Harry Winston (Est. 1932 – ) When one owns the Hope Diamond as well as many other well-known and fantastic gems, it is not an overstatement to declare yourself, as Harry Winston did, as “The King of Diamonds.”
Harry Winston (1896 – 1978) followed in the footsteps of his father, Jacob, who had opened a small jewelry business in California after he and Harry’s mother immigrated to the United States from Ukraine.
Harry worked in his father’s shop as he grew up and his career as a gem trader is said to have begun in 1908 when, as a twelve year old, Harry noticed a plain ring with a green stone in a pawnshop window. The pawnbroker believed the stone was merely a quarter carat and sold it for 25 cents. Harry took the ring to his father who was amazed to see an emerald weighing two carats. Two days later, Harry sold the stone for 800 dollars and laid the foundation for his legendary jewelry business.
By the 1920s, Harry had established his first store and soon became recognized as an astute buyer of jewelry collections working with banks and trusts to purchase well-known and important estates.
Winston’s gemstone empire began in earnest in 1926 when he acquired Arabella Huntington’s jewelry collection for $1.2 million. The wife of railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, Arabella had amassed one of the world’s most prestigious jewelry collections buying primarily from Parisian jewelers such as Cartier. When Winston bought the collection after her death, he saw that the designs in the collection were old fashioned.
Winston redesigned the jewelry into more contemporary styles and showcased his unique skill at jewelry crafting. According to the Huntington Museum, “He frequently boasted that Arabella’s famous necklace of pearls now adorned the necks of at least two dozen women around the world.”
Winston revolutionized jewelry fashion in the 1920’s. Rather than using stiff traditional settings of the time, he made settings from finely woven platinum so flexible that they shimmered and flowed in response to the wearer’s movements giving the stones a completely new look.
According to the Harry Winston Company’s official website, “In establishing the company’s signature style, Winston introduced a new philosophy for fine jewelry design … jewels were defined by the gemstones themselves, and not the metal [in which] they were set.
“This new vision for diamonds came to him on a December night ….when he returned home … and was inspired by the way snow glistened on a lush holly wreath hanging on his door. Noticing the way the wreath’s graceful dimensions and fluid curves were shaped not by the branches, but by the individual leaves, Winston began to envision a contemporary way to craft his jewels, allowing the diamonds – rather than their settings – to guide the design.”
Harry Winston’s jewelry is known for the high quality of its diamonds and gemstones set off by minimal settings. The designs often feature pear or marquise-cut stones in an unobtrusive platinum wirework setting he refined in the 1940s. In one Winston signature piece, marquise-cut diamonds are clustered in a luxurious spray, creating elegant earrings.
This idea led to the development of the House’s signature technique, called clustering, in which different cuts of diamonds – round brilliant, pear, and marquise shapes – are set together at varying angles, creating highly dimensional pieces of jewelry that capture the light from all directions and result in unparalleled sparkle.
Among Winston’s early achievements was his 1934 purchase of the 726 carat Jonker diamond that, at the time, was the second largest diamond in the world. He broke with tradition when he chose the American gem cutter, Lazare Kaplan, over well-established European cutters to cut the rough stone.
As the largest stone ever to be cleaved in the United States, its cutting was well publicized and followed intently by the American public in newsreels, newspapers and radio broadcasts. The cleaving of the Jonker resulted in twelve individual stones, with the largest – an emerald-cut – weighing a total of 125.35-carats.
Winston chose proportion and brilliance over weight retention, putting the modern brilliant cut diamond and the American jewelry industry in the spotlight. During the process it was said that, “no gem in the world’s history has won greater fame or done more to increase the public’s love and appreciation for diamonds.”
In 1938, after reading a small newspaper article about the discovery of a 726.60-carat rough diamond in Brazil, Harry Winston immediately set off on a cross-continent journey to track down the impressive stone. Traveling first by plane to Brazil, then by boat to Antwerp, Winston examined and purchased this exceptional piece, named Vargas, before it was officially offered to any other jeweler.
Winston owned many famous jewels throughout his life, the most famous was the Hope Diamond, acquired in 1949, which he donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. In fact Winston made many important donations to museum collections including the famous Portuguese Diamond.
While his collection grew, Harry also became known as “Jeweler to the Stars.” He was the first to lend diamonds to an actress for the Academy Awards and dressed the 1943 Best Actress winner, Jennifer Jones. He maintained his association with Hollywood over many decades.
