Jewelry Historian Levi Higgs Treasures Illustrative Art, Bespoke Designs, and Country Escapes With His Beloved Pup

0
26

Jewelry is a kind of storytelling, a decorative art for personal expression, said jewelry historian Levi Higgs.

Higgs, who is the head of archives and brand heritage at David Webb Jewels, has a gift for language himself. The New York City-based jewelry lover has amassed a devoted Instagram following—encompassing amateurs to connoisseurs alike—who voraciously consume posts of jaw-dropping baubles and the stories behind them.

When it comes to history, Higgs performs a kind of magic trick, transforming the often-cobwebbed world of archives into a living, breathing experience rich with history, drama, style, and color. This professional work often intersects with the larger art world—Higgs is a wealth of knowledge of the representation and symbolism of jewels in fine arts—so when he heads of out of the archives, Higgs is a familiar figure at auction house previews and on the art fair circuit.

When it comes to his personal preferences for art and objects, Higgs believes in commissions and is a devotee of the illustrative world of 20th-century American artist Maxfield Parrish. KAWS, on the other hand, he could do without.

But on the weekends, he leaves town, opting for country escapes with his beloved pup Theo and his partner, enjoying nature and a good cup of tea. Recently, we caught up with Higgs and talked about what he values in art and life—and why.  

What is the last thing that you splurged on?
The last thing I splurged on has been an ongoing project, a bespoke jewelry box designed and constructed by Richard Watson, a Massachusetts-based furniture designing duo. I love the “long game” of having custom commissions created, and the dialogue we’ve all had together has allowed us to get down to the essence of what encapsulates the perfect jewelry box to me. I can’t wait to see it once it’s fully done!

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

What is something that you’re saving up for?
I love supporting independent jewelers who are at the top of their game, so I have a few pieces nudging the first place slot of my ever-growing wish list. A Concentric Circle ring by Deborah Cadby in the U.K., and a green tourmaline Quad Pendant by Jean Prounis in New York are currently under consideration.

What would you buy if you found $100?
Lots of loose-leaf tea from Paquita in the West Village, and a new mug that I definitely don’t need.

What makes you feel like a million bucks?
Getting out of the city on a drive upstate, or a weekend away in the woods to have a bit of a reset. Nature is super restorative to me, so strolling in a lovely manicured garden or going on a rigorous hike really make me feel like I’m being my best self.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

What do you think is your greatest asset?
I hope that it is my continuing curiosity in the field that I’m in and my devotion to the career path I’ve created for myself. It’s far too easy to become jaded (pun intended) in any industry, but I always try to check myself and realize what a privilege it is to be surrounded by beautiful, significant jewels and their custodians.

What do you most value in a work of art?
I love narrative in art. I’m a huge fan of illustrative works by J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, and Maxfield Parrish. I also love the ethos behind the Arts & Crafts movement, so William Morris does a lot for me. Maybe that’s all too twee, but that is sort of my wheelhouse.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
One of my favorite artists right now is a Dutch jeweler named Leen Heyne. He works with textured ribbons of gold that twist and clutch gemstones, or just simply knot upon themselves in an effortlessly elegant way. I’ve never seen someone work with gold in this manner before. He’s going to be around for a long time, and I’m so glad I snapped a ring up early.

Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?
In terms of jewelry, I would say Marilyn F. Cooperman. She passed away in 2020, and she was a design force that was never really widely celebrated as much as she deserved. Her work is colorful and bold, expertly made, and relatively affordable when it hits the auction block. Keep an eye out!

What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
Big glossy vinyl toys for adults. (KAWS)

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

What is your most treasured possession?
My most treasured possession is an original 1971 Van Cleef and Arpels Virgo pendant, in the jumbo size. It’s merely a disc of solid gold with the zodiac imagery pressed into it like an ancient seal. It’s a powerful pendant I wear when I want to lean into my most Virgo of attributes. But it was so hard to come by, and they continue to be super sought after and rare. It also helps that I sourced it for a song in a really satisfying way, and the value has skyrocketed lately. I put out into the universe I was looking for one, and it found me. Nothing better than that.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

What’s been your best investment?
I recently collected a Bisbee Turquoise ring by Native American jeweler Charles Loloma. It’s tufa-cast sterling silver with gold prongs and a beautiful rare vein of turquoise that can no longer be mined. His work skews modernist, but also has such firm foundations in traditional handicrafts of the Hopi people. He passed away in 1991, so his output is finite. His work is often grouped at auction with the likes of Alexander Calder and Art Smith, so I’m sure the value of this ring (that fits me perfectly and was meant to be) will only appreciate over time.

What is something small that means the world to you?
The easy thing to do would be to keep mentioning jewelry, but I’m going to be slightly cheesy and say my Dachshund/Norwich Terrier mix Theo. My partner and I have had him since he was three months old, and this year he’ll be 11. I’ve wanted to immortalize him by taking him to the Penumbra Foundation for a distinguished tintype session, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Soon!

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

Courtesy of Levi Higgs.

What’s not worth the hype?
Paying retail prices, for anything, but especially jewelry. I always advise friends and family to seek out what you want and have it custom-made. There is of course a premium paid for custom work, but at least you are sure you’re getting something attuned to your needs rather than just a five X mark-up. Shop at the auction and get to know makers! You always get a better price when you’re in the inner circle.

What do you believe is a worthy cause?
Sharing knowledge, and helping bring others into the fold of often standoff-ish industries. The jewelry world can be daunting, but it’s an industry built upon respect and reputation. The doors were opened for me by many of my mentors and now friends, and continuing to help others onto their own paths is really important to me. I love being a conduit for networking and connection within this really fascinating and glittering world.

What do you aspire to?
To be a respected and authoritative voice, and continually contribute original research to the annals of jewelry history. I’ve got a few book ideas up my sleeve, and I’d love to make more time for them in the future. There’s a lot of opportunity for disruption (what a terrible term) in this space, but the fact is that the public does LOVE jewelry exhibitions and activations, so I hope to be able to aid that collective fascination in really engaging ways as my career unfurls.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here