Stephen Webster, the London-based luxury jewellery brand internationally heralded for its exquisite and cutting edge designs continues to flourish under its founder and creative director, Stephen Webster. Taking inspiration from music, fashion, literature and art to produce contemporary, bold and glamorous collections, this unique approach to fine jewellery has been some 40 years in the making.
Built on a foundation of technical excellence founded at the workbench in London's Hatton Garden where Webster began his apprenticeship at the age of 16, this distinctly British heritage and passion for traditional goldsmithing remains at the heart of the Stephen Webster brand today.
With an inimitable style created by the bold combination of innovative design, uncompromising attention to detail, together with the finest materials, Stephen Webster continues to dazzle by interpreting modern and diverse imagery via traditional, precision craftsmanship.
Inspired by subjects as diverse as William Blake’s illustrations for "Albion Rose", the pop culture iconography of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album cover, Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” or reinterpreting the plumage of England’s game birds, this is fine jewellery-as-story-telling at its most colourful and imaginative.
With over 200 points of sale worldwide and flagship stores in London, Beverly Hills, Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, Stephen Webster has become synonymous with thought provoking, iconic and infinitely beautiful jewellery.
With fashion and jewellery as dazzling and devastatingly glamorous co-conspirators, each luxurious aesthetic in Stephen Webster’s collections celebrates traditional skills and great British craftsmanship. Webster’s interest in the craft of jewellery was first piqued as a teenage boy when his parents gifted him a gold cross, but leaving school he chose, at first, to study fashion. Quickly, he switched from frocks to rocks: “I’d never thought about jewellery before, but immediately, here was a combination of something I could understand; a workshop, tools, chemicals and flames, and then this beautiful, polished, wonderful thing that came out of it all” he says. “That was it for me. It was no longer about drawing; it was about the craftsmanship involved in this business. I spent the next ten years making myself the best craftsman I could be, constantly challenging myself with what I could do”.
The crafting of jewellery is, Webster acknowledges, a micro art form, a miniaturised oeuvre where both magnification and a keen eye play a tirelessly discerning role. “As a jeweller I can tell you that a small detail you can’t see even with the naked eye can ruin your whole day” he says. “Any craftsman that cares about his work will say the same. But as with anything involving magnification, the world in which you operate is no longer part of the real world. It’s a slightly surreal, 'Alice in Wonderland' existence but one that produces exquisite results”.
Now four decades on, the romancing of obscure and exotic stones from all corners of the world – opals, beryls, tourmalines, tanzanites and peridots - is still central to Webster’s craft and creativity. “It’s the pursuit of these stones that has defined my style” he says.
“Even today I get excited about a gem if I think I’ve got something no one else has”.
Meanwhile, the prevailing theme in all Stephen Webster's collections is one of painstaking craftsmanship; the belief that jewellery can only be truly beautiful if it's beautifully made.
Coveted by idols and icons from the worlds of movies and music, admirers of the brand include Madonna, Kate Moss, Christina Aguilera, Amber Heard, Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz, Kate Beckinsale and Charlize Theron. While working in Santa Barbara, California in the late 1980s, Stephen Webster had his first brush with a bonafide A-List celebrity. Elizabeth Taylor fell for a rose gold ring engraved with flowers and set with a lavender chalcedony, a bracelet was then commissioned by the enamoured, sparkle-loving super star. Similar was to follow: “Soon, Michael Douglas came by” says Webster, “and then Goldie Hawn”. Since then, the Stephen Webster signature of avant-garde design and witty, contemporary references has proved a reliably bold statement on the red carpet, in glossy magazines and on film. A key moment came in 1999, during a Phoenix trade show when Webster was contacted by Trish Summerville, then stylist to Madonna, Christina Aguilera and Pink. Summerville was styling the burlesque-themed ‘Lady Marmalade' music video that starred Aguilera and Pink and wanted to feature Stephen Webster’s jewellery.
Both singers became dedicated fans, both later commissioning Stephen to make their respective wedding bands. A five-carat diamond and platinum ring with princess-cut diamonds and hand filigree detailing for Christina. His and hers platinum bands, engraved with the words “til death” for Pink and husband Carey Hart.
In 2000 Webster was commissioned to make wedding rings for Madonna’s marriage to film director Guy Ritchie and in 2008 Christina Aguilera inspired a Stephen Webster diffusion collection, ‘Muse’ and starred in a series of advertising campaigns for the brand. Kate Beckinsale gifted her husband a clash inspired “London Calling" ring because, she said, “it is our song!”. "Mine is jewellery that gets noticed” explains Webster. “It works well in the celebrity world because particular pieces are larger than life and flamboyant…and so are many film stars and musicians. But I’ve never been obsessed with the glitz and glamour” he adds. “I’ve been obsessed with being the best craftsman I can be. I apply that to everything I do and I think people understand that. We are jewellers. We are not celebrities”.
Initially, the strictly mannered discipline of making jewellery provided a rigorous set of regulations and parameters that suited the brand; the notion of structure, balance, setting and proportion, the application of time-honoured hand crafted techniques and processes. But as the brand has developed, Webster acknowledges that he’s had to learn to evolve from being a craftsman jeweller to a haute jewellery designer, all the time maintaining a standard of uncompromising quality, finish and detail.
“I went from being commissioned to create specific pieces to being able to indulge in my own creativity” he says. “From being told what to make, to making things the way I wanted them". As the brand grew in stature and international repute during the early 1990s, a signature style and autodidactic design sensibility developed. “A bold luxurious look” Webster comments. "In terms of materials I’ve always approached design from a maximalist point of view. Even now, when I’m getting excited about a gem it will instantly translate into the design of a collection” he says. “Music is a strong influence and, of course, the view of the sea from my house by St Margaret's Bay overlooking the White Cliffs of Dover. For something like my Jewels Verne collection I looked into the ocean and saw more jewels. The ocean is a very authentic reference for me”. All Stephen Webster collections begin with an idea, often something abstract; a feeling or a memory, a literary, film or musical reference. Webster then works alongside his team, both craftspeople and designers, to create a mood board. Group discussions are held and the creative team visit stonecutters and gem specialists, read tranches of poetry and play music. Past collections have had their designs influenced by William Blake, The Seven Deadly Sins, Jules Verne and Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries.
“My job is to tell a story, to be inspired by something I’ve seen and encourage my team to turn it into something extraordinary, directional and avant-garde” says Webster.
“From there we start forming some shapes".
The most cutting-edge collections, the ones who dare to be different, are the ones that have defined both the brand and Stephen Webster’s skill and reputation as a jewellery designer. “The maverick pieces that tick all the boxes for fine jewellery and craftsmanship but also have the nerve to be unusual and from the left field, may seem outrageous and audacious at first…but they are the ones people tend to remember”.