His company, Harry Winston, Inc., also made many famous sales including a 69 carat diamond which Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor and some canary diamond earrings sold to the Duchess of Windsor. Winston would go on to create and sell several important pieces for and to the Duchess.
In 1949, Harry Winston acquired the complete jewelry collection of the American socialite Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean. This included the 94.80-carat Star of the East and the famous Hope Diamond, a 45.52-carat rare blue diamond once owned by Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and Lord Henry Hope.
Having acquired his formidable collection of historic stones, headlined by the Hope Diamond, Winston toured the collection around the world in an exhibition called, the “Court of Jewels” starting in November 1949. Valued at 10 million dollars at the time, the collection also included the largest of the twelve Jonker stones, the pear shaped Star of the East Diamond and the 337.10 carat Sapphire of Catherine the Great. Proceeds from the exhibition benefitted many leading local charitable organizations during its four year tour that concluded 1953. After the tour ended, Winston donated many of the jewels, including the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian where it remains on display.
Among the most notable jewels in Winston’s collection were the Ashoka, originally a 42.47 carat colorless, modified elongated cushion brilliant diamond. Purchased by Winston from a Chinese dealer in 1947; it was sold and repurchased several times by the firm. In 1977, the stone was recut slightly from its original weight before it was sold again as a ring.
Another, the Blue Heart, 30.82 carats was a blue, heart-shaped brilliant. After the cut was made, Cartier sold it to the Unzue family of Argentina in 1910. It reappeared in Paris in 1953 where it was purchased by a European titled family, then by Harry Winston in 1959. Winston mounted it in a ring and sold it to Marjorie Merriweather Post, who later donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.
Of special note was the Idol’s Eye, 70.20 carats, light Blue, semi-triangular modified antique brilliant. Allegedly first seen in 1607 when the East India Company seized the stone from its owner, a Persian prince named Ragab, as payment for debts, it resurfaced in 1906 in the possession of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
The stone, along with the Hope Diamond and Star of the East, were stolen from the sultan by his messenger and sold to French pawn shops. Intended to provide a comfortable retirement for the sultan, the Idol’s Eye re-appeared at a June 1909 auction held in Paris by the gem dealer and collector Selim Habib, where it was purchased by a Spanish nobleman. It then came into the possession of a London bank and eventually was bought by a Dutch diamond dealer, from whom Winston purchased the stone in November 1946.
Winston sold the diamond in 1947 to Mrs. May Bonfils Stanton, daughter of the publisher and co-founder of The Denver Post. It was mounted as the center stone in a diamond necklace with eighty-six other diamonds totaling 35 carats. In 1963, after Mrs. Stanton’s death, the gem was sold at auction in New York. Renowned jeweler Lawrence Graff of London also owned the stone.
The Indore Pears, 46.95 and 46.70 carats, later recut to 44.62 and 44.18 carats respectively, were colorless, pear-shaped antique brilliants. Originally owned by Maharaja Tukoji Rao III Holkar who was forced to abdicate in 1926, Winston purchased the two diamonds in 1946 from the former maharaja and his wife, both of whom had worn the stones on many occasions. The gems were featured in the ‘Court of Jewels’ exhibit.
Winston sold the gems in 1953 to a client from Philadelphia and repurchased them in 1958. They were then sold to a New York client and were once again purchased in 1976 and sold to a member of a royal family. In 1981 and again in 1987, the two noted diamonds were sold at auction in Geneva.
Also of note is the Liberator, four gems weighing 38.88, 18.12, 8.93, and 1.44 carats that Winston purchased in 1943 and cut four stones from it. The three smaller gems were set in a clip. The largest was mounted in a ring and also sold to Mrs. Stanton, in 1946.
In 1962 Winston reacquired the diamond from Mrs. Stanton’s estate and had it recut from its original weight of 39.80 carats down to 38.88 carats. He sold it to an American client in 1966 who sold it at auction in New York in December 1972.
Another was the Louis XIV, a 58.60 carat, D color and Flawless clarity, antique pear-shaped brilliant. Reportedly the gem belonged to King Louis XIV of France but nothing of its history before Harry Winston bought it can be verified. Winston purchased the diamond in 1958 from the estate of Chrysler heiress Thelma Chrysler Foy. He then had it recut from 62.00 carats down to a flawless 58.60 carats. He also obtained a 151 carat oval sapphire from the Foy estate.
