Curious Objects: David Webb archivist Levi Higgs and the company’s storied Zebra bracelet

Benjamin Miller

Benjamin Miller Curious Objects

Zebra bracelet designed by David Webb, 1963. Gold, diamonds, rubies, enamel, and platinum. © Studio Ilan Rubin.

In this ninth episode of Curious Objects, host Benjamin Miller talks with Levi Higgs, archivist and social media manager for David Webb, the eponymous firm of the distinguished twentieth-century jeweler. Flaunted by Manhattan’s “ladies who lunch”–set, as well as cultural icons such as Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Ava Gardner, Webb’s jewelry is well known for its use of vibrantly-colored gems and enamels and frequent use of animal imagery, stylized with designs borrowed from Greek, pre-Columbian, and art deco sources. Higgs has brought with him one of Webb’s Zebra bracelets, the most famous animal design from the jeweler’s bestiary.

Benjamin Miller: Hi everyone. Just a quick note before we get started. And I’m sorry for the audio quality—I’m on the road and literally talking into my cell phone right now. But if you use Instagram, there’s a fun opportunity to get involved in the podcast right now. The Magazine ANTIQUES is starting up a hashtag called #mycuriousobject, and if you have an object in your life that’s interesting or that has a fascinating story behind it, or that’s just plain wacky and weird, or fabulous and beautiful, post it to Instagram with #mycuriousobject and tag @antiquesmag, and we’re going to choose one of the most curious objects we see there and feature it on the podcast. I can’t wait to see your posts. With that said, let’s get started.

Levi Higgs: I guess I think a lot about authenticity, and I know that that’s sort of a social media buzzword but I think it couldn’t be more true when you think about the objects that we’re surrounding ourselves with . . . to think about the craftsmanship and the history and the story, and why it’s important, why it should be important.

Benjamin Miller: Hello! Welcome back to another episode of Curious Objects & the stories behind them, brought to you by The Magazine ANTIQUES. I’m Ben Miller, and today we’re going to have a little talk about animals. Specifically, a zebra. Now if you’re wondering what exactly a zebra could possibly have to do with this podcast, stay with me, because that is just one of the firsts in today’s episode. Another first is that my guest today is younger than I am. And if you ever thought that millennials don’t appreciate antiques and the arts, get ready to change your mind. Levi Higgs is the archivist and social media manager for the jewelry firm David Webb. Now, David Webb originated in 1948, so we’re not talking about antiques strictly-speaking. But don’t let that scare you off, because the values of awareness of the past alongside craftsmanship and artistry are very much alive in this seventy-year-old firm. And they’re also very much alive in Levi. I’m also going to take you on a little field trip to the David Webb workshop to hear about the process behind the jewelry. This episode was a lot of fun to put together, and not just because we got to play with some very pretty objects, but also because Levi is a lot of fun to talk to and wears his enthusiasm on his sleeve. As always, if you’re curious to see pictures of the objects that we’re talking about, head over to themagazineantiques.com/podcast. I definitely recommend checking that out. Also, don’t forget to send me your feedback. I really enjoy hearing your thoughts about the podcast and your suggestions for future guests, so send those over to podcast@themagazineantiques.com.

Our sponsor for today’s episode is America’s oldest auction house, Freeman’s. Located in Center City, Philadelphia, Freeman’s has been telling the story of curious objects and collections since 1805. Today, Freeman’s believes in a unique standard of one-on-one service, and their tradition of excellence has benefitted generations of private collectors, institutions, advisors, estates, and museums. Their spring sale season offered fourteen successful auctions, eight significant private collections, and four world auction records. Freeman’s is currently inviting consignments of curious objects for their fall and winter auctions. So, head to freemansauction.com to find out more. That’s freemansauction.com.

Levi Higgs: Let’s do it.

Benjamin Miller: Levi Higgs, thank you so much for being here. I’m excited to talk with you about David Webb.

Levi Higgs: Thank you so much for having me.

Benjamin Miller: So, Levi, I am hoping that you can give me a brief overview of the history of David Webb, both the the man and the company.

Levi Higgs: So, he was born in 1925, he was from Asheville, North Carolina, in the South. He was a charming Southern gentleman, and pretty early on, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old, he moved to New York City. You know, at that time I think he knew that he wanted to work in jewelry. He had an uncle back in the South that had done work with souvenir ashtrays, and he was a jeweler of some sort, but it was more a little lower level.

