Harry Winston – Jeweler, Businessman & Philanthropist

Posted: Sun, Oct 18th 2015, 00:25 | Updated: Wed, Jul 26th 2017, 05:50

Harry Winston was not only regarded as one of the most famous American jewelers but also a philanthropist par excellence. He was famously known to have donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958.  

Early Life – Learning Trade from Father
harry winston

Harry Winston was a second generation Ukrainian migrant to have settled in the United States. He was born on March 1, 1896 to Jacob Winston who ran a small workshop and jewelry repair shop in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Jacob Winston had migrated from Ukraine in1890 and the same year opened shop. Harry Winston was born six years later and was from an early age taken under his father’s belt. The family moved to California when Harry was seven after his mother passed way.

Since he started learning all about jewelry from his father at a young age, he developed acumen to recognize precious jewels. One of the most famous stories surrounding Winston’s childhood was when as a 12 year old, he recognized a two-carat emerald in a pawn shop and bought it for 25 cents, only to sell it within two days for $800.  

Harry formally joined his father in 1911 after graduating from high school. Within the next three years, he decided to move back to Manhattan and open a repair shop, which he did in Upper West Side. When he was all of 19, he used his $2000 saving to open the Premier Diamond Company through which he started buying and selling diamonds on the New York Diamond Exchange. His knowledge and sharp sense took the company from the initial $2000 to a company worth $30,000 (in cash and stock) within two years. But that didn’t last long as one of his employees ran away with all of that.

 

Making a New Beginning

Not one to be deterred by the loss, Winston started afresh. This time he diverted his attention towards estate sales. In estate sales, precious jewels could be purchased cheaply simply because the settings were considered old fashioned. After buying such jewels from estate sales, Winston started refashioning them with new settings and selling at huge profits. One of his most famous purchases happened in 1926 when he collected the jewels of Arabella Huntington – a famous jewelry collector and wife of railroad magnate Henry Huntington - for $2 million. At that time, Huntington had some of the world’s most prestigious collections of jewels. Since the jewels were quite old fashioned, he redesigned them into more contemporary styles.

harry winston necklace

By investing in jewelry through estate sales, Winston once again became a wealthy man. In 1930 he made another famous purchase – this time of the Baldwin collection comprising of a 39-carat emerald-cut diamond. 

harry winston ring

harry winston bracelet

harry winston fall necklace

harry winston earrings

 

Establishing the Harry Winston, Inc

Winston established the Harry Winston, Inc in 1932 after closing down the Premier Diamond Company. He continued to show his business acumen in the new business as well. His reputation however increased because of the smart purchases he made. In 1935, he bought a 726-carat Jonker diamond which was recorded as the seventh largest rough diamond for $700,000. In 1972, he made another famous purchase, that of a 970-carat Sierra Leone diamond. In all these instances, he would cut the diamonds and sell them separately – this process fetched him more price than the original.

Harry Winstone watch

harry winston earrings

 

Winston – The Collector

If Winston made a name as a businessman, he became even more famous as a collector. From 1949 to 1953, he ran a traveling exhibit called the “Court of Jewels” which showcased some of his famous and precious collections. The star attraction of the Court of Jewels was the Hope Diamond which Winston had purchased in 1949 from the Evalyn Walsh McLean estate auction. His collection grew with the purchases of Catherine the Great, the Star of the East, the Inquisition Necklace and many more.

harry winston necklace

harry winston earrings

Proving that he was more than just a businessman, Winston donated the Hope Diamond in 1928 to the Smithsonian Institution. This was followed by the donation of the Portuguese Diamond in 1963 and the Oppenheimer in 1964. 

harry winston rings

Harry Winston passed away on 8th December, 1978. He was survived by his wife Edna and two sons, Ronald and Bruce.

REFERENCES

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designer jewelryHarry WinstonHarry Winston – JewelerBusinessman & Philanthropist

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