“Talk to me, Harry Winston. Tell me all about it,” Marilyn Monroe purred in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the song in the 1953 movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” that named one of New York’s pre-eminent jewelers.
Now his son Ronald is telling all about it, too, in a new book describing his father’s rise in the jewelry business and the lengthy legal battle over the company with his brother, Bruce, that followed his father’s death in 1978. (The company has been owned by the Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch Group since 2013.)
The book’s title, “King of Diamonds: Harry Winston, the Definitive Biography of an American Icon,” tapped the “King of Diamonds” description that Cosmopolitan magazine used in 1947 and that stuck with the jeweler throughout his life.
Ronald Winston, 82, said he wrote the book with William Stadiem, a longtime friend, because he realized he “was the only person in the world that knew the real story, and when I disappear there won’t be a story.” Skyhorse Publishing is scheduled to release the biography on Sept. 19 in the United States and on Nov. 23 in Europe and Britain.
Mr. Winston said he began organizing material for the book about 20 years ago, work that included transcribing some recorded interviews with his father that he did in 1978. He began to write in 2008, giving himself time “to get a picture of my father right,” he said.
“He was a very kind person, always helping people out,” he said of his father. For example, the book describes how Harry Winston sponsored Claude Arpels, one of the heirs to Van Cleef & Arpels, “in fleeing France and getting into America” during World War II.
Harry Winston was born as Harry Weinstein in 1896 in New York City. He changed his name to Winston in 1920 and opened his eponymous business in 1932. He is known as one of the first jewelers to recognize the power of the red carpet, lending diamonds to Jennifer Jones for the 1944 Oscars, where she won the best actress award for “The Song of Bernadette.”
But perhaps the most famous story about the jeweler was his donation of the 45.5-carat Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958 — and that he sent it by U.S. registered mail.
Ronald Winston, who joined his father’s company as an apprentice in 1966, became its chairman and chief executive in 1978 and left in 2007.
His father remained a big influence throughout his career. “My dad was very diplomatic and I think I learned that from him,” he said. “Well, I watched him handling clients and he was actually a master at that,” as “he was naturally insightful into the nature of people, their vanities and profanities.”