“David Webb was born in 1925 in Asheville, North Carolina. Pretty early on, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old, he moved to New York City.”

Benjamin Miller: Collectibles and that sort of thing.

Levi Higgs: Sure. And once David Webb got to the city he did work on Forty-Seventh Street a bit. And there is a few years there where he’s really sort of figuring things out, but he founded his business in 1948 with the help of a backer named Antoinette Quilleret. She was a gregarious Frenchwoman who really helped him meet society women and get his foot in the door with the clients of New York City. So from there it just really took off really fast.

Benjamin Miller: Yeah, really fast, right? Because pretty soon his jewelry was all over the covers of magazines.

Levi Higgs: Yes. Well said, because in 1950, two years after he founded the company, he had a cover of Vogue. I mean, he was twenty-five years old. So, that’s pretty meteoric, as we say.

Benjamin Miller: It took me a lot longer than twenty-five years to get my first Vogue cover.

“In 1950, two years after he founded the company, he had a cover of Vogue.”

Levi Higgs: I know, it’s a tough gig these days.

Benjamin Miller: Now, he was working at a time when some of us I think would think of the great jewelers of that period as mostly being European.

Levi Higgs: Sure.

Benjamin Miller: You know Cartier had a shop in New York, but a lot of their great jewels were produced in Paris. Same for Van Cleef & Arpels. You know, we could go down the list. What was it like for an American jeweler working at that time to be in competition with these monster European houses?

Levi Higgs: It’s a good question. I feel like the sort of . . . the antithesis to those huge companies was what he was doing. He was having this one on one conversation with clients,  he was really listening to what women wanted and responding to that. And maybe that was a little more high touch than what other companies were able to provide. He was truly giving people what they wanted.

Benjamin Miller: So Webb himself was active as a designer for a couple of decades.

“He was really listening to what women wanted and responding to that. And maybe that was a little more high touch than what other companies were able to provide.”

Levi Higgs: Yes.

Benjamin Miller: And then when did he pass away?

Levi Higgs: He passed away in 1975. He had pancreatic cancer. It was very sudden. He passed away in December of 1975. We had photos of him in 1975 looking great and happy and in the workshop. So it really took New York City by surprise—his clients and his workshop, his business, everything, but he left so much behind and he had so much work done between ‘48 and ‘75. And that’s what fills our archives. We have forty to fifty thousand original renderings and drawings and sketches that he left.

Zebra bracelet sketch by David Webb, c. 1963. © David Webb Archives.

Benjamin Miller: And after his death what happens with the firm?

“He passed away in 1975 and in our archives we have forty to fifty thousand original renderings and drawings and sketches that he left.”

Levi Higgs: After he passed away, his accountant and business partner, Nina Silberstein, she took over with her family, and they ran it for the next thirty-some years, and then in 2010 . . . Mark Emanuel and and Robert Saidian are business partners and they took over the company. The current owners are really interested in going back to the original aesthetic, David Webb’s sort of, you know . . .

Benjamin Miller: The iconic styles . . .

Levi Higgs: Exactly, the iconic styles. Yep.

Benjamin Miller: And that brings us to your two very important roles at the company. Which are you are the archivist and also the social media manager.

Levi Higgs: That’s true.

Benjamin Miller: And I’m. . . . You know, my title out at my own firm is director of research, so I feel something of a kinship with you with that, and I find nothing more exciting than digging through the history of old companies and seeing what they used to be up to.

Levi Higgs: Yes exactly.

Benjamin Miller: What. . . . Describe to me what the David Webb archives are like. What do you have?

“We have style cards that are basically recipe cards of how to make every single piece that’s ever been made. We have drawings that have never seen the light of day, that have never turned into jewelry pieces.”

Levi Higgs: We have a tremendous amount and we’re really lucky to have what we have because the company’s only been through a few amount of iterations from his original ownership as he was alive that we didn’t lose. . . . A lot of companies do lose the paper materials, the invoices, all of that, but we have it all, pretty much. So, yeah, we have invoices, we have drawings, renderings, sketches, castings, mouldings, everything. At least we think we have everything. And we have magazine editorial that goes back to 1948, and I get to dig through it all and with the help of a colleague we digitize it and manage it and help the company sift through it. So we’re lucky that we have so much material that can inform how we move forward. We have style cards that are basically recipe cards of how to make every single piece that’s ever been made. We have drawings that have never seen the light of day, that have never turned into jewelry pieces—they’re just ideas, still, that came from David Webb’s mind. So, that’s exciting to be able to think about, you know, how we can flesh those out or move them around to make them interesting.

