Who was Harry Winston?

Given the moniker “King of Diamonds” by Cosmopolitan in 1947, the man himself had a strong trust in the US postal service and would often post his precious gems

There are many great stories among all the great jewellery houses. Harry Winston surely leads the way as having one of the best. Given the moniker “King of Diamonds” by Cosmopolitan in 1947, the man himself had a strong trust in the US postal service and would often post his precious gems.

Portrait of jeweller Harry Winston. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Winston founded the brand in New York city in 1932 and was an innate gemologist. He would travel the world to find some of the world’s finest and best diamonds. He had first founded the Premier Diamond Company in 1920 and it was through this endeavour he would meet some of America’s notable socialites. Rebecca Darlington Stoddard and Arabella Huntington among them. It was through some of his clients that he would in fact have access to some of these dazzling diamonds and gemstones. This resulted in the likes of Maharajah of Indore and the Duchess of Windsor being among the notables who flocked to Winston for his expertise.

Classic cluster earrings by Harry Winston

It was in 1934 after a heavy rain that a massive 726 carat rough was discovered in South Africa. It was named the Jonker in honour of the miner who discovered it. Naturally it scored headlines and caught the eye of Winston who would eventually acquire it. So very proud of it was Winston that he sent it on a press tour. Marketing, clearly, had always been something else he was an expert on.

Later, in 1938, he read in a small newspaper article about the discovery of a 726.60 carat rough diamond in the San Antonio River in Brazil. Setting off immediately on a cross-continent journey he sought to track down and acquire the impressive stone. Later, in 1953, he acquired a 155 carat rough that had been discovered in South Africa the previous year. Under his direction this was cut to a flawless D color pear-shaped weighing an impressive 62.05 carats. He loved this diamond so much that he named it after himself. The Winston Diamond, as it was now known, was sold to a client in the Middle East in 1959. And so the moniker seems only right.

Winston further acquired a 342 carat piece of rough, from which came two pear-shaped diamonds. Cut by Harry Winston in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, the larger of the two, an 89.23 carat diamond, was named after the first American president, George Washington.

Winston continued to built his legacy on exceptional jewels. By 2013, Harry Winston (the house) acquired an extraordinary 101.73 carat flawless D color pear shaped diamond named The Winston Legacy. And today the brand is still armed with a passion for precious stones, committed to creativity, rarity, and quality.

Winston was the son of immigrants. From an early age he began to learn the inner workings of his father’s small jewellery shop on New York’s west side. It was at the age of 12, now circa 1908, that he spotted a green stone among a tray of costume jewellery and realised its potential.  The pawnshop owner had thought it merely a piece of glass. Winston, meanwhile, knew it to be an emerald and bought it for 25¢, only to re-sell it two days later for $800.

Come 1909 and the Winston family moved to the West Coast and opened their little jewellery shop in Los Angeles. Winston would continue to learn from his father in the following years. The results of this would be the company he founded in 1920, Premier Diamond Company. Winston was just 24. His business was located at 535 Fifth Avenue.

Harry Winston sitting in town house opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he was a guest as a young man. (Photo by Eliot Elisofon/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

In 1920 he met his wife Edna and in 1926, he acquired he the estate of Arabella Huntington, who owned one of the centuries most important jewellery collections.

Owing to popular demand, Winston operated under his own name and began to manufacture jewellery in 1932. The following year, he and Edna married. His business also began to grow and a move to 7 East 51st Street followed.

In 1948, he met the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who would go on to buy several pieces from Harry Winston for their own personal collection. Yet he was never one to shy away from showing expensive jewels to the public. The Court of Jewels was an exhibition tour that ran until 1953 enabling the public to see his most precious and important stones.

Of course, no jewellery house is complete without a cultural reference. In 1953 the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released and with it the song Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. The famous line is, “Talk to me Harry Winston! Tell me all about it!”