For anyone under 40 years of age, it may come as a surprise to hear that until the end of the last millennium, or approximately twenty five years ago, jewellery shops were a bit like strip clubs; not because the purchasing of jewels involved nudity, but because both establishments were almost exclusively frequented by men. To be really honest, that is probably where the similarities end.One might expect a place with nothing visibly on offer, other than a neon arrow, a door and a curtain behind which lies the promise of titillation, might be frequented by men. Whereas a highly visible, over-lit, high street shop, openly displaying the sparkly trappings of more wholesome promises, might be equally frequented by women.

However, this wasn’t always the case. Men bought jewellery for women when they wanted to or (god forbid) when they deserved it. “You now belong to me”; the engagement ring. “We are now married”, the wedding ring, (only in this case the husband reserved the right not to wear his). “We are still married”; the eternity ring and best of all, “the thank you for those 30 hours in labour, resulting in our second child;” the push present.

I’m not suggesting that women do not well deserve all the jewellery they can lay their hands on, but a time when a woman shopping for her own diamonds was seen as a bit sad, is what I’m talking about. Hold that thought for a minute.

In the 1980’s, I was employed as a bench jeweller in Santa Barbara, California. It was a great time for jewellery, the Dynasty effect was in full swing; big bold and gold. The store was modern, and all the product was designed by me and made on site by me and my team. I would often be summoned from the workshop out from the back to meet the clients out in the front, a good proportion of which were women. One day, one of those women was Elizabeth Taylor, possibly the greatest icon to jewellery of her time; she had bought one of my cocktail rings. The stone was a big juicy cabochon-cut lavender chalcedony, the ring was white gold with a rose gold band running around the centre which I had hand engraved with thorns and roses, and set in the middle of each rose, a small diamond. After the encounter, but still at least 30 years before social media, the only way I knew how to spread the word was by phoning my mum, who despite being a good communicator (gossip) she didn’t believe me.

The ring was a cocktail ring- in other words a ring that comes with only one message: “happy hour only please”.

Handmade 18ct white and rose gold rings set with Chalcedony, designed and made by me, and sold to Elizabeth Taylor in 1984.

Several years later, back in London and fully Californicated by my almost ten years there, I wanted to make jewellery that gave enjoyment rather than commitment. The best way for me to express this was through the failsafe cocktail ring.

At the same time I had been using some of my, (by then) considerable experience working with big ‘semi-precious gems’, (worth noting that what used to be classed as semi-precious gems, can now be, more, or as expensive as the classic precious stones, consequently the term ‘semi precious’ is now redundant.) Anyway, they were less pricey in the 80’s and 90’s. I started to create my own cuts. A lot of my experimentations were carried out on clear Quartz, which was the least expensive. I liked to take a cabochon (or carbuncle as they were sometimes called due to the blister or dome like profile of the shape), I would use this as the base and apply facets to the surface. This instantly added more glamour, but it also created interesting patterns to the flat surface below. This intrigued me; I couldn’t leave it alone. Eventually, almost by accident, I placed a faceted lump of Quartz over a flat piece of opaque blue coloured material. Instantly the blue became electric due to all the prism effect and light refraction created by the facets and the high dome of the Quartz.

I decided to go a step further and curve the back of the Quartz and cut the piece of blue agate which I had placed underneath into a corresponding curve. The effect was even more extreme, stunning in fact. But what I held in place by hand proved to be extremely difficult to hold in place using conventional jewellery techniques. I spent the best part of two years trying to work it out. Finally, after attending Loctite glue school as an non-vocational undergrad and picking the brains of every glass sculpture I could find, the glass maestro himself or at least his studio: Juhulie gave me the name of the man made the glue (in his shed) that bonded massive pieces of glass together and still let the light pass through, uninterrupted. By George! we had it.

I now had a stone that was in fact two stones bonded together, giving an effect that was not there before. I named it Crystal Haze and I introduced it to the jewellery industry. The reaction was less; shock and awe, than a flaccid whimper. Anyone would think I had gaffer taped a banana to a wall and called it art. The men who wrote the rules of women’s jewellery back then, didn’t take to it at all. In fact, they dismissed it as fashion jewellery which was possibly the worst or (in hindsight) the best categorisation I could have dreamt of.

Going back to the male dominated institutions known as jewellery shops, fashion was not a recognised pillar amongst the many and rigid pillars deemed acceptable as fine jewellery.Down but not out, because my wife loved my new delusional cocktail rings - I stuck with it.; introducing more and more colours to layer underneath my curved faceted Quartzes.One day, the most famous woman in the world, Madonna, called up and asked to see my jewellery. The problem was she called my mobile phone and in 1995 mobile phones were as mobile as telephone boxes. I happened to be in the US at the time. When I returned, there were three messages from Madonna, first was: “Hi it’s Madonna, can you come to my house next Wednesday and show me your jewellery?”. Second; “Hi it’s Madonna, are you coming tomorrow?” Third; “I guess you’re not coming?” Shit! I had blown my big chance due to the lack of advancement of mobile phone technology at the time.

I called back and the woman who answered said; “No worries, come tomorrow”- I was over the moon.

Round at Madge’s mansion, I showed my wears, she put a ring on every finger and said; “I’m going to walk around my house”. As a jeweller, I’m very security conscious, and wouldn’t normally let 8 rings out of my sight… but this wasn’t normal, and I had very little say in the matter, so off she went.
Half an hour later she came back and (pre ‘Little Britain’) said “I want that one”. (She actually had two, but that didn’t sound as good). One was a Crystal Haze and that was all that mattered. She asked what it was because it was like a mystery.

Still a good 20 years before social media, I once again called my mum, who by now had me down as a pathological liar. But she called my friends, who as friends, thought it was amazing. Still nothing changed in my world. That was until, waiting for a Chinese takeaway in Deal, Kent, flicking through the Daily Mirror laying on the greasy counter, I came across a full-page colour picture of Madge and her new man, director of the moment: Guy Ritchie. Bang in the middle of the picture was her Majesties hand holding a glass of champagne and on her index finger a Crystal Haze ring.
After that - nothing was the same. Stephen Webster, according to American Vogue, was the man who reinvented the cocktail ring. Women started to go into jewellery shops asking for Crystal Haze rings. As silly as it sounds, it became known as ‘women’s self-purchase’.

Madonna and Guy Richie together. Madonna is wearing the silver Obsidian Crystal Haze ring on her index finger.

The following few years redefined fine jewellery. We were the No 1 designer jewellery brand in the iconic NYC department store; Bergdorf Goodman, and most of our sales were made by woman who would wear them themselves - a mini revolution.

Back to the future of 2020, there is a whole category of fine jewellery that is bought and worn according to fashion and wardrobe. This is not to say that women or men no longer enjoy the gift of jewellery, after all, it’s expensive and who wouldn’t? However, it is no longer sad or ‘spinster’ for a woman or man to be buying her or his own diamonds - it just means that she/he is just as likely to be shopping for their best friend, with their best friend or as their best friend.

-Stephen Webster MBE

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