Stand-out books on American design


Several new style books focus on great American jewelry design. Here we zero in on two of the stand-out volumes of the season.

David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler

Ruth Peltason
Assouline, $85

American jewelry designer David Webb was a fixture on New York’s social scene during the 1960s and ‘70s, beloved by Diana Vreeland, Nan Kempner, Doris Duke, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand and many other style-setters.


Webb is perhaps best known for his animal bracelets, more fierce than cute, featuring lions, tigers and dragons, which were part of the ladies-who-lunch uniform of the day. But his legacy encompasses so much more, writes Ruth Peltason in “David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler.” Drawing from company archives (although Webb died in 1975, his name and brand live on), including 40,000 drawings and records, this is the most comprehensive book ever devoted to his work with more than 300 photographs of Webb’s jewelry, and the famous women who wore it.

Webb’s style is characterized by his use of yellow gold, “the more barbaric the better,” Art Deco influences and modern geometric forms inspired by everything from the geodesic dome near his hometown in Asheville, N.C., to the Chinese art and textiles he admired at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The mutual admiration between Webb and Jacqueline Kennedy was so strong that while she was first lady, she tapped him to design official gifts of state using American minerals, including the azurite crystal, turquoise and gold “Sea Anemone” paperweight given to Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, which is pictured in the book alongside other examples of Webb’s wild imagination.

Jewels by JAR

Yale University Press, $40

“Jewels by JAR,” the catalog for the exhibition of the same name that runs through March 9 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is a jewel of a book with 69 photographs of incredible pieces by Joel Arthur Rosenthal, today’s preeminent American jewelry designer, who has been working in Paris since the late 1970s for a small group of in-the-know clientele.

Designing under his initials, JAR, Rosenthal creates works of art using colorful gemstones, pearls and other materials such as beetle wings. Each piece is unique and “set in metals that are sometimes subject to a degree of alchemy,” art dealer Adrian Sassoon writes in the introductory essay.

Among the beauties in the book (and exhibition, which features 350 pieces) are several butterfly brooches with elaborate wing designs that seem to be lighted from within, as well as flower brooches with layers and layers of jewels mounted between the petals. Other designs are more figural, taking on the sculptural shapes of fruits, vegetables or animals, such as a spectacular agate zebra brooch with a diamond halter and plume, and a sheep’s head surrounded by a wild mane of Oriental pearls.