Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Behind the Scenes at Harry Winston

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited on a behind the scenes tour of famed jewelry salon Harry Winston.  The tour was for a small group of young patrons of FIAF (French Institute Alliance Francais), and my friend invited me because of this blog and my love of jewelry.  I was very excited, because I have known about Harry Winston all my life having grown up in the same town where Harry and his wife had an estate.  I am also acquainted with one of Harry's sons and his lovely wife, who was gracious enough to grant me an interview for a magazine article I wrote about champagne coupes.  But, I had never actually been inside the salon, so was eager to see the beautiful jewels up close.  The moment I walked in the door I was beckoned by the sparkle of the world's finest diamonds and I was immediately drawn to a stunning diamond bird pin.  I asked for it to be taken out of the case so I could get a photo.  This was the very pin that Sandra Bullock wore in her hair at the recent Academy Awards.

Diamonds take flight in the form of a beautiful bird
Our group was then taken upstairs to the former office of Mr. Harry Winston himself, where we enjoyed a lovely breakfast before the personable and accessible President & CEO of Harry Winston, Frederic De Narp, gave a talk about the company's history, current status and vision for the future.  Mr. De Narp said that Harry Winston is the "only true American luxury brand" amongst the world's leading jewelers.  He explained that only the finest diamonds of D, E or F grade are used at Harry Winston and that the company that is famous for creating bespoke pieces for maharajahs and dressing Hollywood starlets has been working to make the brand more accessible to a wider audience without losing any of the quality or creativity. 
FIAF member Daniel Colon with Frederic De Narp, Harry Winston's President & CEO
FIAF members enjoying Mr. De Narp's talk from left to right:  Melissa Ceria, Clemence von Mueffling (Young Patron Chairwoman), Lorraine Bollore (Clemence's mother), and Adrien Huet.
(photo courtesy of Michael George)
Also enjoying the intimate gathering were left to right: Sima Familant, Martha Flores Longoria, Coralie Charriol Paul, Dasha Borysov, Paige Malik and Sean Basler the FIAF Membership & Patron Services Manager. www.fiaf.org
(photo courtesy of Michael George)
French croissants and pastries for breakfast
Mr. De Narp also talked about the Hope Diamond, probably the most famous diamond in human history, and how Harry Winston gave it to the Smithsonian so that the general public could enjoy one of nature's most beautiful creations.  At the salon on 56th and Fifth Harry Winston had a hidden safe in his office where he would keep some of the company's most extraordinary jewels to show his best private clients, including famous celebrities. 

 The hidden safe was kept behind these inconspicuous cabinet doors that, last week, served as the backdrop for our coffee service.

After meeting with Mr. De Narp we were guided into the workshops where the Harry Winston jewelers and artists create the stunning pieces that eventually are for sale.  The process behind creating a single piece of jewelry is very complex and painstaking.  From conception to execution there is a team of experts, each contributing his or her unique talent towards the finished piece.  And, there is a committee that must approve each piece, after the sketches are finished, but before the tangible piece is started.  Although most of the designs are sketched with the assistance of computers today, they are no less original and artistic than when the company was founded.
Sketches in the workshop of jewelry that has already been produced.  For security reasons we were not allowed to view the sketches in production.
After a design is approved the jewelers must make the pieces.  In their workshop, which had many more jewelers than I expected, the jewels, mostly brilliant diamonds, are first laid out in black wax before being set in platinum.  Even though this is 2013 and there is modern technology to assist in some aspects of jewelry production, much of the work can only be done by the most skilled human hands.
A necklace in production....the diamonds here are held in place in black wax prior to being set.
Jewelers, truly artisans, hard at work setting the stones
Loose diamonds and their platinum settings
Obviously security is a major issue.  Not only theft of the jewelry, but the theft of the sketches and ideas is a concern.  It was very nice of Harry Winston to allow me to take so many photos for this blog and to open up the workshop to the tour.  What a rare and treasured experience!  Mr. Winston had to worry about security in his day as well.  There are not many photos of him and, apparently, he was told by his insurance company not to be photographed often because of the threat to his security.  One of the only photos of him that the company possesses is hanging in one of the workshops.

Harry Winston
Celebrated the world over Harry Winston jewels famously adorn Hollywood's most beautiful actresses and entertainers.  At the recent Academy Awards Sandra Bullock, Jessica Chastain, Adele and Charlize Theron were amongst the lucky ones.

Clockwise from top left photo montage of Sandra Bullock, Jessica Chastain, Adele & Charlize Theron on the 2013 Academy Awards Red Carpet wearing Harry Winston.
On the way out, after the tour, I just had to get another look at some of the sparkling diamonds for sale and hoped to get a few more photos.  A huge yellow diamond cocktail ring beckoned to me from inside its case and I asked if it could be taken out so I could photograph it.  To my delight I got to wear it and "model" it for my own blog. 
My new best friend....a jaw dropping yellow diamond ring.
A close up...with a price tag of over 3 million dollars this is one of the most expensive jewels I have ever had on my finger and it was simply breathtaking.  The sparkle was almost blinding.  In case anyone is interested my ring finger is size 4 and my birthday is in July ;-)
A final note about diamonds, and gems in general, is that they are cold to the touch.  Ironic, because they are born of the fiery geologic processes inside the Earth.  The necklace I touched in the showroom was ice cold, as if it had been in a refrigerator.  But then you look at the diamonds and there is nothing cold about them; they sparkle like the whitest, most welcoming smile and I found myself drawn to the large stones like a moth to a flame.  Fire and ice, indeed!