Like his father and grandfather before him, Ronald Winston began his life in the jewelry trade, something reflected in the fact that, aged nearly 70, he was still personally approving the cuts and designs of every piece of jewelry created in the famous Fifth Avenue workshop and salon opened by his father in 1960. With a lifelong apprenticeship at the feet of the world’s single most famous jeweler, he could hardly have ended up doing anything else.
Nonetheless, Mr. Winston varied career and hobbies have always shown an inclination to escape the relatively narrow world of diamonds, earning him a reputation as something of a Renaissance man. Rather than going straight into his father’s business, he studied chemistry at Harvard, graduating in 1963, before moving on to NYU to study rocket propulsion. Finally, he settled down into a role at his father’s famous company, but maintained a side interest in poetry (which he writes, as well as reads), Zen philosophy, and all things Japanese: He speaks the language and spends much of his free time cultivating a traditional Japanese-style garden. He also once came close to making the American Men’s 100m Sprint Olympic Team.
Inevitably, though, he will always be most associated with the company that still bear his surname. He remains honorary chairman of the board of Harry Winston, Inc., and it’s clear that the ‘honor’ here was bestowed not simply out of deference to his lineage but also because his time leading the business led to a massive expansion which enhanced the reputation of the company while also widening its audience.
First, the exclusive ‘salons’ – just two in the world during most of his father’s life – were expanded far beyond that number, with new stores opening in Asia (starting with Tokyo, Japan) and Europe (new salons in London, England and Paris, France, as well as a Swiss workshop in Geneva, which manufactured the first Harry Winston timepieces in the world capital of watch-making). In addition, he oversaw the opening of new stores in some of America’s other major cities. For the first time, Harry Winston’s diamonds were available for purchase by eager fans without having to get on a plane to New York City.
While his father was strictly a jewelry man, Ronald Winston recognized the potential market for other diamond-encrusted items. The first Harry Winston watches went on sale in 1989. Nonetheless, Mr. Winston remained cautious about cheapening the name of the brand by moving into other items like handbags and perfume.
Having finally retired as an active chairman, Mr. Winston has gone back to his earlier love: Science. Showing the same curiosity for the intricacies of biology as his father did for the intricacies of diamonds and jewelry, Ronald has gone on to become President of the Institute of Human Genetics and Biochemistry. The Institute has made great strides in the understanding of how antibodies react to certain proteins, contributing to a greater understanding of immunodeficiency disorders including HIV-1.
Throughout his long career, Mr. Winston has shown he possesses the kind of steady hand that you need to cut a diamond. His ability to go from a laser-like focus on the minutiae of how a company is run to a broader understanding of the world around him makes him a unique figure in the world of business.