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Harry Winston, CEO, Frederic De Narp.Premium

Harry Winston, CEO, Frederic De Narp.
Master touch: Shinde reset the famous Hope Diamond in the 1990s. Photographs by Harry Winston

Established in 1932 in New York and named after its eponymous founder, the Harry Winston brand is synonymous with fine jewellery and has a reputation for masterpieces involving diamonds and gemstones. Among other things, the brand is famous for starting the now commonplace practice of lending celebrities fantastic jewellery that they can wear to red carpet events. Harry Winston, the founder, is supposed to have said once: “People will stare. Make it worth their while."

Ambaji Shinde died in 2003, but before that, in a career that spanned 40 years, he transformed the way the West sees jewellery.

Shinde was born in Mapusa, Goa, in 1917, to a family of modest means. Indeed, years later, as his 2003 obituary in The New York Times (NYT) revealed, Shinde continued to live modestly, do his own housework, and, each day, took the bus from his home in a New York suburb, to the Harry Winston office. And all this even as Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Halle Berry wore his creations to the Oscar Awards.

Winston, a purveyor of treasures to the maharajas himself, first came across Shinde’s work in 1955. According to one profile in NYT published in 2001, to mark Shinde’s retirement, Winston asked a wealthy Indian friend to send him his cook and jeweller. The Indian friend only let his jeweller, Shinde, go.

Unable to take his ill wife along with him, Shinde left her behind with six children and moved first to Switzerland and later, when he finally got a visa, to New York. De Narp said, “While Shinde briefly worked for Mr Winston during the 1950s and 1960s primarily out of the company’s Geneva office, it wasn’t until 1966 that the relationship really formalized into the creative partnership that we think of today,when Shinde was appointed the head jewellery designer for Harry Winston in New York."

What followed, said De Narp,was a gradual revolution in jewellery design, and the establishment of a legacy that continues to inspire Harry Winston designers to this day.

Even today, Harry Winston sells Shinde’s masterpiece design. The website calls it the “Iconic Wreath Necklace and it weighs in at 150.24 carats of diamonds.

De Narp spoke of Shinde’s “ability to examine the world around him, derive new inspirations, and translate this into exceptionally beautiful jewellery designs. In particular, the way in which he was able to blend the ornate, romantic style of his native India, with the elegant simplicity of classic Harry Winston designs."

At the same time, said De Narp, Shinde had an incredible understanding of how each gemstone should be arranged to unlock its maximum brilliance and beauty.

Harry Winston, CEO, Frederic De Narp.

Even today, Harry Winston sells Shinde’s masterpiece design. The website calls it the “Iconic Wreath Necklace" and it weighs in at 150.24 carats of diamonds.

A designer of prolific output, Shinde even held an exhibition of his paintings of jewellery in Tokyo in 1992. But he later told a newspaper that the show only displayed a few of his portfolio of “thousands".

Over the years, Shinde’s work has dressed some of the world’s most glamorous people. From King Farouk of Egypt to the Queen of England. When Gwyneth Paltrow went up to receive her Best Actress Oscar in 1999, she wore a stunning diamond collar necklace, designed by Shinde, valued then at around $175,000.

Harry Winston.

But even in 2011, the CEO of Harry Winston says, Shinde’s art continue to thrive: “A lot of this enduring influence can be seen through our archives, which remain an incredible source of inspiration for our designers today. We are privileged to have more than 100,000 design drawings in our collection, including several works of Shinde.

“These archives not only create an important link to preserve our heritage, but often provide that creative spark that we use to ignite new interpretations of Harry Winston jewels for the next generations. For example, we have recently launched a brand new collection, called Ultimate Adornments by Harry Winston. The 40-piece collection will explore different costumes and adornments from around the world, and has been directly inspired by the archival drawings of Shinde and his incredible sketches of Caftaninspired necklaces."

For decades when he was alive, Shinde was a driving force in international jewellery design. And if collections such as Ultimate Adornments are any indication, this humble genius’ influence will last for decades to come.

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Updated: 01 Dec 2011, 05:31 PM IST
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