“People will stare, make it worth their while.”
– Harry Winston
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Founded in 1932 the name of “Harry Winston” is known as one of the world’s most prestigious jewelry companies. It is a name linked to most beautiful jewels, settings, and to luxury and exclusivity. Inspired by the endless energy of New York, Harry Winston opened his doors in 1932, and began a process of transformation, turning diamonds into art and revolutionizing modern jewelry design. Every piece of Harry Winston jewelry begins with a study of the individual gemstones to inspire a unique and extraordinary design. This diamond-driven style is a collaboration of efforts and skills gemologist, designer and craftsman working together to create impossibly beautiful jewels. Using near invisible platinum settings, stones are meticulously set by hand to achieve the perfect dimension, proportion, and angles of reflection. The signature and standard of Harry Winston jewelry designs is the diamond-driven style that produces a quality and aesthetic that endures.
The company is named after its founding father, Harry Winston, who started his business from a small shop in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and went on to be as famous as the diamonds and jewels he collected and sold. Harry Winston was a second generation immigrant to the United States. Winston’s father, Jacob, had emigrated from the Ukraine in 1890 and established a small workshop and jewelry repair shop in Manhattan with his wife that same year. Harry Winston was born six years later in 1896 and was brought up under his father’s guidance, learning about precious stones and jewelry first hand. When Harry was seven his mother passed away and the family moved to California to establish an outlet in Hollywood. It was during this period that the legend of Harry Winston began. A common story is told that at the age of twelve Winston brought a ring from a junk tray in a pawnshop. Winston was said to have recognized the two-carat emerald and bought it for 25 cents, two days later he supposedly sold it for $800.
In 1911 after Harry graduated high school he joined his father’s shop and began to travel the West. In 1914 the Winston’s returned to Manhattan and opened a repair shop in the Upper West Side. In 1916, at the age of 19, Winston used $2,000 of is own savings to open up the Premier Diamond Company. Winston used his knowledge and eye for quality to start buying and selling on the New York Diamond Exchange. Winston quickly gained a reputation for making the right decisions at the right time. Within two years, his company had grown from the initial $2,000 to a company with $30,000 worth of cash and stock. Winston’s luck didn’t hold though, and he was almost bankrupted overnight when one of his employees ran off with all of his stock and cash.
Winston soon began purchasing jewelry from estate sales, in which precious jewels were available for purchase cheaply because the settings were old fashioned and out of style. Winston refashioned the stones with new settings and sold them for a large profit. In 1925 he purchased the jewelry collection of Rebecca Darlington Stoddard, a wealthy Pittsburgh coal and iron heiress for $1million, and the following year he purchased the celebrated collection of Arabella Huntington for $2million. His practice of purchasing estate jewelry and refashioning the pieces for resale made Winston a wealthy man again. In 1930 he gained national fame with his purchase of the Baldwin collection, which included a 39-carat emerald-cut diamond.
In 1932, Winston closed down Premier Diamond Company and opened Harry Winston, Inc. He focused on resetting the precious stones he had bought into exquisite, minimalist, timeless settings. Winston publicized his company, and his reputation and sales continued to increase. It was his purchases though that continued to make the most publicity. In 1935 Winston purchased the 726-carat Jonker diamond, the seventh largest rough diamond on record, for $700,000. Paying just 64 cents to have it shipped to New York by regular mail, Winston spent $30,000 to have the diamond cut down, the first major stone to be cleaved in the U.S. The largest resulting diamond was a 125.35-carat emerald-cut and the twelve diamonds that resulted from the Jonker sold for a combined total of $2million… The Jonker and Winston’s decision to cut the stone and sell it within the U.S. gained him international notoriety.
Winston continued to purchase stones for cutting culminating with a 970-carat Sierra Leone diamond in 1972. This was diamond was the third largest ever found and was cut into seventeen gems. The largest of these was 143-carat stone that was later re-cut into six more stones. Winston though knew his diamonds and the re-cut stones were worth far more than the originals. In addition to selling incredible stones, Winston also became a collector. He established a travelling exhibit, called the “Court of Jewels” which ran from 1949-1953. The prize stone in the collection was the Hope Diamond. Bought in 1949 from the Evalyn Walsh McLean estate auction, it was estimated that the diamond alone cost $1million of the total $1.5million by for the whole jewelry collection.
The Hope Diamond was joined by the sapphire of Catherine the Great, the Star of the East, the Inquisition Necklace and others. The Court of Jewels was another expression of Winston’s love of gemstones. He wanted to share the beauty of a well cut gem with the public. This desire led to the donations of the Hope Diamond in 1958 to the Smithsonian Institution, the Portuguese Diamond in 1963 and the Oppenheimer in 1964.
For a man in the public eye he was a very private man. Although he moved into a large townhouse in New York City in 1960, he managed to keep his picture out of the papers from this point on. He was
Harry Winston passed away on the 8th December 1978, at the age if 82. Fearing security breaches, he refused to be photographed from 1960 until his death. Winston’s wife Edna, whom he’d happily married late in life in 1933, took control of the company. Following her death eight years later, Harry’s two surviving sons, Ronald and Bruce, fought bitterly over control of the company. Eventually Ronald was forced to pay $54.1 million to buy out his brother Bruce’s share. The name of Harry Winston and the firm he built is still known for exquisite jewelry and timeless settings, and the many famous fans of his beautiful work.