Recently, I was invited to Stephen Webster’s store opening in Geneva. I have been a fan of his jewelry creations since a very long time and was very excited to meet him in person. (For a previous post in which I am wearing one of his necklaces, please click here).
Stephen blends his love for traditional craftsmanship with passion for contemporary music, fashion and art to produce modern, unconventional yet beautiful jewelry. It’s a unique and edgy approach that has been over 30 years in the making and won a huge loyal global customer base, among them Christina Aguilera, Cameron Diaz, Elton John, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez.
Stephen’s enthusiasm, commitment and creativity have helped him to achieve numerous accolades including a three-‐time win of “British Luxury Jeweler of the Year Award”, ‘Diamond Jeweler of the Year’ in 2004 and 2005, “Jewelery Designer of the Year” in 1997, 1998 and 2006’ and winner of the “UK Jewelery Brand of the Year” in 2008. Stephen also holds the honour of a Freeman of the City of London.
Stephen Webster has expanded globally with close to 300 points of sale worldwide and 7 Stephen Webster boutiques internationally; including the flagship store on London’s Mount Street and most recently on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. The new Geneva store, located at the 5-star Grand Hotel Kempinski, marks the opening of the fourth European boutique.
Stephen Webster, Quai du Mont-Blanc 19, 1201 Genève, Phone +41 (0) 22 900 19 19
Stephen gave me a very interesting interview. Find out what his favourite hobby is, how he met Christina Aguilera and what has always inspired him. Enjoy!
Stephen, do you have a typical customer and can you tell me who is your best client? I know you work a lot with stars, but I read once that you also have a big fan in Boston.
Well it’s a funny thing because people always sort of assume that you have “a client”, right? So “this woman” – that could be you. It’s a very diverse group of people and talking about my client in Boston, the only thing I can tell you is that his wife has seventy-five pieces of my jewelry and that’s a lot of jewelry for one person.
She’s a lucky wife! Can you tell me a little more please…
And she’s very lovely, she’s very elegant. You wouldn’t look at her and think that she’s a heavy jewelry buyer. She has got four kids and her husband loves buying her jewelry. Every time there’s an occasion we always try and bring the family in, because I can’t any longer sell them anything off the shelf. It ’s not about new collections anymore, it’s got to be made for them. I love that because I know them so well now. When it was my 50th birthday, they flew over to London. They’ve become more than just a client.
How do you do bespoke pieces?
Let’s take the client from Boston. This guy called me before her 50th birthday and ask what we could do. So, I started thinking around and threw in some ideas. I created a wonderful bracelet for her, sort of a tree of her life. On all the “branches”, it’s got all the important dates, like the children’s birthdays for example. I carved it like someone would put their initials into the bark of a tree. It’s got diamonds and her birth stone, sapphires. To design such a bespoke piece, you have to know much about someone. Our “relationship” started fifteen years ago. And, with them, it sort of spread, because their friends would go:“ I love Sandy’s jewelry!“ So it’s right, Boston is a good spot.
You are the Creative Director for Garrard and you have your own brand, which are both quite different from a design point of view. Do you have a huge team working for you? How can you handle both?
No I don’t. I’ve got it at my side but not with Garrard. Rewinding a bit to the time when really nobody would buy my jewelry in England, because the buyers would find it too „progressive“. Garrard at that time was what you would call the establishment. It was like the jeweler, it was this massive place where the industry would look at. Personally speaking, I just think it was the most amazing store – so I used to go along on my motorbike once every couple of months and show them my jewelry. The managing director, who became a very good friend of mine, loved my hand-made creations. He took me out for lunch – this was after about a year of showing him my creations – and gave me a one-man-show! I had the complete middle part of this jewelry shop and I’ve never had anything like that before. That was a completely amazing thing to happen – and it was in 1995! So since that time, Garrard has been through lots and lots of changes – most of them not for better I have to say – but I knew it from before and I have worked with them now for seventeen years.
I’d always had a respect for what Garrard was all about. I don’t try to make Garrard Stephen Webster, that would be crazy. So I try to see it as a heritage brand. This has been very interesting for me, because with Stephen Webster it’s me, it’s my “what I want it to be kind of thing”!
The Seven Deadly Sins collection is limited edition of only 7 pieces each.
Those cocktail rings are the epitome of haute couture.
Concerning your own collection, what does influence you, what does inspire you?
I try to connect everything we make to something that comes from my experiences, from my travels, from things that I enjoy in life. Like for example, I have a house by the shore and this place inspires me! Or sometimes it’s a story, like the Seven Deadly Sins among others. It’s about having a bit of fun by turning a legend into jewelry. In fact, I’m doing a collection at the moment inspired by architecture called the American Story. I travel all the time through the United States and it’ll be my idea of what I see when I’m there.
Many celebrities are wearing your designs, like Madonna or Jennifer Lopez. But let’s take Christina Aquilera for example, who was also the face of your advertising campaign. How have you approached her?
Well at first, we were approached by a stylist, who – it’s funny actually – just did „The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“. When we met her with Christina in 1998, who was eighteen at that time, she was working on a video „Lady Marmelade“ which had these four girls in it – Pink, Christina, Lil‘ Kim and Mya. She said that she wanted them to wear my jewelry. My wife flew over to California without me and she had a lot of fun with the project. After that, Pink and Christina, both started to buy our jewelry and both became friends. Christina got a little bit more serious. Whenever I saw her, she was wearing Stephen Webster. So at that point, I said to her, why don’t you become the face of our brand, because you pretty much are.
