American jeweller Harry Winston (1896-1978) founded Harry Winston Inc. in 1932 in New York City. Over the course of his dazzling career, Winston handled some of the world’s most famous diamonds, coloured gemstones and pieces of fine jewellery, earning himself a reputation as ‘The King of Diamonds’.
From the 1950s through to the 1970s, his boutiques were the destination of choice for royalty, Hollywood stars and business moguls alike. Acknowledged as a visionary in the field for his pursuit of excellence, Harry Winston’s combination of passion, discretion, intuition and knowledge was greatly appreciated by his high-profile and discerning clientele.
Jeweller to the Stars
Harry Winston started dressing celebrities as early as 1935, the year that he purchased the 726-carat diamond, The Jonker. Winston took the rough gem on a tour of the USA and had it photographed with famous actresses, including Claudette Colbert and Shirley Temple. The Jonker was subsequently cut into 13 very important stones, numbered I to XIII. The Jonker V (below) was sold at Christie’s in Geneva in 2019 for £3,015,000.
Winston was also the first jeweller to dress a celebrity for an Academy Awards show. In 1944 he loaned diamond jewellery to actress Jennifer Jones, who had been nominated for her role in The Song of Bernadette. Harry Winston jewellery has graced the red carpet ever since.
In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe sang Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, which includes the lyric: ‘Talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it.’
The Court of Jewels tour (1949-1953)
While Winston acquired many notable private collections, diamonds and gemstones, perhaps the most recognisable was the Hope Diamond, the largest-known deep blue diamond in the world. Winston acquired the jewel, which weighed 45.52 carats, in 1949 from the estate of the American socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.
From 1949 to 1953, Winston toured the gem around the United States as part of his Court of Jewels exhibition, with proceeds benefitting charitable organisations. The tour was a defining moment in the jewellery industry, with Harry Winston presenting famous jewels as an art collection, telling the story of their historic provenance. In 1958 Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., where it remains today.
A number of the exceptional gems and jewels from the Court of Jewels tour are now considered historic pieces, with a majority entering important private collections or museums. These include the Indore Pears that Harry Winston bought from the Maharajah of Indore, and which were sold at Christie’s in November 1987 for $2.7 million.
As well as show-stopping diamonds, the tour made Harry Winston’s name synonymous with coloured gemstones of exceptional quality. One such is the 22.86-carat Burmese ruby featured in the above diamond and ruby ring, which sold at Christie’s in Geneva in 2019 for CHF 7,198,500 — more than double its high estimate.
The concept of the ‘cluster’ or ‘clustering’, now regarded as Harry Winston’s signature technique, was formulated in the 1940s. Comprising pear-shaped and marquise-cut diamonds set with minimal metal and at varying angles, the idea revolutionised jewellery design to create clusters of remarkable brilliance.
One of the most iconic and sought-after Harry Winston ‘cluster’ designs is the ‘Wreath’ necklace, inspired by a holly wreath the jeweller had hung on his front door. He was immediately inspired to recreate the design using different cuts of diamonds.
In a wreath necklace, the stones are held in place by very fine prong settings, which allow the diamonds to appear to float on top of the wearer.
Among the celebrities known to have once owned a ‘Wreath’ necklace is socialite Betsy Bloomingdale. Her necklace, made in 1961, was the pièce de résistance of her collection.
The ‘cluster’ remains a trademark of the firm and a sign of the finest quality of setting, which only a true Harry Winston jewel can possess.
An enduring legacy
Nayla Hayek, the present CEO of Harry Winston, has continued Winston’s legacy, adding one-of-a-kind diamonds to the Winston collection.
Brilliant examples include the Winston Blue, an exceptional 13.22-carat flawless vivid blue diamond; the Winston Pink Legacy, an extraordinary 18.96-carat fancy vivid pink diamond, which was once in the collection of the Oppenheimer family; and the Winston Legacy, a formidable 101.73 carat D flawless pear-shaped diamond.