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The Trouble with Harry Winston

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In any case, Ron Winston insists he will be the eventual buyer. He is growing increasingly furious at the course of events, which he equates to the courts' "confiscating my property." "I'm so mad I'm ready to burn my passport and renounce my citizenship and leave," he says. But for now he stays. He previously sought backing from Cartier (which dropped out) and now claims he has fresh financing in place. At one time Bruce had approached Prince Rainier's chief investment counselor, a man he befriended during a brief stint in Monte Carlo, but now he, too, has new partners, whose identity Wohl declines to divulge. Even if Ron does gain full control of the company, Bruce can continue to torment him. Since the brothers co-own the Fifth Avenue building that houses the flagship salon, Ed Wohl suggests that if Ron does win control of the business, Bruce may simply evict the company from its digs in revenge.

Jeweler Bernard Hammerman says the downsizing of Harry Winston is already under way. "I have a letter on my desk with a résumé from a twenty-year Winston employee looking for work," he says. But Ron still acts like a man with big plans. In addition to opening a new store in Osaka, their sixth, he just hired a new marketing director.

New York jewelry-industry experts say Harry Winston's company will survive with or without the heirs in charge. Despite the long family feud and legal liabilities, it remains a valuable gem, the last of the luxury-jewelry companies -- Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, and Cartier among them -- that has not gone mass-market, peddling perfume, scarves, and cheap engagement rings.

Unlike Fifth Avenue peers such as Tiffany and Bulgari, Winston will not advertise itself by throwing parties for New York hipsters. Candace Bushnell does not write its ad copy, and Puffy Combs hasn't, at press time, appeared at Life in the wee hours decorated in Winston diamonds. While he personally shuns the social circuit, Ron Winston has carried on his father's glittery legacy by outfitting celebrities at events such as the Oscar- and Tony-award ceremonies. But the company selects its mascots carefully, favoring people who radiate not just money but social cachet. Its main target market continues to be the very, very rich: foreign millionaires, domestic dowagers, and homegrown grandees. In a bid to avoid less exalted customers, the company recently slashed its media budget by 20 percent and restricted its marketing efforts to select high-income subscribers to upscale magazines like Town and Country.

Winston also remains a ubiquitous presence on the philanthropy circuit. Last fall, its baubles decorated the necks, wrists, and fingers of the ladies on the board of directors of the tony International Fine Arts and Antique Dealers' Show. Dripping in donated Winston gems, socialites like Karen LeFrak and Mai Hallingby worked the receiving line at the Seventh Regiment Armory. Nan Kempner was so enchanted by one sparkly necklace that she removed it from the neck of a Winston employee and wore it for the evening.


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