When making decisions that concern Harry Winston—such as whether to approve the purchase of a multimillion-dollar diamond—the Swatch Group’s chairwoman, Nayla Hayek, considers what the jewelry house’s founder would have done.
In the spring of 2013, shortly after her company acquired the Harry Winston jewelry house (for about $1 billion), the Swatch Group’s chairwoman, Nayla Hayek, learned that Christie’s Geneva branch was going to auction a 101.73-carat D flawless diamond. Hayek contacted the auction house and arranged a private viewing of the stone prior to the sale. “When I held it in my hand, I can’t explain why, but I knew this was the one to have,” says Hayek. She did gain possession of the stone for Harry Winston, but only after winning a bidding war that escalated the price to $26.7 million. She christened it the Winston Legacy.
“It was truly one of the most perfect diamonds ever offered for sale,” says Rahul Kadakia, international head of jewelry for Christie’s. “It showed the world how Nayla Hayek was going to continue the tradition of buying and selling only the very best, like Mr. Winston did.”
A year later, in May 2014, Hayek authorized the payment of nearly $24 million for a 13.22-carat flawless fancy vivid blue diamond at another Christie’s sale. The winning bid established a price-per-carat auction record. Dubbed the Winston Blue, the stone is considered the largest blue diamond of its quality and cut.
When approving acquisitions such as these, Hayek says, she often asks herself, Would Harry Winston buy this for his clients? “It’s still his name on the door, and we have to keep the same standards,” she says. Winston, who established his namesake business in 1932 and died in 1978 at the age of 82, became known as the King of Diamonds because of acquisitions that included the Hope Diamond (which he later donated to the Smithsonian), the Lesotho diamonds, and the Taylor–Burton Diamond.
Hayek says it was Winston’s storied career that motivated her to buy the company. Also, with his pioneering style, Winston reminded Hayek of her father, the late Nicolas Hayek, the entrepreneur who built the multibillion-dollar Swatch Group. The company is the world’s largest producer of watches, and its holdings include such prestigious brands as Breguet and Blancpain.
Harry Winston is the Swatch Group’s first and only jewelry brand. Hayek likens the Harry Winston acquisition to the company’s purchase of Breguet, saying that both represent the top in their field and have considerable historical significance. “When we bought Breguet, it was a little forgotten,” she says, “and we helped preserve its history and tell its story.” She is doing the same with Harry Winston. Among her first initiatives following the acquisition of the brand was to recover, restore, and preserve its archives, which were haphazardly stored in the jeweler’s New York offices. She also notes that on the day she signed the papers to complete the purchase, she met with Maurice Galli, the last Harry Winston designer to have worked directly for the company’s founder. “Mr. Galli is very important to us,” Hayek says, “and we are happy to have his experience and vision to carry on the story.”
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