Harry Winston: King of Diamonds

Diamond and platinum bracelet, signed Harry Winston, circa 1970s
Harry Winston.

From the red carpet to royalty Harry Winston jewels are seen sparkling on some of the world’s best known luminaries at some of the world’s most high profile events. Winston himself became quite famous due to the important diamonds and gemstones that he acquired and for sharing his passion for diamonds and gemstones with the public.

Harry Winston was born in New York City in 1896. His father had a small jewelry shop and young Harry spent a great deal of time there. The defining moment for his future career as a purveyor of exceptional diamonds and colored gemstones happened when he was just 12 years old. Winston stopped by a pawn shop and was looking through some costume jewelry, when he saw a green stone. The pawn shop owner thought it was a piece of glass, but Winston knew better. He bought the stone for 50 cents. Two days later he sold it for $800. The piece of glass was actually an emerald.

Harry Winston’s First Company

Diamond and platinum necklace convertible to two bracelets, signed Harry Winston, circa 1959

In 1920, Harry Winston opened his first business in New York City, the Premier Diamond Company. Winston incorporated his business in 1932  and a couple of years later he was making headlines with the purchase of the famed 726-carat Jonker diamond, discovered in South Africa. Winston brought the rough diamond back to New York and promptly sent it out on a press tour around the country. While on tour the uncut diamond was photographed with movie stars, Shirley Temple and Claudette Colbert. After its press tour the Jonker was finally cut, yielding 12 gems, with the largest weighing 125.35-carats.  That was the start of Winston and his connection to some of the most important diamonds in the world, including the Hope Diamond. His penchant for diamonds led to his nickname “King of Diamonds”.

The Harry Winston Cluster

When it came to making jewelry, Winston always let the stone dictate the design rather than the setting being the main focus. With that in mind, the cluster design is one of his most renowned creations and the idea came from a rather unusual source: A holly wreath.

Diamond and platinum brooch, signed Harry WinstonWinston arrived at his Scarsdale home one winter night and glanced at the wreath on his front door that was sparkling with snow and frost. The next day Winston went to his head designer, Nevdon Koumrouyan and together they created the now iconic “cluster” design. The Cluster which features diamonds in round, pear and marquise shapes all in one piece is designed so that the gems are angled and in perfect proportion to each other creating spectacular sparkle. The diamonds are always set in platinum so that the setting is barely visible instead emphasizing the gems so they appear to be floating. It’s a look that is closely associated with the firm.

Hollywood Calling

Marilyn Monroe sings  “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, which mentions Harry Winston, in the movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.Hollywood has come knocking on Harry Winston’s doors many times. Its sparklers have been worn in a number of films including the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Notorious”, “The Graduate” and  “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”.  And who could forget Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”  purring the famous line – “talk to me Harry Winston” — as she sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”.  Winston also started the trend of loaning jewels to stars walking the red carpet for various award shows, which earned him a second nickname: Jeweler to the Stars.

Harry Winston passed away in 1978. His son, Ronald Winston took over daily operations of the business until he retired in 2008. The company was sold to Aber Diamond Mine, which later sold the company to Swatch. But Winston’s legacy of “rare jewels of the world” continues today as a new generation of clients discover the magic of his jewelry.

Featured image (top of page): Diamond and platinum bracelet, signed Harry Winston, circa 1970s.

First: Harry Winston; Second: Diamond and platinum necklace convertible to two bracelets, signed Harry Winston, circa 1959; Third: Diamond and platinum brooch, signed Harry Winston; Fourth: Marilyn Monroe sings  “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, which mentions Harry Winston, in the movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.

Authored by Amber Michelle