Stephen Webster’s world grows larger as he recruits a troupe of young designers and takes them on the road
Stephen Webster’s outrageous aesthetic – a noir-infused flourish of avant garde design motifs – changed the way we look at fine jewelry when it debuted in the late 1980s. It was the first time that such unconventional designs had been rendered according to the strict terms of traditional craftsmanship and combined with high-quality, often unique gems. The formula made him famous, and the “rock ‘n’ roll jeweler,” as he was called, gradually built a strong jewelry brand with a global reach.
Webster’s style may be avant-garde, but his values, like his craftsmanship, are old-world. He has long been a mentor of new talent, and this year Webster hosted ten young designers as exhibitors in his ballroom suite at the Couture Show in Las Vegas, where the jewelry trade goes to shop. Webster chose 10 out of 53 applicants to join him, allowing them to exhibit their work for the first time in America. Webster curated the show, and chose well: one of the young designers Tomasz Donocik, won two Couture Design Awards, one for Best Diamond Above $20,000 and the other for Best Designer Debuting at Couture.
The British Fashion Council Rock Vault, as the exhibit was called, was conceived and created by Webster to help showcase and nurture the talent of young creative fine jewelry designers based in London, England, Webster’s home base. Aside from Donocik, Rock Vault designers included Imogen Belfield, Fernando Jorge, Jo Hayes Ward, Melanie Georgacopoulos, Hannah Martin and Yunus & Eliza.
“I have always enjoyed passing on the knowledge I have acquired throughout my career to people entering this amazing business,” says Webster. “Curating the Rock Vault for the BFC has given me the ultimate platform, along with the panel to help mentor and guide emerging talent.”
Webster is also cognizant of how hard it is to break into the competitive jewelry design business. “Most people who start out as designers drop out after one year, because it’s so difficult,” says Webster. He believes the Couture Show, which is attended by America’s top retailers, helps put designers on the map, so he came up with the idea of introducing them in his space at the show. “I first exhibited here 14 years ago, and this show helped me grow,” says Webster. “I have some amazing clients, and I wanted to introduce them to these designers. They are all seriously talented, with some amazing creations that could be plugged straight in to any jeweler’s showcase. And they’re all enthusiastic. I love it when someone says ‘ I want to be the best jeweler in the world,’ because it reminds me of when I was starting out. It’s a bit like that with these designers.” Webster, always up for a party, also enjoys having a troupe with him: “It’s a bit like having a band,” he jokes.
Webster himself started from humble beginnings. Webster studied jewelry design and silversmithing at the Medway College of Design, near London, at the age of 16. By the end of his first term, he was hooked on jewelry design and craftsmanship. After completing his training under Tony Sheperd, a former Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, Webster worked as a craftsman for several established London design houses. Among many highly regarded commissions was the honor, on two occasions, of setting the De Beers Diamond Stakes Trophy in 1982.
Following that, he relocated to Canada to design for an independent jeweler for two years. Following a brief return to the UK in 1984, Webster identified an opportunity for his jewelry in California. His bold, iconic style and use of exotic and unusual gems attracted the fashion-savvy and uninhibited audience there. After much success and expansion, he returned to London in 1990 to establish the company that is known today as Stephen Webster Ltd. He has designed one-of-a-kind pieces for the likes of Madonna, Sharon Stone, Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Pink and Christina Aguilera. He has also created jewelry for Elton John, Jay Z, Ozzy Osborne, Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke and Russell Brand to name
but a few.
Throughout his career, Webster has been an advocate of ethically and socially mined materials. He has traveled to mines in Tanzania and Peru to learn about the mining communities and trace the origins of the materials he knows so well. He is now an ambassador for Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold, and works closely with Forevermark Diamonds, the De Beers program of ethically sourced diamonds.
This year, he was awarded with an MBE – Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – for his services to training and skills in the British jewelry industry. The MBE is an “order of chivalry” established on June 4, 1917, by King George V. It was awarded to Webster by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace this past February, 2013.