People will stare. Make it worth their while.
– Harry Winston
Harry Winston clearly had an eye for precious stones from a very young age; in a way, his career as a jeweler began when he was 12 years old. The year is 1908 and Jacob Winston asks his son Harry to run an errand in town. On the way home, Harry wanders into a pawnshop where he ends up buying an ugly little green stone for 25 cents. He brings it home and asks for his father’s expertise as a jeweler. Jacob Winston polishes the stone and realizes that his son has acquired a two-carat emerald, which would sell for $800 just a few days later. Adjusted for inflation, this would be like if you walked into a pawn shop today and bought a seemingly worthless bauble for $7 and sold it in the same week for just over $21,000!
By the time he was 19, Harry had earned a small fortune buying and selling diamonds in the New York Diamond Exchange; a venture that requires highly intelligent, quick, and courageous decision making abilities. Harry took this cash and started his own business: Premier Diamond Company. Two years later the company was going strong with assets worth more than 15 times the original investment.
And then one day, an employee disappeared with all of the company’s cash and stocks. Facing bankruptcy, Winston sought the help of a bank. When the young jeweler was mistaken for a messenger at his first appointment with the bank’s manager, Winston hired a distinguished-looking gentleman to serve as a stand-in; and the ruse worked. Winston’s proxy won favor with the bank and they helped him to rebuild his company.
Harry’s keen business sense led him to take interest in estate sales. He bought old jewelry that had fallen out of fashion and freed the stones from their dated ornaments. Next the stones were recut, mounted in new jewelry, and sold for a hefty profit. The success of this approach helped garner the capital necessary to establish Harry Winston, Inc. in 1932.
The name Harry Winston will be forever associated with rare diamonds. This connection was established after the company began a series of acquisitions focused on the world’s most unique, large diamonds. The first purchase, the Jonker Diamond, caused a frenzy in the diamond world and in popular culture. Shirley Temple had her picture taken with the stone, a whopping 726-carat gem the size of a hen’s egg. It would be the largest diamond ever cut in the United States, but insurance companies refused to insure the cutting process because it was too risky. One wrong cut and the value of the stone would plummet.
Risking his entire investment, Winston went ahead, uninsured. He hired a master cutter from Europe and paid him what would be more than $500,000 today. After an entire year of analysis and planning, the cutter was just about to make the first cleavage when he realized his calculations were wrong and his plan would have been disastrous. After more study and figuring, a new plan was devised. On April 27th, 1936, Lazare Kaplan placed a blade over what he believed to be a natural line in the crystal structure of the stone. He raised his mallet and struck a blow, which cleaved the gem cleanly in half. Success! After two more cleavages and extensive cutting, the original gem yielded 13 separate diamonds, the largest of which retained the name Jonker. This success not only garnered great notoriety for Harry Winston but also allowed Lazare to start his own business focusing on hard-to-cut diamonds. Lazare’s business continues at the top of the industry today.
Over the years, Harry Winston has acquired 60 of the world’s 303 most important diamonds, including the Portuguese Diamond and the legendary Hope Diamond. This number is more than any country or government has acquired, with the exception of the Royal Crown Jewels. Harry loved diamonds so much, it is said he would walk around with a pocket full of million dollar gems. He gained the title “Jeweler to the Stars” when he began bejeweling Hollywood actresses for the Academy Awards. It is a tradition that continues today, with notable red carpet appearances by Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Madonna, Helen Mirren, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, and Natalie Portman.
Today, more than 80 years since the inception of Harry Winston, Inc., the name is synonymous with top quality gemstones and jewelry. The company operates stores around the world, with locations in New York, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Geneva, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and recently a new location in Rome, on Via dei Condotti between Zegna and Ferragamo.
The Rome salon reflects the iconic style of the Harry Winston flagship store on New York City’s 5th avenue. Its muted color palette, antique accents, and private selling rooms create the optimal environment for a luxurious shopping experience.