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The Trouble with Harry Winston


Westchester County Assistant District Attorney Gerald W. Connolly determined that the elements for a charge of criminally negligent homicide were not established, and Bruce was charged only with speeding. Bruce's insurance policy eventually paid out $1 million to cover the Fisher family's loss.

Although he believes his brother's vendetta is motivated more by emotion than by money, Ron wonders whether the accident may have precipitated the battle. In interviews, he insinuates that Bruce, who ran up giant legal fees in the aftermath of the accident, soon found himself short of cash and decided to hit up his brother. Ed Wohl vehemently denies the accident had anything to do with the filing of the lawsuit. In any case, Bruce never stopped driving and has continued to rack up moving violations. For a while, he held a Pennsylvania license, which he traded in three years ago for a New York license. Since then, he's received two more speeding tickets and has enrolled in an accident-prevention course.

"He just likes to drive fast," Wohl explains with a shrug. He denies that Bruce had ever had his license suspended, though. Why, then, did he need a Pennsylvania license although he lived in New York?

Wohl calls and dutifully reads me another statement from his client. "Bruce says he got a Pennsylvania license because his brother always had a second, Massachusetts, license, in case he got too many tickets. He just wanted to do what his brother did. Oh," Wohl adds, upping the ante yet again, "Bruce wants you to ask Ron about the time he almost got kicked out of Harvard for using drugs and his dad had to bail him out."

Ron laughs when told of his brother's latest accusation. "Yes, I knew Tim Leary. I experimented with LSD as an outgrowth of my chemistry studies," he says. "Tim got in trouble at Harvard because he was going beyond conventional scientific experimentation, into something else. I don't recall my father having to get involved, but he was very nervous about it."

Ron says he is proud of his connection to the acid guru and that he visited Leary on his deathbed in 1996. In the sixties, he says, he even wrote a very personal novel about his acid experiences called Re-Entry, which he sold to Random House but never saw published: "I bought it back. I decided it just wasn't good enough to publish."

He yearns for the simpler days when he was a scientist. "But I can't go back to being a chemist. I am a jeweler," Ron says, looking back wistfully. "You know, there is an ancient connection. The alchemists were trying to make gold. I just like diamonds. Diamonds to me are tangible stars. It is natural for living creatures to be drawn to light and scintillation. You know, even termites are fascinated with crystals. They carry them up from deep in the earth and collect them in their nests. No one really knows why."

Last week, Credit Suisse notified potential buyers about their viability. Ron Winston made the cut. There are also rumored to be a half-dozen other bidders left in the mix, Bruce and his backers among them. An Arab jeweler, an Asian firm, and a Minnesota-based outfit called TomKat, Inc., have also expressed interest in buying the company, although the Asian firm has since gone bankrupt. Other, more confidential investors are lurking as well. Because Ron controls the flow of information and doesn't want to sell the company, interested buyers face a hostile-takeover situation. But the company's actual value remains unclear. In 1978, at the time of Harry Winston's death, court documents said the company was worth $150 million. In 1995, court appraisers valued it at $50 million. But the numbers may be meaningless. Because the company's value is constructed around both inventory and common and preferred stock, and because Ron Winston has been intensely protective of his books, Winston could be worth far more -- or far less -- than estimated.

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