Magnificent Jewels

Magnificent Jewels

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 52. Gold, Diamond and Ruby Desk Timepiece.

Extraordinary Jewels from the Collection of Constance Barber Mellon

David Webb

Gold, Diamond and Ruby Desk Timepiece

Auction Closed

June 8, 04:25 PM GMT


30,000 - 50,000 USD

Lot Details


Extraordinary Jewels from the Collection of Constance Barber Mellon

David Webb | Gold, Diamond and Ruby Desk Timepiece

Designed as a monkey, the eyes highlighted with round rubies, holding a walnut decorated with round diamond-set foliage atop a cluster of crystals, the round champagne-colored dial set with round and marquise-shaped diamond markers, movement signed Hamilton Watch Co., base signed Webb; circa 1965. With signed, fitted box.

Ruth Peltason, author of David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler (2013) and the forthcoming The Art of David Webb: Jewelry and Culture due to be published this fall, cites this piece as being among a limited number of whimsical objets created by American jeweler David Webb throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. The tradition started with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who, with her inimitable eye for design and much copied style, tapped a young David Webb to produce bejeweled Gifts of State from the White House for visiting dignitaries. In 1966, Mrs. Edwin Hilson picked up the thread when she co-chaired a charity event for the Hospital for Special Surgery. The program’s cover boasted “Gifts of State Commissioned by President and Mrs. Kennedy and Precious Objects by David Webb…under the gracious patronage of H.R.H. The Duchess of Windsor.” The crème de la crème of New York society gathered to support a worthy cause while being tempted to acquire thirty-six, one-of-a-kind creations, including the clock offered here (lot 52). Webb himself admitted, “The objects are going to be expensive. I’ve spent a whole year making them. I’ll still be hammering away the night of the show.” The fantastical arrangement of a walnut-bearing monkey atop a bed of gemstones does seem the likely brainchild of a highly-inventive, sleep-deprived artist. It brings to mind the work of his contemporary Jean Schlumberger or, as noted by Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor—both in attendance and surely a draw—the Renaissance goldsmith Cellini as well as Fabergé. Many of the guests were among Webb’s most devoted clientele, and it is easy to imagine that Constance Barber Mellon walked away that evening with more than just her program for a souvenir. The event was quite the coup for the ambitious young designer from North Carolina, and it solidified his standing, which continues to this day, as one of America’s greatest jewelers. 


Sotheby’s thanks Ruth Peltason for bringing the history of this remarkable piece to our attention. Her new book, The Art of David Webb: Jewelry and Culture, will be available October 2023.