Benjamin Miller: So, I want to come back to some of the contents of the archive a little bit later. But let’s dive in right now into the curious object.

Levi Higgs: Oh, yes, absolutely.

Benjamin Miller: So, tell me about this piece and describe it for our listeners.

Levi Higgs: Yeah, it’s the David Webb Zebra bracelet. It’s our most iconic animal bracelet. So, it came out of the workshop in 1963. That’s when it was originally designed and that’s when it came to fruition as well. Sometimes things—

Benjamin Miller: So, they’d been working for fifteen years or so.

“The curious object is a David Webb Zebra bracelet. It’s our most iconic animal bracelet and it came out of the workshop in 1963.”

Levi Higgs: Right, right. And, you know, through the fifties we see a lot of really sort of not surprising jewelry, jewelry that fits in with a lot of other jewelry at that time—the sort of gold and diamond “ladies-who-lunch” jewelry. That’s what I always call it. Maybe that’s not the best way to call it, but that’s what I call it.

Benjamin Miller: I’m thinking Mad Men. I mean, this is what Don Draper’s wife would wear or would dream of wearing.

Levi Higgs: Right.

Benjamin Miller: So this in fact has been worn by, or, I should say, Zebra bracelets by David Webb have been worn by some pretty exciting people.

Levi Higgs: Absolutely. It’s probably our most popular animal design that we’ve produced over the years.

Benjamin Miller: So who is the most famous person?

Levi Higgs: Well, my favorite one that I always liked to talk about and share is Diana Vreeland. She was gifted one in the sixties right when she went to Vogue in 1963 and we had this amazing cover of Vogue that came out in 1964 that has an Irving Penn photograph as the cover, and there’s a woman holding her hand sort of to her face; she’s got a zebra ring on that goes perfectly in line with this bracelet. She’s got black and white eyeshadow on and the typography on them. . . . The word “Vogue” is black and white. So it’s just, zoom, this moment of everything coming together: the typography and this cultural moment of the black and white graphic pattern, everything.

Benjamin Miller: Yeah, yeah. So, an extremely compelling and cool color scheme, dynamic high contrast, and Vreeland. . . . Well, I should say that it was in fact. . . . It became such an iconic image that the David Webb logo is even a rendition of the Zebra bracelet, right?

“Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Doris Duke, Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Stone, Sofia Vergara—pretty much every prominent name in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been associated with David Webb jewelry.”

Levi Higgs: Yes.

Benjamin Miller: So, Zebra bracelet aside, celebrities have played a pretty prominent role in getting David Webb jewelry out into the world in front of people’s eyes. Who are some other luminaries who have been seen wearing these pieces or buying and owning these piece?

Levi Higgs: Sure. So some of our favorites to talk about, of course, you know, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Doris Duke. . . . I mean, pretty much any prominent name in the twentieth century. We can dig through our archives and find a great record and—

Benjamin Miller: You’ve just done a show of Doris Duke–related jewelry, right?

Levi Higgs: Yes, it’s called Designing for Doris up in Newport through November at the Rough Point mansion, and it’s a look at pieces that she had designed as well as juxtaposing architecture renderings that she sort of advised on to restore houses in Newport.

Benjamin Miller: Yeah, yeah.

Levi Higgs: So that was a great sort of venture for the archive to pair with the museum and do some work that way, curatorially.

Benjamin Miller: Yeah, yeah. That’s a fun synthesis of sort of what we might think of as the dry, you know, dusty old archival work alongside the sort of dynamic and sexy celebrity—

Levi Higgs: Right.

Benjamin Miller: —representation.

Levi Higgs: Right. Right. And even today we have, you know, amazing celebrities who wear us on the red carpet. We have Amy Adams and Emma Stone and Sofia Vergara. You know, great ones like Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow. We catalogue these as well in the archive so that even our current red carpet material is for the ages.

Benjamin Miller: Yeah, sure. Well, and it’s interesting to me. . . . You know my day job is in a business where celebrities no longer play a role in the way that perhaps they might once have.

Levi Higgs: Right. Yeah.

