The Best Gift: a Stephen Webster ring
By Neil Cunningham
I’m often told that I’m impossible to buy gifts for, but surely by the time a man enters middle age there are fewer small material items he really craves or needs to wait until a birthday to procure. Any obscure DVD, film poster or out of print book is easily found online, and if like me you’ve indulged your inner child and foraged on Ebay for nostalgic toys you never owned, who amongst your friends can be expected to come up with a surprise gift so personal it will equal a mint-in-box Six Million Dollar Man and his Bionic Transport and Repair Station? So when I say to my friends that I would be happy with a few pairs of good quality socks for Christmas – in any shade of grey – I genuinely mean it.
However, one surprise gift that I received over fifteen years ago is one that I simply couldn’t have dreamed up myself, or commissioned any specialist dealer to find: a one-off white gold ring made for me by the rock-star jeweller Stephen Webster. In the late Nineties I had dabbled with some ideas for menswear and one superhero style leather jacket from my collection caught the eye of my friend Stephen and I was only too happy to make him one. He returned the gesture with a ring created from the design of my logo on the label inside his jacket. One day, at lunch, his beautiful wife Assia casually slid it across the table in a purple leather covered ring box – giving me some idea of what it must be like to be proposed to! I’ve not stopped admiring it since. The way Stephen turned the flat Mr C block type into such a perfectly proportioned three-dimensional object was utterly charming.
For me, a ring remains the definitive item of jewellery and it’s impossible not to be enchanted by Stephen Webster’s witty and dazzling designs. At first glance they conjure up the toy rings that might have fallen out of a bubble gum machine in the 1970s: skulls, gargoyles, and devils – but upon closer inspection you realise they would not look out of place in the collection of Wallis Simpson. I loved his early widescreen TV and rock star rings and was fascinated to see the most ordinary blokes captivated by them too. Ozzy Osbourne was one of the first to order a 50K jammy dodger style version of the rock star ring, and I knew that these bejewelled knuckle-dusters were a must-have when styling broken-nosed boxer model Wesley in our Scarface themed couture advertising shoot ‘Gilded Cage’ in 2000 – and later again in my Hammer Horror tribute collection ‘Glammer!’.
Stephen started learning his craft at sixteen and built his business slowly, which I related to and respect totally. He laboriously attended international trade shows year after year like any good manufacturer should, and therefore knew his industry inside and out. I remember a machinist we’d hired from an agency once expressing her surprise to find me sitting beside her on the next sewing machine working on a couture gown – she was simply not used to seeing a designer who could actually make a garment too. Likewise Stephen could not only design you a spectacular ring, he could also sit down and make you that ring himself from start to finish. It’s the perfect and – some would argue – the only way for a designer to build a strong foundation for a successful business.
It has been particularly satisfying to see Stephen’s steady rise to the top of his industry as a true independent, and furthermore to see how much he has influenced it. The famous Crystal Haze ring that he created – a chiselled hunk of quartz crystal laid over a thin layer of precious stone – has been copied by all the major jewellery houses, and he has subsequently upped his game with increasingly sophisticated collections.
The ‘Wrath’ ring from the Seven Deadly Sins collection of 2011 has to be one of the most gorgeous rings Stephen has ever created: a round pool of blood red garnet held up by rose gold hands that also wear tiny bracelets of miniature gems. There are echoes of Snow White’s evil Queen and the presentation of an empty box to the huntsman for her stepdaughter’s heart – in fact the entire collection could have been called ‘worn by Disney villains’. The poisoned apple ring from the Murder She Wrote collection is likewise perfect for the villainess – or hostess – who dreams of discreetly discharging a deadly powder (or just some plain ol’ Rohypnol?) into an unwelcome guest’s drink from a flip-top ruby encrusted bauble on her finger.
As his empire has expanded globally Stephen’s collections have inevitably smoothed out to accommodate more commercial tastes. Even his once gothic purple packaging is now a slightly more sober battleship blue-grey. A recent collaboration with artist Blondey McCoy’s Thames streetwear brand has however, seen a return to the playfulness of his early work with a collection that pays a kind of intergenerational homage to what London means to both these designers. There’s a Queen’s Walk ring, Thameslink chains, razor-blade ear-rings and for me the pièce de résistance, a delicious update of Stephen’s original widescreen TV ring: the Thames TV ring. For those too young to remember, Thames Television made programmes for ITV as a saucier, grittier antidote to the BBC’s offering during the 70’s and 80s. Think The Sweeney, Man About the House, Rock Follies, and for us kids there was The Tomorrow People and Magpie. You were either a Blue Peter or a Magpie kid and I have no problem guessing into which camp Stephen fell.
The Mr C ring was originally made for me as a pinky ring which I later changed to wear on my ring finger for fear of looking like Liberace. Although Stephen has been praised for making bling and men’s jewellery acceptable again there is still a knack to wearing it well, and as a couturier with modestly sized hands I am painfully aware that you have to have f**k off fists like a gangster to wear anything larger than a signet ring on your smallest finger. I say: the meaner the geezer, the bigger the diamond he can wear. This probably means no diamond at all for me, but I think I could be permitted to stretch to a rose gold variation of my Mr C ring when I’m next choosing a gift for myself.
To order Stephen Webster’s jewellery visit: www.stephenwebster.com
“I am painfully aware that you have to have f**k off fists like a gangster to wear anything larger than a signet ring on your smallest finger…”