The Story of... Hollywood's favourite King of Diamonds

One of his items is auctioning at Christie's today with a $2m estimate, and he's capable of outshining even 'jeweller to the stars' Joel Rosenthal, aka JAR. But who exactly was Harry Winston, the man who even today is still namedropped in so many Hollywood celebrity interviews?

Thirty-two years after his death on December 28, 1978, two of his items - a 1962 16½ inches necklace weighing 152.35 carats and a Type 11a diamond adored ring - are appearing today estimated at $1.2m and $2m dollars respectively at Christie's New York.

Values like this would have been impossible to imagine for Winston's father, yet jewellery became a firm family tradition after they moved from the Ukraine to the United States. Winston Snr set up a small jewellery shop in America, which his son worked in while growing up.

It was there that young Harry Winston established the first piece of his legend. It is said that Harry, aged just 12, recognised a two-carat emerald in a pawn shop. The enterprising pre-adolescent bought it for 25 cents... And sold it two days later for $800.

Harry Winston: the successful collector and investor was born, and rose to global prominence with his acquisition of Arabella Huntington's famous jewelry collection. Huntington was married into the Huntingdon family of prominent railway tycoons, and was herself also a renowned art and jewellery collector.


Winston now owned one of the world's most prestigious collections of jewellery, largely comprising Parisian jewellers like Cartier. But his clearly wasn't enough... Noticing that the designs of many of the items were old fashioned, Harry set about redesigning them into more contemporary styles.

Here, Winston not only showcased his jewellery crafting skills, but his inner entrepreneur also re-emerged. He would frequently boast that Huntingdon's famous necklace of pearls had since adorned the necks of at least two dozen women around the world, according to the Huntingdon museum.

It was also likely that these women were most likely among the most famous in the world. Googling Harry Winston's name today reveals a wealth of celebrity interviews in which his luxurious brand name is mentioned. Yet, back in the 1950s, Winston was name checked by one of the all-time greats...

Pay close attention to the song Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend - most famously preformed by screen legend Marilyn Monroe in 1953's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - and you'll hear the spoken line: "Talk to me, Harry Winston, tell me all about it!"

No wonder, then, that today's female Hollywood stars - eager to emulate Monroe's glamour - mention Harry Winston so frequently. That's certainly one reason; the other being that his jewellery remains among the best in the world.

The near-mythical Hope Diamond,
donated to the Smithsonian by
Harry Winston in 1958

Take the diamond ring auctioning at Christie's New York, today... It's set with a pear-shaped diamond weighing approximately 17.86 carats, flanked on either side by modified triangular-cut diamonds weighing approximately 1.64 and 1.63 carats.

These are mounted in platinum, and contained in a Harry Winston black suede box. What's more, the pear-shaped diamond has been determined to be a Type IIa - the most chemically-pure type of diamond, often with exceptional optical transparency.

Unsurprisingly, the ring is the predicted top lot in Christie's sale, estimated at $1.5m-2m. And you can bet that no modern designer would dare to attempt to upgrade it to a more 'contemporary style'...

Although this isn't the greatest trinket to be touched with Harry Winston's magic.

That would be the near-mythical Hope Diamond, first-owned by Henry Philip Hope before 1839 and believed to be cursed thanks to the history of misfortune surrounding it.

After acquiring the diamond and exhibiting it in his Court of Jewels which toured the United States, Winston had the Hope Diamond's bottom facet re-cut to emphasise its already-considerable brilliance.

In the end, Winston was persuaded by mineralogist George Switzer to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. He did so on November 10, 1958, and it remains there to this day - with an estimated value of $200m-250m.

Winston himself never fell victim to any 'curse' surrounding the diamond - nor believed in one. Remarkably, he even sent the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian via US mail in a plain brown paper bag. It thereafter became Specimen #217868.

While onlookers today still marvel at the Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian, and with more treasures from this collection set to bring millions at auction as you read this, Harry Winston's legacy as The King of Diamonds will endure for many years to come.




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