“Webb worked with women that were captivating and powerful, and it was the perfect synthesis to have his bold designs paired with these powerful women.”

Benjamin Miller: And so for me this idea of celebrity and sort of being on the cutting edge of fashion and style is rather unfamiliar. So, I’m interested. I mean, how does David Webb as a firm see its relationship with with its celebrity proponents?

Levi Higgs: I think, you know, even from the founding of the company in 1948 it’s always been a piece of how he’s operated and how he’s been connected to society. They’ve been women that are captivating and powerful, and they really have projected him forward to get more clients, get more notoriety, to have his bold designs paired with these powerful women. You know, it’s the perfect synthesis of these two things together.

Benjamin Miller: So, I’m interested in the role and the importance of animals. And David Webb jewelry design. . . . Because, you know, as far as David Webb jewelry is [concerned]—to the extent that it’s recognized in the world—I think animals are really the iconic—

Levi Higgs: Totally.

Benjamin Miller: —form. And this also, in my mind, this comes back to this idea of what distinguished David Webb as a designer from one of his contemporaries. So we’re talking about this Zebra bracelet, but there are a lot of other animals that he used—

Levi Higgs: Certainly.

“In our archive we have a whole shelf of reference books and inspirational material that David Webb used, such as The Big Book of Wild Animals (1954) that has a page of zebras and giraffes running together in the savannah.”

Benjamin Miller: —as inspiration too. So, why animals? What drew David Webb to animals?

Levi Higgs: It’s a good question. We. . . . In our archive we have a whole shelf of reference books and sort of inspirational material that David Webb had. When he passed away it was part of the company’s records, so, whenever we’re giving tours we always talk about this David Webb’s reference library. And in the reference library is this great book called The Big Book of Wild Animals, and it was published in 1954 and has these amazing illustrations. It’s a super iconic book from the fifties. Obviously it wasn’t a children’s book that David Webb had when he was a child. He was an adult man when he had this book, but he’s now looking at it and there’s a tremendously great page of zebras and giraffes running together in the savannah. And a lot of his animals are sort of African mammals, like big jungle cats and the giraffes and the zebras and elephants.

Illustration from The Big Book of Wild Animals, 1954. © David Webb Archives.

Benjamin Miller: Had he ever traveled to Africa?

Levi Higgs: That’s a good question! I’m not sure because we don’t have so much of the personal information about him. We don’t really know that for sure.

“Animals feel sort of fun and whimsical, but his designs aren’t super silly in the way that maybe some other jewelry in the sixties was. His animals have sort of a regality to them, but they’re also friendly.”

Benjamin Miller: But he did spend his fair share of time at museums.

Levi Higgs: Absolutely, yes. And so part of the reference materials are books on jade and books on ancient cultures, and there’s a big encyclopedia of fancy ropework and knots, so he’s getting all these ideas from all these different places. Animals specifically feel really sort of fun and whimsical, but his designs aren’t super silly in the way that maybe some other jewelers in the sixties were doing—a little more fairytale or a little more childlike, I suppose. But his animals have sort of a regality to them, but they’re also friendly. I think that’s always the distinction that we make.

Benjamin Miller: It’s interesting. I mean there. . . . Some of them seem quite realistic.

Levi Higgs: Sure, yeah.

Benjamin Miller: And others not so much, right? I mean you see the giraffes with zebra stripes–

Levi Higgs: Well, fantasy animals—we have some unicorns, we have dragons, we have the—

Benjamin Miller: Chimera.

Levi Higgs: —yeah, exactly—winged horses, and hippokampos (like seahorses).

Benjamin Miller: Right, straight out of mythology.

Levi Higgs: Right. And then when he’s rendering those in the hammered gold repoussé cups, you’re bringing a mythological creature to an Etruscan-style gold hammering technique, so.

“We’ve heard it told that he went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art once a week and was constantly looking for inspiration.”

Benjamin Miller: And it’s interesting. I mean, he was living and working very close not just to the Natural History Museum in New York but also the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Levi Higgs: Yes, and we’ve heard it told that he went there once a week and was constantly looking at things that inspired. And so the Zebra bracelet came out in 1963, and then in 1964 he wins the Coty award and he accepts that award at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it was given to him by Gloria Vanderbilt. She was a friend and a client and she was presenting it to him, and he won pretty much specifically for his work on animals, like, [for] animal jewelry specifically.

