Harry Winston, the American Jeweller, established Harry Winston Inc. in New York City in 1932. He led quite a fascinating life, handling some of the world’s most popular diamonds, fine jewellery pieces and coloured gems.
He became recognised for his ingenious jewellery designs throughout his incredible career that lured the 20th century’s most notable personalities. Eventually, he earned a reputation as ‘Jewellers to the Stars’ and ‘King of Diamonds’.
From royal dignitaries, movie legends to heads of state, Harry Winston’s creations dazzled virtually everyone, and his boutiques became the ultimate destination. Harry Winston’s discerning and high-profile clientele appreciated his intuition, knowledge, passion and discretion. Continue reading to find out how this famous American jewellery house became one of the world’s leading and revered brands.
Harry Winston’s Precocious Talent for Jewellery
Harry Winston began working at the jewellery shop of his father. His enormous talent for jewellery was acknowledged from an early age. Winston snapped up a green pebble from a bin, categorised as ‘junk jewellery’ at a nearby pawnshop for 25 cents. After two days, he sold that green stone for nearly £580.
The fact is that the green-stone was an emerald weighing 2 carats, and Winston was just 12 years old when he could discern the ‘junk jewellery’ stone as something precious. When he was 15 years old, Harry Winston decided to leave school and involve himself in his family business in Los Angeles. But soon, he decided to start his own business.
The Advent of an Icon Jewellery
Harry Winston came back to New York City in 1920 and opened his first business, dubbed the Premier Diamond Company. With his spectacular eye for fine gems, he started to purchase all jewellery collections at estate sales. However, the fascinating thing is that –
He used to remove the gemstones from the jewellery pieces, re-cut them and then place them in contemporary design styles. And his creations gradually secured him the success that captured media attention and encouraged him to grow the business.
In 1932, he opened Harry Winston Inc., dedicated to designing, manufacturing and selling his jewellery pieces. He had a simple but revolutionary philosophy, and that is, gemstones should dictate a jewellery design instead of the jewellery settings.
Recognition as the ‘Jeweller to the Stars’ or ‘King of Diamonds’
As per the belief, one-third of the world’s most popular diamonds moved through Winston’s hands during his long, storied career. Some diamonds came easier than others. However, he had to hunt the massive Vargas stone across three continents before he sold it. His other possessions included –
- An atypically-shaped Briolette that was once the centre of attraction of a Maharaja’s crown,
- The Jonker of 726 carats,
- And a rough stone that Harry Winston broke into thirteen exquisitely cut diamonds.
Winston began adorning celebrities in early 1935. It was the year when he bought the Jonker diamond of 726 carats. Moreover, he carried the rough diamond while travelling to the USA and captured pictures of it with popular actresses, including Shirley Temple and Claudette Colbert.
As mentioned above, Winston cut the rough diamond into thirteen exquisite stones, labelling I to XIII. Well, Christie’s auction house sold The Jonker V in 2019 in Geneva for £3,015,000.
However, Winston secured the most popular diamond of all in 1949, that is, the Hope Diamond weighing 45.52 carats. It is the giant deep blue diamond on the globe. The heart-shaped blue Hope Diamond originated in India, was the central component of pre-revolutionary France crown jewels. Later the diamond appeared in England and passed to King George IV.
Harry Winston handed out the Hope Diamond in 1958 to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and it is permanently manifesting its sparkle there.
Harry Winston was the first jeweller who dressed a celebrity for an Academy Awards event. Interestingly, he lent diamond jewellery to the popular actress Jennifer Jones in 1944, who was nominated for a role in ‘The Song of Bernadette’.
In fact, Marilyn Monroe’s song ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ includes the line ‘Talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it.’
Harry Winston’s Signature Technique
Today, the cluster ring or cluster concept is perceived as the brand’s signature technique integrated in the 1940s. This concept revolutionised classic jewellery design, creating high brilliance clusters with marquise and pear-shaped diamonds set at different angles and with minimal metal.
The Wreath necklace is among the most iconic and coveted in Harry Winston’s cluster design. The jeweller designed this jewellery piece taking inspiration from a holly wreath that Winston hung on this front door. So he used different diamond cuts to recreate the holly wreath design in the form of jewellery.
Winston’s iconic Wreath necklace features delicate prong settings that hold the diamonds in place and make them look like floating around the wearer’s neck. Among the celebrities, Betsy Bloomingdale, a socialite, owned a Harry Winston Wreath necklace. However, the ‘cluster’ continues to be the company’s signature and a symbol of the premium quality setting.
In 1978, Harry Winston died at the age of 82. However, his company continues to carry forward his legacy, bearing his name on boutiques worldwide – including his renowned headquarters on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.