The name "Harry Winston" is synonymous with the most luxurious and exclusive jewelry. There is scarcely a red carpet walked by the glitterati that does not include “jewels by Harry Winston.” If you are wanting to add this luxurious designer to your vintage collection, you have come to the right place. Here you will learn all you need to know about vintage Harry Winston jewelry.
Brief History of Harry Winston Jewelry
Harry Winston’s parents emigrated from Ukraine in 1890, and his father opened a small jewelry repair shop in Manhattan. Harry was born six years later, and he learned about jewelry at his father’s knee—literally. Harry’s mother died when he was seven, and the family moved to California and opened a shop in Hollywood. Legend has it that 12-year-old Harry bought a ring from a junk tray in a pawnshop for 25 cents. He recognized that the stone was a two-carat emerald and sold it two days later for $800.
After Harry graduated high school in 1914, the family moved back to Manhattan. When he was 19, Harry used $2,000 of his savings to open the Premier Diamond Company for buying and selling on the New York Diamond Exchange. He was very well regarded for such a young man, and in only two years, his company had assets of $30,000 in cash and stocks, all of which were stolen by an employee.
Undeterred, Harry began purchasing jewelry from estate sales, mostly precious gems that were in out-of-date settings. He set the stones (sometimes re-cut them) in new, cutting edge settings and sold them for a huge profit. As he became more successful (and wealthier), he bought collections of jewelry for millions of dollars. In 1930, he gained national fame when one of his collections included a 39-carat emerald-cut diamond.
In 1932, Harry closed Premier Diamond Company and opened Harry Winston, Inc. He wanted to design, manufacture and sell his own jewelry. His approach was unconventional; he allowed the gemstones to determine the design. He preferred exquisite, minimalist, timeless settings. Harry Winston, Inc. was one of the most prestigious jewelry companies in the world with some of the most beautiful gems, settings and finished pieces. He was given credit for keeping the New York Diamond industry afloat during the Depression.
Harry was also a pioneer in using platinum to have the diamonds to appear as if they are floating in their settings. He was adamant that nothing should detract from a diamond's natural brilliance and invented the iconic split-prong setting.
In addition to being a designer and merchant, Harry became a collector. Among his collection is the famous Hope Diamond; Catherine the Great’s 337-carat sapphire; and the Star of the East, a 94-carat sapphire.
He died in 1978, and his wife Edna took control of the company. She died eight years later, and the company was then left to their sons, Ronald and Bruce, who fought bitterly over the company for many years. The whole story of the brothers would rival the drama, intrigue, duplicity and downright craziness seen on Dallas or Dynasty in their heyday. Bottom line, in 2000, Ronald and his new partner, Fenway Partners, bought out Bruce for $54 million.
In 2013, the Swiss Swatch Group bought Harry Winston, Inc., and Nayla Hayek, daughter of the late founder of the Swatch Group, is now CEO.
Harry Winston Jewelry Designers
- Harry Winston, of course
- Maurice Galli, the head jeweler at Harry Winston, Inc. who famously reset the Hope Diamond. He also designed for other prestigious jewelers, including Van Cleef and Arpel and Tiffany & Co., where he designed pieces for the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Leona Helmsley. He later taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology, so he could share his talents and techniques with the jewelry designers of the future.
- Nevdon Koumriya, head designer who was also an engraver and carpenter, and the scourge of poor Ambaji Shinde.
- Ambaji Shinde was head of the Design Studio for many years, and Harry considered him the house’s most precious treasure. Harry hired Ambaji in Bombay in 1959 and brought him to New York to work under the above-mentioned Nevdon. Nevdon disliked Ambaji and was relentless in tormenting him, so much so that Ambaji had a nervous breakdown in 1961 and returned to India.
- In 1966, Nevdon was gravely ill, and he told Harry to hire Ambaji to replace him.
- One of Ambaji’s first important works was the Taylor-Burton diamond that Richard gifted to Elizabeth. He also worked with Harry in developing the “disappearing” platinum setting and the iconic cluster setting. Today, 100,000 sketches of his original designs inspire young designers.
- "Harry Winston"
It seems as though “materials” does not quite express the wondrous precious gems that Harry used to create his exquisite jewelry. He used gold and platinum, but he was mostly about the gems, so finally concentrated on platinum because it allowed the gem to take center stage.
Some of the most precious gems that Harry used as raw material:
- The Jonker, a 726-carat uncut rough diamond that he cut into 12 individual stones, the largest being a 125.35-carat emerald-cut diamond.
- The Vargas diamond, 726.60 carats, was cut into several gems, the largest a 48.26 emerald cut sold in 1944. Harry later bought it back and recut it into a flawless 44.17 carats.
- The Taylor-Burton diamond was cut into a flawless 69.42-carat pear-shaped diamond from a 241-carat piece of rough. Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
- The Lesotho diamond, 601 carats, produced 18 magnificent gems, including a 71.73-carat emerald-cut diamond and a 40.42-carat marquise-cut diamond purchased by Aristotle Onassis as an engagement ring for Jacqueline Kennedy.
- The Sierra Leone diamond, 970 carats, was cut into 17 gems, the largest 143 carats, and that one was later cut into six stones.
- The Star of Independence cut from a 204-carat piece of rough into a 75.52-carat flawless pear-shaped diamond in honor of the American Bicentennial.
Most Collectible Vintage Harry Winston Jewelry
Any of Harry Winston's jewels will be highly collectible and hold their value for years to come.
Some of his most famous collections include:
- Sparkling Cluster
- Art Deco
Here are some examples of Harry Winston jewelry available online.
- Lapis Lazuli, Gold, 18k Gold, Ruby, Diamond Earrings - Created c. 1960: Two rubies (1.16 TCW), 1-carat of diamonds, lapis lazuli slightly discolored.
- Diamond Heart Pendant, 18K Yellow Gold - Created in 1980 with 29 round brilliant-cut diamonds.
- "Two Peas in a Pod" Diamond 18K Gold Platinum Necklace - The pendant is 18K white gold with a satin finish. The pod has two diamond-encrust peas, 1 carat total weight.
- Platinum Diamond Lily Cluster Ring - A platinum lily motif with a marquise diamond and 55 round brilliant-cut diamonds—TCW .44.
How to Identify Vintage Harry Winston Jewelry
There are many online retailers who are passing off fakes as the real thing. Here are a few things you can do to avoid being duped.
- Examine the quality. Poor quality can be obvious even to the untrained eye. Harry Winston jewelry has been made by some of the finest craftsmen in the world with the highest quality metals and gems.
- Look at the edges of the metal, particularly where it comes in contact with the skin. If the metal is discolored and exposes another color underneath, the piece is a fake.
- For watches, examine the edges where pieces connect. If you see adhesive, it is very likely a fake.
- Examine the seller. Make sure you look at reviews. If there are none, it is a bad sign.
- Examine the website. Check the URL. A counterfeiter often will have a URL that is similar to legitimate sites. Also check “About Us” page to see that there are the names of the vendors, a real address and a legitimate phone number.
- If the vendor is in Asia, tread carefully. Most fakes originate in China.
Where to Buy Vintage Harry Winston Jewery
- There is a selection of Harry Winston Jewelry on eBay.
- Other good online shops include 1stdibs and Fashionpile.
- Harry Winston, Inc. has an Estate Department that repurchases pieces from estate sales. For an astonishing sampling of vintage Harry Winston, go to www.harrywinston.com/en/vintage-jewelry.
- See the Harry Winston pages on Etsy for some interesting items.
Do you own any Harry Winston jewerly? If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to help you out!
Happy Vintage Hunting!