Benjamin Miller: So the materials that are . . . that you often see in Webb jewelry—of course, you see the same stones and the same metals as you find in any other jeweler’s work—there are differences, I think, in where the emphasis lies in David Webb pieces, and that is, you know, you expect to see a lot of coral—

Levi Higgs: Sure.

Benjamin Miller: —and a lot of enamel, as on this Zebra bracelet which is covered head to tail, literally, in enamel.

Levi Higgs: It’s eighteen-karat gold. We do a tremendous amount of work with enamel. He really revived that, I feel like, in the sixties, effectively, and it’s a huge part of what we continue to do today. We have one enamelist in our workshop that’s right on Madison Avenue, and she does great work, of course. We do a lot of [work], as you mentioned, with coral. We have other hard stones like lapis or jade or rock crystal that are really iconic for us, and we employ on staff people who can carve that and work it in our specific way to do carved animal bracelets, among other things. You know, we do some work with diamonds, of course.

Benjamin Miller: Sure I see some on the zebra’s head here.

“We do a tremendous amount of work with enamel. We do a lot of [work] with coral. We have other hard stones like lapis or jade, and we do some work with diamonds, of course.”

Levi Higgs: Yes, precious and semi-precious stones, but it’s usually about color and big, bold gemstones. Cocktail rings, that sort of thing.

Benjamin Miller: Right. But generally it seems like the emphasis is more on the design rather than on the—

Levi Higgs: Yes.

Benjamin Miller: —you know, in contrast with a Harry Winston, for example, in David Webb you don’t see the honkin’ big rocks set in . . .

Levi Higgs: I mean, they’re there in the archive.

Benjamin Miller: Are they?

Levi Higgs: If we wanted to pull that out we certainly could, but we definitely focus on other things at the moment with high color, powerful design. Yes, you’re right.

Benjamin Miller: Let’s take a quick break here. When we come back, we’re going to dive into the craftsmanship side of the David Webb enterprise. I’m going to talk with Levi a bit about that, but also with one of the longtime jewelers at David Webb so you can hear it from the horse’s mouth. I also want to say a quick thanks to you for listening. I really appreciate all of your feedback, your ideas, the ratings and reviews that you leave on iTunes—those really help us to get the word out. If you’re enjoying the podcast, think about sending it to a friend. I really believe that the stories around these objects are universal and that there’s tremendous value for all of us in hearing them and learning about them and thinking about them, so it means a lot to me that you’re taking the time to listen. And to those of you who are helping to get the word out and encourage more people to think about and listen to stories about these curious objects, thank you so much. Again, send your feedback to me at podcast@themagazineantiques.com.

Many thanks, also, once again, to our sponsor, Freeman’s, America’s oldest auction house. Located in Center City, Philadelphia, Freeman’s has been telling the story of curious objects and collections since 1805. With international experience and comprehensive knowledge of market conditions, the specialists at Freeman’s work closely with consignors and collectors to offer unparalleled assistance in the sale and purchase of fine art, furniture, decorative arts, jewelry, books, and more. Freeman’s is currently inviting consignments for their fall and winter auctions, including Asian Arts, Fine Jewelry, Books, Maps and Manuscripts, Americana, British and European Furniture and Decorative Arts, as well as twentieth century Design, and American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists. Ready to consign? Visit Freeman’s online at www.freemansauction.com to learn more.

“Some of the people who still work at David Webb have worked here for fifty-some years. We have a polisher who polished Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry.”

Another subject that I am interested in getting into with you a little bit has to do with the craftsmanship around these pieces and the production process. I’m looking forward to. . . . You’ve shown me around the workshop, which is a bustling place, and I’m excited to go back there and talk with one of your jewelers. But give me a sense, because jewelry manufacturing can take a lot of different forms and a lot of different companies. Take a piece like this bracelet for example. Sketch out for me. . . . Give me a biography of this piece in terms of the process of crafting and producing it.

Levi Higgs: Sure, so this piece’s birth certificate essentially is a drawing that we have in the archive that was hand done, hand-sketched on a piece of paper with pencils, super rudimentary, but it’s a great schematic of this piece, and that was done in 1963, but since then we have the moulds, and we have the workshop on Madison Avenue all under one house, one roof, I suppose. So, you know, it gets moulded, and it jumps around the workshop to different people who do different things to it. The enamelist or the stone setters or the polisher, and, you know, some of the people who still work at David Webb have worked at David Webb for fifty-some years. We have a polisher named Ray who polished Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry and worked with David Webb when he was alive, and, yeah, some of the other members of staff—their fathers worked at David Webb, so I think you’ll learn a little bit more about that once you go back and visit again.

