Amer­i­can Beau­ties

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

Harry Win­ston is re­spon­si­ble for a sig­nif­i­cant amount of Hol­ly­wood’s sparkle, hav­ing lent and sold mil­lions of dol­lars worth of di­a­monds to celebri­ties to help them shine on the red car­pet and the sil­ver screen. But he came from less glam­orous be­gin­nings, born in New York to poor im­mi­grants from Ukraine. With no for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, he worked in his fa­ther’s jew­ellery shop and even­tu­ally es­tab­lished his own.

Win­ston be­gan mak­ing a name for him­self in 1926 when he ac­quired the fa­mous jew­ellery col­lec­tion of Ara­bella Hunt­ing­ton, wife of US rail­way mag­nate Henry Hunt­ing­ton. He is the sub­ject of many colour­ful sto­ries, in­clud­ing the tale of how he and his wife, Edna, saved mil­lions of dol­lars worth of di­a­monds from the Nazis when they were in the south of France—edna hid them in her gir­dle.

In 1935, Win­ston pur­chased his first im­por­tant stone, the Jonker, a 726-carat un­cut rough di­a­mond. Five years later, in­spired by the ge­om­e­try of na­ture, Win­ston and his de­sign­ers pi­o­neered the tech­nique the com­pany is most fa­mous for—clus­ter­ing, in which metal set­tings are min­imised and the bril­liance of each di­a­mond is max­imised. In 1949, Win­ston ac­quired the jew­ellery col­lec­tion of Amer­i­can so­cialite Eva­lyn Walsh Mclean, which in­cluded the 84.8-carat Star of the East and the Hope Di­a­mond.

Win­ston built a thriv­ing com­pany over 40 years, op­er­at­ing from a work­shop above his store on New York’s Fifth Av­enue, a cor­ner build­ing that re­mains the flag­ship store to­day. He was also known for his phil­an­thropic work, and in 1958 do­nated his most fa­mous gem, the Hope Di­a­mond, to the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton, where it has since been seen by more than 100 mil­lion vis­i­tors.

Af­ter he died in 1978, el­der son Ron took over the com­pany, with younger son Bruce to share equally in its pro­ceeds, but the broth­ers fell out af­ter a decade. Years of wran­gling ended with the con­trol­ling in­ter­est be­ing bought in 2004 by Aber Di­a­mond Cor­po­ra­tion, fol­lowed in 2013 by the Swatch Group’s US$1 bil­lion takeover.

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