Harry Winston's father Jacob started a small jewellery business after he and Harry's mother immigrated to the United States from Ukraine. Harry worked in his father's shop growing up, and Winston's career as a gem trader reputedly began in 1908 when as a twelve year old boy Harry noticed a plain ring with a green stone in a pawnshop window. The pawnbroker believed the stone to be about a quarter of a carat and so sold it for 25 cents.
Harry took the ring to his father, Jacob, who was amazed to see an emerald weighing two carats. Two days later, Harry sold the stone for 800 dollars, and thus began a legendary jewellery empire. He then acquired Arabella Huntington's famous jewellery collection. She was the wife of railroad magnate Henry Huntington, and had amassed one of the world's most prestigious collections of jewellery largely from Parisian jewellers.
When Winston purchased the collection after her death, the designs of the collection were quite old fashioned. Winston redesigned the jewellery into contemporary but also timeless styles and showcased his unique workmanship, these beautiful jewels were snapped up by the society ladies of the time. According to the Huntington museum, "He frequently boasted that Arabella's famous necklace of pearls now adorned the necks of at least two dozen women around the world."
Winston revolutionised jewellery fashion in the 1920's. Rather than the stiff traditional settings used at the time, he made settings from finely woven platinum which were so flexible that they shimmered and flowed in reflection of the wearer's movements, giving the stones a completely new look.
Winston owned many famous jewels throughout his life, the most famous being the Hope Diamond, which he donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. Infact Winston made many important donations to museum collections, including the famous Portuguese Diamond. His company, Harry Winston, Inc., also made many famous sales including a 69 carat diamond which Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor, and some canary diamond earrings sold to the Duchess of Windsor.
Winston was among the most famous jewellers in the world, well-known to the general public. In the 1953 musical film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" includes the spoken interjection "Talk to me, Harry Winston, tell me all about it!" The Lauren Weisberger comic novel Chasing Harry Winston was published in May 2008.
In 2004 the Aber Diamond Corporation, a Canadian firm that owns interest in a diamond mine, purchased controlling interest of Harry Winston, Inc.. The acquisition came after a long legal battle between Mr. Winston's sons, which many analysts feel hindered the company's sound business practices, deprived the company of funds, and made a sale inevitable. You'll find Harry Winston salons in New York, London, Beverly Hills, Paris, Geneva, Tokyo among others.