In 1959, the diamond was mounted as the center stone in a tiara that also contained six smaller pear-shaped diamonds totaling 22 carats and smaller diamonds totaling 120 carats. The diamond was exhibited at the Louvre in 1962 along with the Hope Diamond, as part of the Ten Centuries of French Jewelry exhibition.
In 1963, it was removed from the tiara and sold together with the 61.80 carat Winston Diamond to Mrs. Eleanor Loder of Canada, who wore the two stones in a pair of earrings. The Louis XIV was sold again in Geneva in 1981 from Mrs. Loder’s estate.
There was also the Mabel Boll, 44.76 carats, near colorless, elongated emerald-cut. Boll was a much-married American socialite whose name was often in the news in the 1920s. Boll collected nicknames as well as jewelry.
In 1921 she was hailed by newspapers as “Broadway’s most beautiful blonde.” She married the Colombian coffee king Hernando Rocha in 1922, who presented her with a million dollars’ worth of jewelry, mostly in the form of diamonds. The press referred to her as the “$250,000-a-day bride.” She gained her most famous nickname, “Queen of Diamonds” because she often appeared in public wearing all her jewelry.
It was said that the rings she wore on her left hand alone were worth more than $400,000, which would amount to at least $4 or $5 million in today’s dollars.
When she died in 1949 Winston purchased the large emerald-cut diamond, Winston slightly recut the stone and set it in a ring. It, too, was featured in his Court of Jewels exhibition before being sold to a New York client in 1954. When that client died in 1965, Winston reacquired the diamond and sold it the following year to a European client. At this time it was designed to be worn as a ring or as the center stone in a bracelet set with an additional 112 smaller emerald-cut diamonds.
These are only a small sample of Harry Winston’s most notable jewelry possessions. There are many, many more.
In 2012, Rizzoli Publishing issued a book entitled, “Harry Winston” that was written by Winston before his death. The updated edition, with a foreword by Vogue contributing editor, Andre Leon Talley covers Harry Winston’s sparkling history. The book showcases Winston’s most exquisite jewels and jewelry in captivating advertising campaigns, historic images, and celebrity photos, as well as showing the important stones with which the company has worked, including the Hope, Lesotho, and Vargas diamonds. It also features archival and contemporary jewels and watches worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and, of course, Marilyn Monroe.
From the 1950’s until his death in 1972 at age 82, Harry Winston and his jewelry designs continued to make an impact on the industry and the public’s perception of him as both innovator and philanthropist. For example, inspired by the symmetry and beauty of one of nature’s most imposing blooms, Harry and his designers introduced the Sunflower motif.
In 1952, Life Magazine reported that Winston owned the world’s second largest collection of historic jewels. The largest collection, at that time, was owned by the British royal family.
Harry Winston salons began to appear in Europe beginning in 1955 with his first in Geneva, Switzerland. One in Paris followed in 1957.
After Harry donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution as ‘a gift to the world’ in 1958 and consequently also helped to establish the museum’s National Gem Collection, he moved his flagship salon to 718 Fifth Avenue in 1960. This was one of the largest moves in jewelry history and, to this day, remains the permanent home to Harry Winston’s Flagship Salon, Design Studio, and Archives.
In 1969, Harry appeared on live television to cut his latest rough diamond purchase, the 601-carat Lesotho. The Lesotho eventually produced eighteen superb gems, including a 71.72-carat emerald-cut, and a 40.42-carat marquise-cut diamond that were subsequently purchased by Aristotle Onassis as an engagement ring for Jacqueline Kennedy.
For the 1976 American Bicentennial, Harry cut a 75.52-carat D-flawless pear-shaped diamond from a 204-carat piece of rough diamond. The gorgeous stone was named the Star of Independence to commemorate the event.
When Harry Winston died in 1978, the company went to his two sons, Ronald and Bruce, who entered into a decade-long battle over its the control. The company continued to create exclusively priced classic designs under the leadership of the eldest son, Ronald Winston. In 2000, Ronald along with new business associates, Fenway Partners, bought Bruce out from the company for $54.1 million.
In 2004 the Aber Diamond Corporation, a Canadian firm that owned a diamond mine, purchased controlling interest in Harry Winston, Inc. The sale became inevitable after the long legal battle between Winston’s sons. Many analysts contend that the litigation hindered the company’s sound business practices and deprived the company of funds making the sale a foregone conclusion.
By the time Ronald retired in 2008, the firm had expanded to include retail locations in Europe and the Far East as well as a watch business centered in Switzerland. The production of Harry Winston watches had begun in 1989 after Ronald decided to expand the business.
