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Harry Winston and the Hope Diamond's 50th anniversary at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its acquisition of the legendary Hope Diamond in a novel way - letting the public see it in a modern (but temporary) setting. Not only that, until September 7, everyone is invited to cast their vote for one of three possible designs (the link for actual voting doesn't seem to be working but you can see the new designs). They are also planning a documentary "Mystery of the Hope Diamond" for the spring.

The settings were naturally designed by Harry Winston jewelers because the person who donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian was the flamboyant and gemstone obsessed Harry Winston (1896-1978) himself.

He was the third son of Ukrainian immigrants who owned a modest jewelry and repair store in New York. A high school dropout with no formal training in gemology, Harry Winston learned his trade the hard way. In addition he possessed the passion, a keen aesthetic sense, showmanship and an intuitive feel for the gemstones he so loved.

He often told the story of how, at age 12, he bought a 25 cent green stone ring from a pawn shop. After a good cleaning, his astonished father sold the 2 carat emerald for $800 a couple of days later. He grew up to be a wonderful storyteller sharing tales about gemstones, rulers and the celebrities he knew. He said, "I love the diamond business. It's a Cinderella world. It has everything! People! Drama! Romance! Excitement!".

During his career he often purchased estate jewelry from the rich and famous. He successfully outbid his rivals by simply offering more money (usually works) and by appraising much more quickly than they did. His philosophy was simple - "Always buy the stones, never the mounts." He had an uncanny ability to see each gemstone's potential beyond the sometimes outdated or unattractive settings they were in.

One early acquisition was the estate jewelry of Arabella Huntington, the wife of the railroad magnate, Collis P. Huntington. She spent over a million dollars on her famous 60 inch pearl necklace which Harry Winston later divided into pearl necklaces for "at least two dozen women" around the world.

His obsession about collecting as many of the world's legendary diamonds as he could fulfilled his father's prophecy, "Someday your jewels will possess you and master you." They certainly loomed large in his life as his wife discovered. Harry dearly loved Edna who was his confidant and model but diamonds were his mistresses. Edna sighed, " Harry just can't forget a diamond once he's made up his mind he wants it."

Harry Winston' s historic jewel collection was to become the second largest after the British Royal Family's according to Life Magazine in 1952. This list here documents of some of the 60 odd major gemstones which passed through his hands. Pictures of a few of these legendary gemstones can be seen here.


Hope Diamond Smithsonian museum of natural history
Image via Wikipedia

Harry Winston bought the Hope from the estate of heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean. The famous flawless blue diamond originally from India, made him both happy and sad. He was elated to finally own the stone but the last recutting the gemstone endured sometime in the past 200 years made it slightly lopsided. It affected its symmetry and its ability to refract light or sparkle and that bothered him.

Harry said, "A great diamond should live, it should talk to you." I wonder if the gemstone did for he boldly made the decision to slightly recut it at the culet (bottom facet). It was a small change but we're talking about a historic gemstone here! He also never believed in the curse of the Hope diamond - there are a number of gemstones with supposedly bad karma (see my post on the "cursed' Black Orlov). Instead, the Hope brought him fame, customers and plenty of publicity. But ever the showman, he got his PR people to embellish on the curse!

For a number of years, the Hope and his other jewels toured as the Court of Jewels raising a lot of money for charity and indirectly publicity for his store. He also generously lent out the Hope for several years after the Court of Jewels got too expensive to do.

Harry Winston never did sell the Hope. He said, "I could have sold it many times for a profit but I don't know what its value is." There is no other gemstone to compare it to. He decided to donate it to the Smithsonian in 1958 as payback for a country that had been good to him and with a hope that other rich Americans would be inspired to donate their own magnificent jewels. His secret ambition was apparently to make the Smithsonian's then very modest gem collection rival that of Britain's housed in the Tower of London.

Harry had had the Hope insured for $1,000,000 dollars with Lloyd's of London. But other than that, it cost $3.35 to register the Hope package, $2.44 in first class stamps and a surcharge of $139.50 for person-person handling to send this diamond to the Smithsonian by US mail!

My favorite Harry Winston quotation is worth remembering, "People will stare. Make it worth their while." Got it.

Related Posts
Madame de Pompadour's Jewels
Empress Eugenie's Diamond Obsession

References
Marian Fowler :Hope: Adventures of a Diamond
Wikipedia : Harry Winston
Publicity picture of Harry Winston by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Picture source

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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5 comments:

  1. Wow...that is absolutely stunning!

    Don't think I would have shipped the diamond anywhere by US mail...

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  2. That blue gemstone is simply stunning -beyond words. I think the first design (in the vote) was the best, but that's just my option.
    -Stephanie

    ReplyDelete
  3. I actually liked the third design. But then I didn't dislike the historic setting either!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think I like it just the way it is now, it's so stunning!

    ReplyDelete
  5. shifting diamonds and relying on any mail is a risky job, depends how much you love your diamonds
    craiglistadposting

    ReplyDelete

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