Harry Winston’s obsession with diamonds was so great that he carried important stones, some worth millions, in his pockets—just for the pleasure of keeping them nearby. He handled the world’s most legendary diamonds, from the Hope and Lesotho to the Jonker. That tradition continues today under the house’s owner Nayla Hayek, who has proven she has that same passion—and buying power—for the world’s rarest jewels. Today, she unveiled the Winston Pink Legacy, an 18.96 fancy vivid pink diamond ring, on what would have been Mr. Winston’s 125th birthday.
Hayek purchased the stone at a Christie’s auction in November 2018 for a record-breaking $50 million, and made it into a rose-gold and platinum ring with two shield-cut diamonds. Industry experts say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime gem, and now it’s part of the Winston legacy of historic jewels. More than just stones, Winston pioneered the modern diamond dream.
Here, 10 fascinating facts about Harry Winston.
He had an early eye for gems.
At 12, Harry Winston snapped up a green stone from a pawnshop’s tray of junk jewelry for 25 cents. As he suspected, it turned out to be a 2-carat emerald, which he sold the next day for $800 (a huge sum in 1908).
He knew how to wield star power.
When Winston draped actress Jennifer Jones in mega diamonds for the 1943 Academy Awards, he was the first to leverage celebrity status on the red carpet to show off his diamonds.
Winston’s diamonds were famously alluring.
Ann Bancroft was famously draped in Winston diamonds—and sometimes nothing else—when she seduced Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.
He was an animal lover.
Harry Winston’s beloved black cat named Kashmir was featured in the house’s 1940s ads wearing a huge pear-shaped diamond necklace.
Long before supporting the USPS became a national call to action, Winston was quite an advocate.
The jeweler spent millions of dollars on diamonds but only pennies to ship them around the world. In 1935, he sent the legendary Jonker Diamond (726 carats) from London to New York via the U.S. Postal Service for 64 cents, and in 1958 he famously shipped the priceless 45.52-carat Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institute for $145.29. His philosophy: “If you can’t trust the United States mail, who can you trust?”
His only true rival was the House of Windsor.
In 1952, Life magazine reported that after the Royal Court of England, Harry Winston’s collection of jewels was the second largest and most important in the world.
Many could spot his jewelry—but few could recognize the man himself.
Because of an ironclad clause in his business insurance policy that forbade him from showing his face publicly, Harry Winston was only photographed in the shadows or from a distance. Few people saw his face until his portrait appeared in his 1978 New York Times obituary.
The jeweler went to great lengths to be discreet.
A man of many secrets, Winston had a tiny concealed private elevator in his office so he and his VIP clients could discreetly slip in and out without being noticed.
Winston knew diamonds were made for TV.
Winston brought magnificent diamonds into people’s living rooms for the first time when, in 1968, he had the 601-carat Lesotho diamond cleaved on live television. It yielded 18 magnificent stones, including the 40.42 marquise-cut Lesotho III, which Aristotle Onassis gave to Jacqueline Kennedy as an engagement ring.
He was a true romantic.
One December evening in the 1940s, Harry Winston arrived at his Scarsdale home to find the holiday wreath on his door glistening from the snow—and it inspired the house’s famous Winston Cluster design, which highlights the diamond’s sparkle without a trace of visible metal. It remains the house’s signature style.
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