The first Harry Winston watch collection created a furor because no one before had been able to combine watchmaking and jewelry art so successfully. In fact, the watch brand became a symbol of style and success. Precious stones and metals of high quality were incorporated into the watchmaking. Harry Winston watches were and are produced in very small batches of which many are limited editions
The first watch collection was promoted as The Ultimate Timepiece. Next was the Galatea made of steel and rhodium that, at first sight, resembles platinum. The next Harry Winston creations were the Lady Arlequin and Chronograph Ocean. The latter model became the world’s first water resistant 10 bar watch made of platinum.
In 2001, the world famous wristwatch, Opus, appeared and soon gained general acceptance. Classically inspired watches such as the Ocean Collection are suitable for any style and for any person. Meanwhile, it remained important for the brand to manufacture high-end pieces of jewelry. Among these were the Harry Winston Premiere and Avenue Collections. These were watches with precious stones like the Signature Collection or the watch-necklace, Cluster of Time, made only of diamonds.
In 2009, America and Switzerland joined forces to create fantastic new wrist watch collections. For Harry Winston, it was the ladies’ Talk to Me deemed to be the most important jewelry watch of 2009. Talk to Me had an oval, clear, wide case made of white gold. In 2010, a rose gold watch was created. The oval case has a very wide bezel, the width of which allowed for rich decoration and is very rare. Incongruously, the style can be worn for every day dress or with an evening gown.
Moreover, the watch corresponds to the main principles of all genuine jewelry watches — it is a beautiful, magical, as well as an elegantly funny, brilliant, and extraordinarily expensive toy. Inside the watch is a movement that can be scrolled through a special window. The words “Talk to me Harry Winston” are engraved on the movement’s wheel.
Harry Winston watch mechanisms are not just devices designed for measuring time, but also expensive pieces of jewelry. Only very wealthy people can afford to buy Harry Winston luxury wrist watches.
The Harry Winston jewelry and timepiece retail business is now a wholly owned subsidiary of The Swatch Group that acquired it from the Toronto-based Harry Winston Diamond Corporation in January 2013. The Company’s headquarters remain in New York.
The company’s chief executive officer is Nayla Hayek who continues Harry’s legacy in watchmaking as well as the acquisition and introduction of new and exciting gem stones and diamonds.
In 2014, Harry Winston Inc. announced the acquisition of a rare 13.22-carat, flawless, fancy-vivid blue diamond, which was named the Winston Blue. It was purchased at a Christie’s auction and is a magnificent pear-shaped stone that has been described as the largest of its kind.
According to Forbes Magazine, in October 2015, Harry Winston debuted “what is perhaps the most American of its highly acclaimed Opus series of timepieces.
“The Opus 14, the first Opus timepiece launched by Harry Winston under the management of the Swatch Group takes its cues … from a specific period of Americana. The 1950s, defined by big American cars, drive through diners and most importantly the one invention that brought American rock ‘n’ roll to public venues all over the world: The jukebox.
“A highly complicated and technically innovative timepiece [it was a] three-and-a-half year project,” said Nayla Hayek at its launch. The concept of the watch was already in place when Swatch Group acquired Harry Winston in 2013.
“The main feature of the Opus 14 is an automaton complication that works like a jukebox. It reveals four disks housed in what Harry Winston calls a “store.” Each disk shows a specific display: local time, GMT time, the date and a star bearing the signature of Mr. Harry Winston, a reference to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
The Official Harry Winston website celebrates their founder’s philosophy:
“Handcrafting impeccable jewels around the world’s most beautiful diamonds has been a tradition at the House of Harry Winston since it was founded in 1932. As ultimate treasures, each piece of vintage jewelry has its own unique story and provenance – a living history, told through the world’s rarest and most extraordinary gems.
“Vintage Harry Winston jewels are a reminder of [Harry’s] legacy and represent the exquisite quality and pioneering craftsmanship that defines the House’s inimitable and unsurpassable style. Today, the Harry Winston Estate Department continues to preserve the House’s exceptional heritage by repurchasing “some of our most beloved vintage designs from family estates.
“From the acquisition of some of the world’s most famous gemstones, including the Jonker, Hope, and Winston Legacy Diamonds, to adorning generations of famous faces, from Hollywood legends to international Heads of State, for over eight decades, the Harry Winston name has been synonymous with the best that there is.
“Today, the House of Harry Winston continues its tradition of creativity, rarity, and quality without compromise in its retail salons around the world, including: New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.”