Aber Diamond Corp., the mining company that owns Harry Winston Inc., will rename itself Harry Winston Diamond Corp. starting today with the new symbol on the New York Stock Exchange of HWD. The company previously traded on Nasdaq under the ABER symbol.
The renaming of Aber has more significance than simply a new stock exchange symbol, however. The firm has a 40 percent interest in the Diavik Diamond Mine in Lac de Gras in Canada's Northwest Territories. The mine produces 10 percent of the world's diamonds — 9 million to 10 million carats a year — which it sells to Winston and other suppliers. With the new company name, every diamond that comes out of Diavik will be labeled a "Harry Winston" diamond, conjuring images of the jewelry retailer's past, such as the stellar Taylor-Burton diamond, the Hope diamond and the house that outfitted Gwyneth Paltrow in diamonds for her Oscar win in 1999.
"It was Harry Winston's dream to own a mine," said Thomas J. O'Neill, president of HWD and chief executive officer of Harry Winston Inc.
The move to change the company name comes slightly more than a year after Harry Winston chairman Ronald Winston, 66, sold off his share of the company for $157 million. Aber acquired a 51 percent controlling stake in Winston in April 2004 for $85 million from Ronald, son of the late Harry Winston, and Fenway Partners, a Manhattan-based private equity firm. In the Nineties, Ronald and his brother Bruce feuded in courts over control of the company. But now that the family feud is out of the way, the company is continuing with an aggressive expansion strategy.
"We're in a growth mode; we've been in a growth mode without even expanding for four years," said O'Neill, who joined Winston in 2004 after being president of Burberry.
At different periods during his career, O'Neill presided over LVMH's jewelry division, Louis Vuitton Americas and Marc Jacobs and was vice president of Tiffany & Co. But after one look at how he handles a loop and the enthusiasm with which he greets the bench workers by name in the workshop above the brand's Fifth Avenue flagship, it's clear diamonds are where his affection lies.