Benjamin Miller: Well, for sure, and we were talking last week about how there’s very much a feel of a family business, in part because, literally, families have worked there, multiple members of families have been working there. So how many jewelers do you think had a hand in making this particular bracelet?

Levi Higgs: Oh, good question. Maybe five or six? Yeah, from start to finish. You know, that’s sort of a rough guess. I try to know a little bit about what goes on in the workshop. It’s super inspiring to go out there and see a piece at different stages of its life.

David Webb workshop, 2018. © David Webb.

Benjamin Miller: I wanted to get a better sense of what this craftsmanship process actually looks like, so I went to the source: the David Webb workshop, right above their retail space on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. This workshop is buzzing with activity. There are gemstones out by the dozen, there are tools that I don’t even recognize. It’s a loud and busy place, as you can hear. I was able to talk with a jeweler there who has really seen it all.

Lorenzo, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. I wanted to ask what your specialty is in the David Webb workshop.

Lorenzo Belevan: There’s a few of them. I do necklaces and bracelets. My specialty is bracelets, which is anything to do with animals.

Benjamin Miller: And how long have you been working at David Webb now?

“I started as an apprentice, picking up garbage, washing down the sinks, hanging out paper towels and towels.”

Lorenzo Belevan: Since 1978. It’ll be forty years this September.

Benjamin Miller: Congratulations. And it was your father who brought you in to work here originally?

Lorenzo Belevan: Yeah, my father’s worked in here since 1964, if I’m not mistaken, and then he had to retire around ‘93.

Benjamin Miller: And you started here as an apprentice and then worked your way up, is that right?

Lorenzo Belevan: So, I started as an apprentice, picking up garbage, washing down the sinks, hanging out paper towels and towels, and doing everything else I had to do before even sitting down for a couple of hours to work.

Benjamin Miller: Sounds pretty glamorous.

Lorenzo Belevan: Nah, it wasn’t so bad.

“As far as tools go, nothing has changed, really. I still got tools that are forty years old.”

Benjamin Miller: How has—over the course of the time you’ve been working here, forty years, now—technology has changed, I imagine some of the tools have changed. How has that affected your work, and how is what you do now different from what you did forty years ago (aside from taking out the garbage and that sort of thing)?

Lorenzo Belevan: Well, as far as tools, nothing has changed, really. I mean, I still got, like, tools that are forty years old with me. I really don’t buy them, but as far as the technology for making jewelry, the CAD department took over which it comes out a lot better now and a lot easier to assemble.

Benjamin Miller: Lorenzo told me that the Zebra bracelet was actually one of his favorite pieces to work on at David Webb, and he described to me how, after decades of production, he and the other jewelers actually came up with a new and improved way of constructing the piece.

Lorenzo Belevan: The old connection used to be a little more difficult. Not difficult, but it didn’t do anything for the bracelet because if a piece of the bracelet itself—and the zebra especially—if a piece broke in the middle of the bracelet, we’d have to take the whole bracelet apart just to get to that point. But now, when it’s in the ‘90s, we had an idea of making screws and tubings into the bracelet so that you can just unscrew the piece that you want to replace or repair.

“In the nineties we had the idea of adding screws and tubing into the bracelet to make it easier to repair. That’s the only thing we changed about it. Everything else is still the same as it was in the 1960s.”

Benjamin Miller: So it’s more of a modular type of structure?

Lorenzo Belevan: Correct.

Benjamin Miller: And this changed with using a different kind of . . . or a screw. Is this the only change in the way that the Zebra bracelet is made?

Lorenzo Belevan: Yes, that’s the only thing we changed about it. Everything else is still the same from back in the 1960s.

Benjamin Miller: Lorenzo told me that he only works on a small number of pieces at a time, maybe one or two in a day. Still, he’s been working long enough to have made a lot of Zebra bracelets.

Lorenzo Belevan: I would say maybe a hundred, 150 pieces I made, of that one piece only.

Benjamin Miller: Wow. And they’re all out in the world now?

Lorenzo Belevan: Somewhere.

