Collecting guide: Harry Winston jewellery

We examine the glittering legacy of Harry Winston, the New York jeweller dubbed the ‘King of Diamonds’ — illustrated with lots offered at Christie’s


American jeweller Harry Winston (1896-1978) founded Harry Winston Inc. in 1932 in New York City. Over the course of his dazzling career, Winston handled some of the world’s most famous diamonds, coloured gemstones and pieces of fine jewellery, earning himself a reputation as the ‘King of Diamonds’.

The magnificent Harry Winston ‘Briolette of India’ diamond and diamond necklace. Size/dimensions: 46.5 cm (excluding extensions); 17.0 cm (extensions). Sold for CHF6,337,000 on 10 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

From the 1950s through to the 1970s, his boutiques were the destination of choice for royalty, Hollywood stars and business moguls alike. Acknowledged as a visionary in the field for his pursuit of excellence, Harry Winston’s combination of passion, discretion, intuition and knowledge was greatly appreciated by his high-profile and discerning clientele.

Jeweller to the stars

Harry Winston started dressing celebrities as early as 1935, the year in which he purchased a 726-carat diamond called the Jonker. Winston took the rough gem on a tour of the USA and had it photographed with famous actresses, including Claudette Colbert and Shirley Temple. The Jonker was subsequently cut into 13 very important stones, numbered I to XIII. The Jonker V was sold at Christie’s in Geneva in 2019 for CHF 3,015,000.

An exceptional Harry Winston diamond bracelet/tiara. Size/dimensions: bracelet 20.0 cm; tiara inner circumference 44.0 cm. Sold for CHF3,191,000 on 10 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Winston was the first jeweller to dress a celebrity for an Academy Awards show. In 1944 he loaned diamond jewellery to Jennifer Jones, who had been nominated for her role in The Song of Bernadette. Harry Winston jewellery has graced the red carpet ever since. 

In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe sang Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, which includes the lyric: ‘Talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it.’

A magnificent Harry Winston coloured diamond and diamond necklace. Size/dimensions: inner circumference 43.5 cm. Sold for CHF1,618,000 on 10 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

The Court of Jewels tour (1949-1953)

Winston acquired many notable gemstones, but perhaps the most recognisable was the Hope Diamond, the largest-known deep blue diamond in the world. Winston bought the jewel, which weighed 45.52 carats, in 1949 from the estate of the socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.

From 1949 to 1953, Winston toured the gem around the United States as part of his Court of Jewels  exhibition, with proceeds benefitting charitable organisations. The tour was a defining moment for the jewellery industry, with Harry Winston presenting famous jewels as an art collection, telling the story of their historic provenance. In 1958 Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., where it remains today.

A number of the exceptional gems and jewels from the Court of Jewels  tour are now considered historic pieces, with a majority entering important private collections or museums. These include the Indore Pears, which Harry Winston bought from the Maharajah of Indore; they were sold at Christie’s in November 1987 for $2.7 million.

Cluster design

The concept of ‘clustering’, now regarded as Harry Winston’s signature technique, was formulated in the 1940s. It involved setting pear-shaped and marquise-cut diamonds with minimal metal and at varying angles, an idea that revolutionised jewellery design and resulted in the creation of pieces of remarkable brilliance.

A pair of Harry Winston natural pearl and diamond earrings. Size/dimensions: 5.0 cm. Sold for CHF541,800 on 10 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

A pair of Harry Winston emerald and diamond earrings. Size/dimensions: 5.2 cm. Sold for CHF289,800 on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

One of the most iconic and sought-after Harry Winston ‘cluster’ designs is the Wreath necklace, inspired by a holly wreath the jeweller had hung on his front door. In a Wreath necklace, the diamonds are held in place by very fine prong settings so that they almost appear to float. Among the famous names known to have owned a Wreath necklace is the socialite Betsy Bloomingdale. Her necklace, made in 1961, was the pièce de résistance of her collection.

The ‘cluster’ remains a trademark of the firm and a sign of the finest quality of setting, which only a true Harry Winston jewel can possess.

An enduring legacy

Nayla Hayek, the CEO of Harry Winston, has continued the jeweller’s legacy, adding one-of-a-kind diamonds to the Winston collection.

An exceptional Harry Winston diamond ring. Sold for CHF1,799,500 on 10 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Brilliant examples include the Winston Blue, an exceptional 13.22-carat flawless vivid blue diamond; the Winston Pink Legacy, an extraordinary 18.96-carat fancy vivid pink diamond, which was once in the collection of the Oppenheimer family; and the Winston Legacy, a formidable 101.73 carat D flawless pear-shaped diamond.

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