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NEW YORK — Ambaji Shinde, Harry Winston’s principal jewelry designer whose creative eye shaped the Winston aesthetic for 40 years, died on Tuesday of complications from diabetes. He was 85.
Born in Goa, India, Shinde studied textiles and fine art at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai before joining Mumbai-based Nanubhai Jewelers in 1937. His elaborate designs, often inspired by the great temples of India, quickly caught the attention of India’s elite, and he was asked to design pieces for the maharajahs of Porbandar, Dhar and Baroda, for whom he designed the crown jewels. When India’s independence was proclaimed in 1947, the work from maharajahs stopped coming in, and Harry Winston, the jeweler’s late founder, recruited Shinde after coming across his elaborate work on one of his regular gem-buying trips.
Shinde left behind his wife and six children and followed Winston to New York, where he quickly developed a fondness for the size and quality of the stones that famously frequented the salon.
“Mr. Shinde was one of the great jewel designers of the 20th century and one of the moving spirits of the company,” said Ronald Winston, chairman and managing director at Harry Winston. “Not only did he have an extraordinary talent to translate ideas into images, but he could do it in real time in front of the client. He could create spontaneously and impeccably, which is a rare talent.”
His jewelry designs have graced such celebrities as Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Madonna, Marcia Gay Harden, Halle Berry and Mira Sorvino. In 1997, he designed the princess necklace Gwyneth Paltrow wore when she won the Academy Award for “Shakespeare in Love.”
Company executives fondly remember the way Shinde created designs. He would first draw a detailed sketch, then create a painting of the jewel, which was so artistic that many are still displayed throughout the company today.
“He had an unbelievable capacity to make his paintings of jewels look real, as if they had been photographed and not painted,” said Winston. “I have known very few people who could do that.”
Shinde retired from the Fifth Avenue jeweler in December 2001.
A company spokeswoman recalled how he had retired a total of three times, but returned twice because he was so devoted to Winston. She said: “In December 2001, on his final retirement, he said, ‘I have retired three times and nobody ever asks me to leave. It was my choice, so I know I was really valued and that makes me really proud.’”
Shinde is survived by four sons, Shyam, Dilib, Suresh and Anil, and eight grandchildren.