Harry Winston was born on March 1, 1896 in New York City to Jacob and Jeanette Winston, originally from the Ukraine.
Winston grew-up in the jewelry business. After immigrating to the US, his father and mother started a small jewelry business on New York’s West Side. Sadly, at the age of seven, his mother Jeanette passed away, so his father, Jacob, was advised that a change would do the family good. Jacob sold the New York business and moved to California. Once in the Los Angeles business district, Jacob setup another jewelry shop similar to the one in New York, with the advantage of being in the heart of the Hollywood film industry.
His talent for discovering gems began early. At the age of twelve, Harry found a two carat emerald in a pawn shop for twenty five cents and sold it two days later for eight hundred dollars. He attended the local high school, but books were not on his mind. He spent most of his spare time in his father’s jewelry store, and three years later after graduating, Harry went to work for his father full time.
Harry's job for his father was to travel across the country selling jewelry, provided by his father’s shop, to all the gold and oil towns popping up in the US. The family would return to New York City in 1914 and his father would once again setup a jewelry repair business in upper Manhattan. Harry worked there for two years before going out on his own.
In 1916 at age 19, he started the Premier Diamond Company with $2,000.00 dollars of his own money. Winston used his eye for quality, and immense talent to start buying and selling on the New York diamond exchange. His ability to make the right decisions was quickly recognized and highly respected. In two years, he grew his company from an initial $2,000 to $30,000 dollars in cash and stock. After his initial success, his luck did hold up. One of his employees disappeared with all his stock and cash, leaving Harry almost bankrupt.
Winston’s eye now had to find a new market gap, so he discovered numerous estate sales going on throughout New York State from diseased wealthy people. He found that gems were selling for a fraction of their worth, because their settings were old fashioned. Suddenly Harry realized that if he could reset them on new fashionable settings, they would be worth a lot more. One of his first finds, was the jewelry collection of Mrs. Rebecca Darlington Stoddard, a Pittsburgh coal and iron heiress. He reset the stones in new modern settings for a huge profit, and repeated this technique with the acquisition of the Arabella Huntington jewelry collection. This lot was considered one of the most celebrated jewelry collections of the time. He acquired it for $2,000,000.00 and once again used his skill to reset it for a terrific profit.
Outside of the jewelry business, Harry was not well-known. This changed immediately with the purchase of the fabulous Baldwin collection in 1930. The purchase included a 39 carat emerald-cut diamond. After years out of he spotlight, Harry found his name splattered across the national newspapers. He was now well on his way to building his personal fortune.
In 1932, Harry closed down the Premier Diamond Company and opened Harry Winston Inc. He decided that rather than trade precious stones, he would focus on placing and selling them in exquisite settings. In 1933 Harry married his wife Edna and had two children, Ronald and Bruce. Harry and Edna were happily married
Due to his elegant and tasteful creations, Harry's reputation continued to grow. His jewelry designs drew more notoriety. It was through his purchases that he continued to get the most publicity. In 1935, Winston purchased the 726 carat Jonker diamond for $700,000.00 dollars. This purchase finally got him international recognition. He paid $30,000 dollars to have it cut into twelve diamonds.
The story goes that Harry even took the gamble of sending it via US Postal Service certified mail, while not being able to insure it against damage while being cut. His investment paid off and he was able to sell the twelve diamonds for 2 million dollars. He would again repeat this performance with 970 carat Star of Sierra Leone diamond in 1972 and have it cut into 17 gems. The largest gem being 143 carats, which would later be cut into six gems.
Harry Winston did not just buy stones, he became a collector. From 1949 to 1953, he established a travel exhibition called the Court of Jewels, with the crown jewel being the Hope diamond, purchased from the Evalyn Walsh Mclean estate for 1 million. The whole collection was worth 1.5 million.
Other gems in the Court of Jewels included the Sapphire of Catherine the Great, the Star of the East, the Inquisition Necklace. To Harry it was not just about money, he wanted to show the world the beauty and craftsmanship of a well cut stone. He was also known for his acts of generosity, in 1958 he would donate the Hope diamond to the Smithsonian, followed by the Portuguese diamond in 1963 and the Oppenheimer Diamond in 1964.
|The Hope, the most famous in the world|
diamond being donated to the Smithsonian.
|The Portuguese diamond,|
world's biggest diamond
|The Oppenheimer diamond, |
largest uncut stone in the world
Harry Winston has always had a tradition of exclusivity. He is a staple on the red carpet, and his diamond buyers have been among the most famous in the world. His collection includes the 69 carat diamond Richard Burton brought for Elizabeth Taylor. But celebrities and big diamonds are not his only legacy. Harry Winston had a rare gift; he had an eye for the best gemstones and a nose for what the customer wanted.
|The Taylor-Burton diamond|
Winston is still known for exquisite jewelry. His name is still linked to some of the most beautiful jewels and settings in the world. His collection includes diamonds - gems - watches - bracelets - necklaces - earrings in a price range from $30,000 to millions of dollars. His jewelry is produced for some the richest and most prominent people in the world.
A collector, connoisseur, philanthropist and dealer, Harry Winston was also a class act. For someone with an international reputation, he was a very private man. In 1960, he purchased and lived in a New York City townhouse, and managed to keep his picture out of the papers. Winston passed away on December 8th 1978, at the age of 82. His wife Edna survived him and took control of the company, which then was later passed on to his two sons.