The Adventurine Posts ‘King of Diamonds’ Reviews Harry Winston’s Many Facets

King of Diamonds: Harry Winston, the Definitive Biography of an American Icon Photo by Andrew Werner

Books & Exhibitions

‘King of Diamonds’ Reviews Harry Winston’s Many Facets

The legendary jeweler’s son, Ronald Winston, has written the definitive bio

by M. J. Rose

December 18, 2023—Hollywood take note! King of Diamonds: Harry Winston, the Definitive Biography of an American Icon could be your next Succession. Written by Harry Winston’s eldest son, Ronald Winston (and co-author William Stadiem), the book is an engaging psychological profile of a man who never stopped reaching for brighter and bigger stars and stones. It reveals details about a competitive family rife with backstabbing, extraordinarily glamorous experiences, almost unimaginable successes as well as failures. Intriguing tales of the diamond trade appear throughout the book. It also gives a voyeuristic look at the particular buying, eating and drinking, habits of the crème de la crème during the mid-20th century.

Memories about Harry Winston from his son make The King of Diamonds very personal in a way that books about key jewelry figures generally are not. Of his father, Ronald Winston writes: “But I was aware, sometimes painfully, of how diamonds were my father’s religion, passion and obsession.”

“Sometimes I would see him sitting in one of his big leather chairs, holding, caressing, massaging a big shimmering, sparkling diamond as if it were something alive. He was totally focused, totally hypnotized and totally absorbed.”

A 1922 image of 26-year-old Harry Winston seated in his first retail office located in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. Photo courtesy

I was as absorbed by the anecdotes throughout the pages as Winston was by diamonds. From buying the Hope Diamond and then donating it to the Smithsonian to creating the Harry Winston Court of Jewels to hiring WASPs to front for him, since he believed being Jewish was a business hindrance, the stories pinpoint the heights and the extremes Harry Winston, the son of an immigrant from Russia, went to in order to succeed.

When Harry Winston travelled the world in search of the diamonds that made him famous, he mixed and mingled with Hollywood stars, royalty and society, as well as some of the most unscrupulous characters in the trade.

A 1943 image of Edna and Harry Winston (with his back to the camera for security reasons) working on advertising in the 51st Street office at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Photo courtesy

How Harry Winston built his company from nothing is thoroughly explored and explained. Winston had a sixth sense for choosing the right stones, and then he made the gems more desirable by telling their stories and making them the most discussed, the most photographed and thereby the most coveted in the world. His expertise and showmanship reeled in larger-than-life clients like John D. Rockefeller Jr., Betsy Bloomindale and Elizabeth Taylor to name just a few.

The escapades of Harry Winston and his wife, Edna, mixing and mingling with the beau monde in the South of France are dazzling. From the descriptions, in my mind’s eye I could see the Mediterranean glittering in the background as Harry gambled with King Farouk and celebrated Hollywood big-wigs, Darryl Zanuck and Jack Warner, till the crack of dawn.

A rare 1976 image showing Harry Winston’s face as he looks at the Star of Independence diamond. Photo courtesy

Winston’s battle with DeBeers, first challenging and then breaking with them is a ruthless, humbling and compelling part of the story. As was Winston’s determination to outsmart Tiffany & Co by selling the gem buyers recut vintage diamonds, despite the company’s policy of exclusively dealing in newly mined diamonds.

The anecdotes of Winston romancing—or not romancing as the case was—Edna, the woman who would become his wife, is equally touching and revealing. Ronald paints a portrait of his mother as a beautiful helpmate to her workaholic husband down to her stuffing diamonds into her brassiere as she and Winston hurried to leave Europe with World War II looming on the horizon.

Both Edna and Harry’s heroism are admirable during the war. Ronald recounts, if a Jewish person came to Winston needing to sell a diamond to raise money to help their family escape from Europe, Winston would always buy the stone regardless of its quality.

Like his father, Ronald Winston was rarely photographed for security reasons. In 1981, he posed with Yasmin Aga Kahn in a cloud of smoke for Town & Country. Photo Town & Country

The 4Cs—color, cut, clarity and carat weight—define a diamond. They also define the man at the heart of King of Diamonds. Ronald Winston gives color and clarity to his father, a man who refused to be photographed lest he put his life and that of his family’s in jeopardy from thieves, a man who eschewed his religion and ignored the shortcomings of his background in order to reach the pinnacle of his profession. It’s what Harry Winston cut out of his life that enabled him to be so single minded in his pursuit of success. And therein lie the tell-tale flaws in the man and his sons that are so poignant. The carat weight of what those decisions cost him and his progeny after his death was as great as any of the magnificent stones Winston purchased.

In the end the King of Diamonds is a glittering, fascinating, educational and heartbreaking story of a man whose many facets changed the way diamonds were thought of, bought, sold and coveted to this day.

M.J. Rose is a New York Times bestselling author; her most recent novel, The Jeweler of Stolen Dreams was chosen as one of the Best Reads of the Month by Town & Country magazine.

Related Stories:

The Musings of a Master Jeweler

Do You Need Another Book on Cartier?

The Tiffany Archives Book Is A Gem