“I would say I’ve made maybe a hundred, 150 Zebra bracelets.”

Benjamin Miller: Have you ever seen someone wearing one out in public?

Lorenzo Belevan: No, I never did. I wish I did because I would have said, you know, “I made that.” But, you know.

Benjamin Miller: Alright. Well, keep your eyes open.

Lorenzo Belevan: Yes, I will.

Benjamin Miller: Well, Lorenzo, thanks so much for talking to me.

Lorenzo Belevan: You’re very welcome.

Benjamin Miller: I want to move us onto a subject that’s a little more personal, which is to say I think that part of the reason that I even know that you work at David Webb and you exist—and the reason that I found you in the first place—has a lot to do with your presence in social media, your presence online. You’re a very active promoter of jewelry, decorative arts, the history of craftsmanship. And as someone who is fairly socially media stunted, as I am . . .

Levi Higgs: That’s not true.

Benjamin Miller: Well, we don’t need to get into that, but it is impressive for me to see the way that you are bringing these pieces and these ideas and these concepts out into the world and in front of people who might not otherwise be exposed to them. As you know, I’m very interested in this idea of being an evangelist—

“I think a lot about authenticity. And I know that that’s sort of a social media buzzword, but I think it couldn’t be more important to think about the objects that we’re surrounding ourselves with, to think about the craftsmanship and the history and the story.”

Levi Higgs: Yeah.

Benjamin Miller: —around these things when, particularly. . . . There are a lot of people these days who are concerned about new generations of collectors and enthusiasts and so on. So, what do you think? What are people of our generation—we’re both young guys—what are our compatriots, what are . . . what is our cohort motivated by, what brings them into this world?

Levi Higgs: You know it’s a really good question. I guess I think a lot about authenticity, and I know that that’s sort of a social media buzzword, but I think it couldn’t be more true when you think about, you know, the objects that we’re surrounding ourselves with right now in this very room as we record—to think about the craftsmanship and the history and the story. And you know my background is in decorative arts and design history, and I just think about context every day all the time.

Benjamin Miller: Right, right.

“On my personal Instagram, I don’t think I’m necessarily preaching to just a young audience.”

Levi Higgs: I think if you’re a young interior designer I don’t think you can make informed choices unless you know how a rug is going to sort of translate across time to people in the room that you’re creating. I mean, that’s for any field. That’s for tons of different ways of thinking, but. . . . So, yeah, in my personal Instagram I’ve always tried to tell stories that give context and that talk about where things come from and how—especially jewelry—and, you know, why it’s important, why it should be important. And I don’t necessarily think I’m preaching to just a young audience I think there’s a lot of different people that are interested in that sort of thing that you can educate.

Benjamin Miller: I do forget sometimes that people older than us are on social media.

Levi Higgs: Sure, of course. And you know I run social media at David Webb, too, and that’s something that we think about all the time—what does the client want to see and how can we tell the story of the brand through that medium? Because to be an archivist and a social media manager, I always say, it’s all storytelling.

Benjamin Miller: Sure.

Levi Higgs: So it fits together perfectly, honestly.

“I wear a David Webb nail bracelet every day, I’m wearing it right now. It’s part of our Tool Chest nail collection from 1971, and it’s a unisex line, so I love it.”

Benjamin Miller: Do you wear jewelry?

Levi Higgs: I do. I wear a David Webb nail bracelet every day, I’m wearing it right now. And it’s part of our Tool Chest nail collection from 1971 that we revived a few years ago, and it’s a unisex line so I love it.

Benjamin Miller: Perfect

That’s gonna wrap us up for today. Thanks for listening, and a big thank you to Levi Higgs and to David Webb. I’ll just remind you once more to send your feedback to podcast@themagazineantiques.com. Don’t forget to subscribe and to leave a rating on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening right now. Today’s episode was produced and edited by Sammy Dalati, our music is by Trap Rabbit, and I’m your host, Ben Miller.


Levi Higgs in the David Webb archives, 2018. Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Levi Higgs is an archivist and social media manager at David Webb, and has been with the company for five years. He studied art history at the University of Washington in Seattle, and received his master’s in the History of Decorative Arts and Design History from Parsons School of Design in conjunction with the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

For more Curious Objects with Benjamin Miller, listen to us on iTunes or SoundCloud. If you have any questions or comments, send us an email at podcast@themagazineantiques.com.