Web of wonder / 252
Schön! catches up with him to talk about famous clients, Fair Trade and the future…
Magnipheasant Feathers Collar / Stephen Webster available at Bergdorf Goodman
Since the 1980s, Stephen Webster has been breaking all the rules with his deliciously dark and dangerous collections. With over 200 points of sale around the world, a directorship at Garrard (the world’s oldest jewellery house) and an MBE under his belt, Webster has more than made it, but this cherished British icon wasn’t always accepted by the industry at home. He also nearly didn’t become a jewellery designer at all. Luckily for us, one wrong turn made early in life has resulted in decades of desirable creations.
What first attracted you to the world of fine jewellery?
To be honest, it was slightly by accident! I was going to study fashion design at the Medway College in Kent and, by chance, walked into a jewellery design class. The flames, noise, chemicals and shiny objects were instantly appealing and much more up my alley. I guess it was a good choice as 38 years later I am still at it!
You first became successful in the USA, rather than the UK. Why do you think that was?
I spent years living in Canada and then in California and it was there that I started to create my own designs. In contrast to Britain at the time, Americans were very open to [the] more bold and colourful jewellery that mine shaped out to be. For many years, even after I returned to London, most of everything we made was sold in the US.
You have a lot of very famous customers, but is it true that Elizabeth Taylor was the first?
Elizabeth Taylor was my first celebrity client; she brought one of my classic crystal haze rings which is still one of our bestsellers today. Since then we’ve dressed everyone from Madonna to Kate Moss.
You were also one of the first fine jewellery designers to really embrace men’s jewellery. What was the market like when you started and what is it like now? Ten years ago I decided it was time for Stephen Webster to launch a men’s collection. The press loved it, but, with the exception of Neiman Marcus in the States, no-one wanted to take it up. Such was the lack of confidence for men’s jewellery amongst the retail community that, apart from the cufflink selection, maybe some pens and a couple of signet ring blanks, there wasn’t even a place to display a men’s collection. Nowadays that’s all changed; the selection of men’s jewellery on offer is amazing. Compared to even five years ago, there is virtually something for everyone.
What do your male customers look for in a piece of jewellery?
Over the years we’ve learned a lot about what is likely to turn men on. Men love manly materials such as Flint, Bloodstone or Spiderman Jasper. We are always looking for new materials to introduce. I swear if there was a stone called testosterone it would be a winner!
How does your jewellery reflect your own personality and experience?
It has always been my passion to cultivate collections that push all creative boundaries, are high on innovatory and are unreservedly cool. All of my work is a reflection of my personality. I am fortunate that, selfishly, I have pursued topics and inspirations from my life experiences and translated them into our many collections. Within all of them, there is vibrancy. I am a cheery fellow.
Could you tell us a bit about your latest collection and the inspiration behind it?
The 2014 collection [celebrates] all things quintessentially British. Magnipheasant depicts the iridescent plumage of the pheasant, an exotic bird ever present in the English countryside, while pieces from Lady Stardust are inspired by the cultural icon David Bowie, depicting the famous ‘lightning bolt’ motif featured on the Aladdin Sane album cover. You’re known as an advocate of Fair Trade and ethical practices. How far does the industry have to go to make this the norm?
As we stand, the supply of Fairtrade and Fairmined products is relatively small within the jewellery industry and the awareness is still quite low. This is much more about the future. Our experience to date has shown us that, once the consumer knows there is an ethical alternative to any of the materials used in their jewellery, the response is always positive.
What does the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire - a honour bestowed by HM The Queen) mean to you?
Being awarded my MBE for services to training and skills in the British Jewellery Industry was an incredibly proud moment for me. Throughout my career I have always strived to support and nurture up-and-coming jewellery talent and to be recognised for this was a huge honour.
You already have five boutiques around the world, as well as many other retailers. What’s next for the Stephen Webster brand?
Further development of brand extensions with a lifestyle element is the set agenda. Developing new categories such as sunglasses, accessories, watches, as well as new jewellery collections. Each week a new project comes up… variety is the spice of life.