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A Harry Winston ring featuring an Asscher-cut 31.04-carat diamond earned $600,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Harry Winston, the once and forever king of diamonds

A Harry Winston ring featuring an Asscher-cut 31.04-carat diamond earned $600,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
A Harry Winston ring featuring an Asscher-cut 31.04-carat diamond earned $600,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — Born in 1896 in New York City, Harry Winston was destined to one day be crowned the “king of diamonds.” His father ran a small jewelry shop and the young Winston soon showed himself to be a quick study. When he was just 12 years old, he spied an emerald being sold as a piece of green glass on a tray of costume jewelry in a pawnshop. To avoid alerting the shop owner, he bought it along with another stone for the grand sum of 50 cents and resold it for $800 a few days later.

In 1920, Winston founded his first company, the Premier Diamond Company, and began attracting the attention of wealthy clients for his knowledge and his ability to find important diamonds and gemstones. He worked hard to build his brand and earn a following. In 1932, he opened Harry Winston, Inc., and began making jewelry under his own name.

“Known throughout the industry and across the globe as the ‘King of Diamonds,’ Mr. Winston built his legacy as the purveyor of the world’s most exceptional jewels,” says a history on the Harry Winston company website. While the firm is well known for watches and fine gemstones, the Winston legacy is synonymous with diamonds. He acquired the Jonker diamond, a 726-carat rough found in South Africa, as well as a 155-carat rough, also from South Africa, which he had cut into a flawless pear-shaped stone of some 62 carats that he dubbed the Winston diamond. His  outsize passion led Cosmopolitan magazine to dub him “king of diamonds” in 1947. If there was any question that he deserved the title, he rendered a firm answer in 1949 when he purchased the Hope Diamond, a 45.52-carat Fancy Dark Grayish-blue Golconda that he ultimately donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

A pair of platinum and diamond Harry Winston earrings realized $1.5 million plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers.
A pair of platinum and diamond Harry Winston earrings realized $1.5 million plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers.

Winston was a superior gemologist and jeweler, blessed with a keen understanding of design and proportion. His massive diamond rings are certainly awe-inspiring to behold, and his most delicate-looking pieces used the barest amount of platinum so as to keep the focus on the stones. The diamonds were always complementary in cut, color and shape and of a fine grade so they would stand out in the simplest of settings. A pair of Harry Winston platinum and diamond earrings proves this point. Featuring round and pear-shaped diamonds, the earrings sold for $1.5 million plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at Bidhaus.

This 9.87-carat pear-shaped Harry Winston diamond ring achieved $240,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers.

This 9.87-carat pear-shaped Harry Winston diamond ring achieved $240,000 plus the buyer’s premium on January 19, 2022. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers.

An undated 9.87-carat pear-shaped diamond ring that brought $240,000 plus the buyer’s premium on January 19, 2022 at Joshua Kodner was likely an engagement ring or anniversary gift when originally purchased. The diamond’s pear cut accentuates its brilliance, ensuring it will continue to shine brightly for many years to come.

When it comes to diamonds, many believe that bigger is better. A diamond and platinum Harry Winston ring from the early 1970s that boasts a 31-carat Asscher-cut stone certainly fits the bill. The ring, having a large and beautiful center stone flanked by tapered diamond baguettes, attained $600,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020 at New Orleans Auction Galleries.

A turquoise and diamond platinum collar necklace, which displays Harry Winston’s peerless ability to pair diamonds with other precious stones, brought $140,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
A turquoise and diamond platinum collar necklace, which displays Harry Winston’s peerless ability to pair diamonds with other precious stones, brought $140,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

While diamonds are dominant in Winston’s jewelry, he masterfully paired them with complementary stones and gems to create one-of-a-kind statement pieces. Exhibit A is a turquoise and diamond platinum necklace that sold for $140,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021 at Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc. The necklace features pear and oval cabochon turquoise set in platinum with diamonds in a variety of cuts from round brilliant to pear and marquise.

A platinum-set Harry Winston sapphire and diamond ring realized $37,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.
A platinum-set Harry Winston sapphire and diamond ring realized $37,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

Sapphires match especially well with diamonds, and Winston effectively married the two in rings, drop earrings, necklaces and bracelets. A breathtaking Winston design, a sapphire and diamond platinum ring, realized $37,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019 at Rago Arts and Auction Center. It featured half-moon faceted diamonds totaling slightly more than three-quarters of a carat, placed around an oval faceted sapphire originating from Sri Lanka and that weighed just above five carats.

It’s been said that one of Winston’s most impressive talents was his ability to see the potential of a diamond just by holding it in his hands. The expression “a diamond in the rough” dates back to 1785 but Winston understood the phrase to an uncanny degree, repeatedly fashioning elegant jewelry from diamond roughs found all over the world.

With a glittering legacy unrivaled in the jewelry world, the name “Harry Winston” will forever be associated with the creme de la creme in diamond design.

Harry Winston