several jewelry businesses managing a flexible schedule and satiating my varied jewelry interests: jewelry archives, the estate jewelry market, an internet brand, and a contemporary high jeweler. Most often, three days a week are spent managing the David Webb archives and I have been asked often, what do you do there?
A day in the life of the David Webb archives usually involves, research, storytelling, and writing. I think of the archives as the foundation for a vibrant and growing brand, based on the genius of one man, David Webb. Founded in New York in 1948, David Webb has evolved into one of America’s most important jewelers. David Webb himself, died in 1975 at the age of 50, but before that he created thousands upon thousands of rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, cufflinks, and objects, each unique and distinctly his.
Besides the actual jewelry, David Webb left over 40,000 drawings, records, and books, which create the archives. Knowing how fortunate we are to maintain these records for the brand, we are often asked to provide tours. We start with the impressive file cards, which I refer to as “David Webb’s recipe cards”. Each card contains a photograph of the piece, description, date of creation, work order #, materials, counts and stone weights, costing, purchaser, and date sold. They are organized by type of jewelry and style number, which acts as a rough chronological record of design as well. Today the cards are used for creating authentications and appraisals, looking at designs for new production, and writing about product for sales.
Continuing on our tour, a wall of boxes holds all of the special commission drawings consisting of tracings, pencil sketches, and presentation drawings. I think of this wall as a very specific time capsule of who’s who in society during the 1960’s and 70’s. From the names of society families and industry titans to movie stars, these jewelry drawings are organized by name. David Webb himself sketched with a pencil and quicker hand. He had a large staff of jewelry artists to render his presentation drawings.
All images courtesy David Webb
Next, we look at a selection of David Webb’s library from which he sourced inspiration for his many design explorations; some of my favorites to point out are a book on Chinese jade, a children’s book of animals, and a book on knots. Today we divide the jewelry into broad collections, which can be best explored on our website . They include: 57th Street, the famous shopping street where David Webb first opened his boutique, characterized by 18K gold and diamonds, never small in scale. Ancient World, referencing the many cultures that inspired David Webb and including jade jewelry, hammered 18K gold, and scroll motifs. Manhattan Minimalism references David Webb’s NYC surroundings of an evolving city with geometric forms and vibrant contrasts. The pieces focus on black and white enamel enhanced by diamonds and 18K gold, modernist sculptures to wear. Kingdom continues to be a favorite. The menagerie includes the zebra, frog, monkey, giraffe, and leopard.
At the end of our tour we look to the shelves below, which contain press editorial from leading fashion magazines. We love to pull out early volumes showing magazine pages with photographs by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and other iconic photographers. Looking at these images provides a clearer lens about our history that inspires our present and future.
My everyday tasks in the archives include creating Certificates of Authenticity and appraisals, researching jewelry, naming and putting new production jewels into collections, and website upkeep. Larger projects are curating exhibitions and speaking engagements, which have included an exhibition at Doris Duke’s former home in Newport, R.I., “Designing for Doris: David Webb Jewelry and Newport’s Architectural Gems” and presenting a paper at The Society of Jewelry Historians and Christie’s Education in London this past summer with my colleague Levi Higgs titled “Modern Portraits - David Webb Jewels in Fashion Photography and Film”.
Working in the archives dovetails with communications for David Webb and as this heritage brand enters a new Renaissance, there are countless new stories to tell and jewels to research.
Learn more about David Webb at www.davidwebb.com
Follow David Webb on Instagram @davidwebbjewels