Harry Winston! What? Harry’s not an actor or director and he sure hasn’t written a screenplay. Nope, you’re right, he hasn’t, but what Mr. Winston has done is produce some of the most memorable Academy Awards moments ever. You see, Harry Winston is “jeweler to the stars” and we are all sure to see many of his dazzling works of art during tonight’s telecast.
I have long been a big movie fan, but in recent years I have been disappointed in Hollywood’s lack of imagination, diversity, and creativity. It seems Hollywood has run out of new ideas and it definitely has become way too political. Shut up and act, please. Still, I saw “Argo” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” loved them both, and will be watching Red Carpet arrivals today and into the night. Even though I may not love or admire those involved, I enjoy and appreciate a serious dose of glamour and fashion.
So, instead of today’s blog being on who I want to win the Oscar or who should win the Oscar, I’m writing about those beautiful jewels you’ll see on everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Jennifer Lopez. I’m devoting my blog to Harry Winston and Tiffany and must admit I got the idea watching one of my favorite TV shows today, CBS’s “Sunday Morning.” I adore that show and this morning it included a feature on Harry Winston Jewelers, which I found fascinating.
So, just who is Harry Winston? Actually, Harry Winston died in 1978, but his legend lives on. Winston’s dad started a small jewelry business after he and Harry’s mom moved to the U.S. from Ukraine. Young Harry worked in his dad’s store and supposedly bought a two-carat emerald stone in a pawn shop for 25 cents and sold it two days later for $800. He was well on his way. After acquiring and redesigning many a famous jewel, Winston opened the doors to his now famous New York City Store in 1932. Since then, he has held or owned more of the world’s famous jewels than anyone, with the exception of those of the British crown.
It’s only appropriate that Hollywood was extremely instrumental in creating the Harry Winston legend, as he revolutionized the annual Red Carpet spectacle when he loaned Best Actress winner Jennifer Jones some of his famous stones for the 1943 Oscars. In 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” movie, Marilyn Monroe – decked out in that famous hot pink taffeta dress and dripping in diamonds – sings “Talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it” in her signature song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Halle Barry and Gwynneth Paltrow were both wearing Winstons when they won their Oscars. Literally, and I mean literally, Harry Winston is everywhere, as was demonstrated in 2008, when Lauren Weisberger’s chick-lit book “Chasing Harry Winston” became a bestseller.
Harry Winston is even somewhat connected to the top-grossing and Oscar winning “Titanic.” As you may remember, the “Heart of the Ocean” fictional blue diamond is featured prominently in the film. For the 1998 Academy Awards, Winston incorporated a 15-carat blue diamond into a $20 million necklace worn by nominee Gloria Stuart, who played Rose in the movie.
Two other Hollywood heavyweights, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, also helped put Harry Winston on the movie star map with their Taylor-Burton diamond. Weighing a whopping 241 carats when discovered in South Africa in 1966, the stone was purchased by actor Richard Burton for his wife Elizabeth Taylor in 1969. Winston created a 69.42 pear-shaped necklace out of it, which Taylor wore to the 1970 Oscars. It had been previously purchased by Cartier’s Robert Kenmore for a then record $1,050,000, making it the first ever million-dollar diamond. Burton is said to have purchased it for $1.1 million and following the couple’s infamous divorce, Taylor auctioned it off in 1978 for $5 million and used the proceeds to build a hospital in Botswana. Its estimated value today is unknown…or maybe just incalculable!
Winston is perhaps most famous, however, for the legendary Hope Diamond. The blue, 45.52 carat stone was acquired by Winston in 1949. It was reportedly previously owned by none other than Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. Winston donated it to the Smithsonian Institute – sending it in the U.S. Mail! – and today it is the most visited exhibit at the Washington, D.C. museum.
So that’s Harry Winston. What about his NYC neighbor Tiffany, another star favorite? Tiffany is considered America’s first great jeweler and its flagship Fifth Avenue store is not only a place to buy all things beautiful, but a tourist attraction too.
My daughter at Tiffany on Fifth Avenue
Celebrating its 175th anniversary last year, Tiffany is also closely connected to Hollywood. Who doesn’t associate Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly with the NYC Art Deco building and sought-after jeweler? In fact, the store’s main floor has played a pivotal role in, yes, the 1961 “Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but also 1993’s “Sleepless in Seattle” starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, and Reese Witherspoon’s charming “Sweet Home Alabama” in 2002. But, it wasn’t diamonds or emeralds that put Tiffany on the map, but rather, silver.
Charles Lewis Tiffany and John Young opened a stationery and home goods store in 1837 in New York City. They called it “Tiffany & Co.” and later earned international recognition when they won the grand prize for silver craftsmanship at the 1867 Paris World Fair. It was the first time Americans had done so, resulting in the Tiffany & Co. Silver Studio, America’s first ever school of design.
In 1878 the company acquired one of the world’s largest diamonds and has never looked back. Named the “Tiffany Diamond,” it was originally cut from 287.42 carats into 128.54 carats. While promoting her famous film, Audrey Hepburn wore the priceless gem often. In honor of Tiffany’s 175th anniversary, the diamond was reset and now holds a permanent place of honor on the main floor of the Fifth Avenue store.
Equally famous is the “Tiffany Setting,” considered by many as the standard in engagement rings. Introduced by Tiffany in 1886, it was designed to lift the stone off the band to highlight it in a way the then popular bezel settings did not. Today, it is perhaps the most sought after symbol of love the world over.
Historically, no jeweler ranks above Tiffany. Vanderbilts and Astors wore Tiffany. Abraham Lincoln bought his wife Mary Todd a Tiffany pearl necklace and FDR bought a Tiffany engagement ring in 1904. In addition, ceremonial swords for Civil War generals were commissioned from Tiffany, as was the 1885 redesign of the Great Seal of the United States, which appears on the $1 bill. Congressional Medals of Honor are still today created by Tiffany as is the NFL’s Vince Lombardi Trophy, presented each year to the Super Bowl winning team. Even artist Pablo Picasso’s daughter Paloma is part of it all, currently serving as one of Tiffany’s most celebrated jewelry designers.
And last, but certainly not least, what about that beloved “Tiffany Blue?” The color was originally selected by founder Charles Lewis Tiffany for the cover of the famous annual “Blue Book.” Originally published in 1845, the book was the first ever catalog per se and included the store’s annual collection of silver and gems. Today, every Tiffany purchase comes in a signature blue box and “Tiffany Blue” and “Tiffany Blue Box” are actually trademarked by the company.
So there you have it. A little history on the gems you may see on tonight’s Academy Awards (also trademarked!) ceremony. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes about diamonds: “Should we get you a diamond?” Big asks Carrie Bradshaw, to which Carrie replies, “no, just buy me a really big closet!” Tomorrow, I’ll discuss something right up Carrie’s West Village alley: Oscar fashion. Oh what fun!