Five years ago we did a proper photo shoot with her, a proper campaign and stayed with her for three years. That was absolutely great, because it is very unusual that a small brand like us works with such a famous person. It gave us a huge push and at that time we were really growing in the Russian speaking market. We were lucky that we got the right person at the right time.
How is your wife involved in the business?
She’s totally involved. (Smiles.) She’s amazing actually, she’s involved in all sorts of things but not in the jewelry’s side – apart from wearing it! She’s very good with people and she’s good at running our shops and doing all those things.
Stephen and Assia Webster at their London store opening in June 2009
How long have you been together?
Do you have kids? How old are they?
I’ve got two, one daughter from a previous marriage who is 21 and a daughter with my wife Assia who’s thirteen.
Do you make bespoke pieces for your wife?
Have you done that for all the women in your life?
My first wife was a jeweler actually as well and yes, I made her jewelry. That’s one of the perks I suppose of being with a jeweler. With Assia, I think she’d never really thought about jewelry before she met me and gradually got into it. And now she loooves it, you know looves it (laughs). She gets fantastic jewelry and lots of admiration.
What is she wearing today?
Today, Assia is wearing a lobster ring that I made. It’s a lobster but it’s still a rich piece of jewelry that you can even bend your finger with. It’s quite surreal and very popular, I sold a lot of lobsters.
What would your own mother say about you?
My mother? She’s dead now but she’d still be telling me to be careful (laughs) and watch what I’m doing.
At what age have you started your career?
The first time I worked for myself, I was about 21, the minute I‘d finished my training, I thought I know everything.
Did you study gemology? How did your career develop?
I loved fashion and was determined to go to art school to become a fashion designer. When I got there for an interview, I was in shock because I didn’t expect all those sewing machines and women. I looked and knew, I can’t do this. I just was too young at 16. Coincidentally there was a really good jewelry course at this art school and so I just went on to that. I loved it from the minute I started. Later on in my life, when I had finished all my training, I started my own business, which was a bit of a disaster. I was offered a job in Canada, very strange in Banff, Alberta which was like being stuck up in bloody Crans Montana, right?
I was 21, completely a Londoner and this guy I worked for knew nothing other than gems. He would go and deal with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to buy tourmalines and aquamarines Then he would travel to Africa and buy garnets and tanzanites. That is when I became a gem-adventurer. He would just give me all these stones and I had to do something with them. And so I learned very quickly. My process is always more about working with the material directly rather than to sit and draw designs all day long.
Crystal Haze – the concept developed by Stephen Webster combines faceted quartz crystal set over a layer of natural precious stone to create a holographic-like “haze” of colour.
What is your signature look? What creation are you most proud of?
In these days, when I started to find my style and got work with all those gems, I played around with cutting the stones and honestly, I wasn’t very good at it. But while experimenting, I created this layered look which was really not there before. I did something completely new, a sort of illusion. Once people noticed, it it became my thing, my signature look. I called it Crystal Haze and those first pieces are my classics today and probably the most important to me.
What is your bestseller?
The crab ring is my most succesful piece.
What are your future plans?
I always have new ideas. Recently, I opened a gallery above my store where I have this space that used to be three offices, now it is the Stephen Webster curated space. So we opened it a year and a half ago and over the time, I’ve had art work, photography, a market restaurant, British young musicians and many more up there. What’s exciting about it, it only works because of my jewelry – I can keep bringing people into my world and sort of sharing with them what I’m excited about. And I am excited about everything I do up there.
If you could think of one designer to compliment your jewelry, who would that be? Do you have a favourite fashion designer yourself?
Alexander McQueen. Someone else, I’ve got complete respect for and I’ve bought clothes from since I was a punk, is Vivienne Westwood! She was a rebellious woman and pretty amazing. She’s broken all the rules and now everyone sights her for influence. She has a retrospective at the Victorian Albert Museum – she’s like the queen and in 1976 you would have been arrested.
So were you really a real punk for a long time?
Oh yeah totally! I’ve been completely in the first rounds, because when I went to art school, I was rebellious. That was in 1976 and during that time, punk suddenly came along.
Talking about the Queen. This year, it is her Diamond Jubilee. Have you done a special edition for this occasion?
I dit it for Garrard. It’s actually a very touchy one, because Garrard was the crown jeweler for 160 years and I still have a royal warrant. The way a royal warrant works is that it goes to the company like Burberry for example. Garrad has a royal warrant, but it needs to go to a person. Therefore I have it, I’m the custodian of this royal warrant. I’m very respectful of it and I felt obliged to do something to celebrate. I wanted to design a piece that felt a bit regal – it’s definitely a keepsake but not crazy.
I made a long pendant, that’s like a crown with a big star that looks like a diamond but it’s not. It’s a piece of white topaz, cut like a diamond. I personalized it by putting people’s birthstones around and the collection is limited to 12 pieces.
How about Asia? Is it a big market for you?
Yes, we’ve just come back! We were there for a show in Hongkong, which went pretty well! Personally speaking, I think between the two brands, Garrard has got the easiest route in, because the Asians are very much craving for heritage labels. Speaking of Stephen Webster, we see quite a lot of Chinese coming to the shop in London – so I think it has a good chance.
Your favourite hobby?
I have a 1959 Thunderbird, that I restored completey, and once a year I go on a trip with my friend, just me and him and don’t let anybody else come. It’s so brilliant, a bit of an adventure, we love it!
Thank you, Stephen, for sharing all your adventures with us!
You can also shop a great selection of Stephen Webster jewelry at LUISAVIAROMA.COM
Photos: Courtesy of Steven Webster, Sunday Mail and © Sandra Bauknecht