Harry Winston’s ‘Right-Hand Man’ Serge Fradkoff Feuds With Famed Jeweler’s Son

Estimated read time 6 min read

Legendary jeweler Harry Winston, according to his son, was “a very kind person,” “very diplomatic,” and “naturally insightful.”

“He was a great guy, very personable, funny, nice,” Ronald Winston said last year in an interview to promote his forthcoming book, King of Diamonds: Harry Winston, The Definitive Biography of an American Icon. “He was an ideal father.”

However, the 82-year-old scion was significantly less charitable about his father’s right-hand man of two decades, Serge “The White Wolf” Fradkoff.

Fradkoff was, in Ronald’s words, a “slick operator,” “drunk with the love of money,” and a shifty sort who exuded a “whiff of putrescence.”

“I sensed [he was] stealing my family’s money,” Ronald wrote, claiming that Harry, who died in 1978, had been “outraged by [Fradkoff’s] flamboyant narcissism.”

When King of Diamonds was published last September, Fradkoff was not at all happy with what he saw between the pages—taking particular exception to the “various excerpts that allege [he] committed serious crimes such as theft,” states a $100 million lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan federal court.

“Defendants’ defamatory claims that Mr. Fradkoff is a thief are repeated numerous times in the book, where Defendants state—without providing any factual evidence—that Mr. Fradkoff has committed ‘high crimes’ and ‘thievery,’” the lawsuit goes on, laying out further examples of similar passages insinuating Fradkoff’s conduct constituted “not only a high crime but a major disaster in the making.”

“On that same page Defendants double down, referring again to Plaintiff’s conduct as ‘thievery,’” the lawsuit alleges.

Ronald Winston has since refused to retract the “explosive and unfounded statements,” which Fradkoff’s suit calls “malicious and defamatory.” The accusations in the book have caused Fradkoff “substantial mental anguish,” who, according to the lawsuit, “has been struggling to repair his reputation following the maliciously false accusations.”

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast via attorney Frank Salzano, Fradkoff said that “trust and honesty have been the foundation of my professional life for the past 63 years.”

“Throughout my career, no one has ever questioned my honesty, which is legendary among my colleagues,” Fradkoff said, adding that the only person “to ever cast doubt on my integrity is Ronald Winston.”

“Mr. Winston’s long-standing jealousy of Mr. Fradkoff, possibly fueled by a desire for sensationalism to boost book sales, appears to have motivated the baseless defamation of Mr. Fradkoff,” Salzano said in an email. “Mr. Fradkoff provided the defendants with an opportunity to rectify the situation, but they refused. Consequently, their actions carry both legal and financial repercussions.”

A representative for Ronald Winston did not respond to a request for comment, and Winston did not reply to emails sent to his personal and business addresses.

A photo of a Harry Winston store on London's New Bond Street.

A Harry Winston store on London’s New Bond Street.

Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In his lawsuit, Fradkoff dubs himself a “Renaissance man,” and says he has “established himself as a respected figure in several noteworthy fields.”

“Beyond the world of gems, Mr. Fradkoff’s contributions span across arts, culture, film, medical innovation, and finance,” the suit continues. “Although Mr. Fradkoff is not a public figure, he is well known in private circles among high-net-worth individuals for his work as an exquisite jeweler, champion bridge player, art collector, horse-racing enthusiast, finance executive, and film producer.”

Fradkoff was schooled in Switzerland, going to work for Harry Winston after earning the equivalent of an MBA, according to the suit. He spent the first five years learning the trade, and the next 15 exhibiting “unmatched expertise in his ability to identify and acquire rare gems,” it says. Among Fradkoff’s important clients, the lawsuit notes, were shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, as well as “countless corporate executives, heads of state, royalty, and renowned collectors.”

After 20 years with Harry Winston, Fradkoff established Serge Fradkoff SA Precious Stones, his lawsuit states. It says he became deeply involved in cultural pursuits, donating a Claude Monet painting to the Louvre, a 12.38-carat diamond to the French Museum of Natural History, and served as co-owner of venerable French magazine Connaissance des Arts.

His “financial acumen is evident in his substantial stake (33%) and advisory role in Unigestion, a private bank, in Geneva, where he was the de facto advisor to the Chairman and CEO,” the lawsuit contends. Fradkoff also acquired a 50 percent stake in Banca della Svizzera Italiana for $390 million—the equivalent of $1 billion today—“without any help whatsoever (investment banker or lawyer),” according to the suit.

Fradkoff also has a “passion for horses,” having attained “remarkable achievements in horse racing and thoroughbred breeding,” the suit claims. “In particular, he won a number of major races in France, Ireland and the United States, and one of his horses, Perrault, was nominated for the U.S. ‘Champion Male Turf Horse’ in 1982,” it says.

Ronald Winston’s book, according to Fradkoff, contains “a long list of false facts” along with numerous “defamatory statements” and “disparaging comments.” On page 269, the book makes mention of “two slick operators named Albano Bochatay and Serge Fradkoff,” referring to the then-director of Harry Winston Inc.’s European operations. A page later, the book says, “The more successful [Fradkoff] got, the more he began to develop his ‘style,’ which was a Jewish version of a Times Square pimp in Shaft,” according to the lawsuit.

Ronald writes, on page 326, of a “mission… to fire Serge Fradkoff, who was about to destroy Harry Winston before I could even have a fair chance to run it,” following passages on page 312 which claim Harry “felt betrayed by Serge, outraged by his flamboyant narcissism,” and that Fradkoff “was ‘the biggest disappointment of his life.’” Ronald also claims Fradkoff had a “schtick” that he was Harry’s secret son with an unnamed paramour.

“Nothing in his mind could have been more flattering,” the book says.

Other lines make mention of Ronald “demanding full restitution of our money” from Fradkoff, threatening to go to the authorities, according to the lawsuit.

“Taken together, the defamatory statements made by [Ronald Winston] in King of Diamonds include serious allegations that [Fradkoff] committed a crime,” the lawsuit states. “… There is absolutely no evidence that Plaintiff has engaged in any criminal conduct, let alone theft, as Defendants allege in King of Diamonds.”

Fradkoff’s lawsuit also takes issue with Ronald Winston’s co-author, attorney William Stadiem, who it says “is known to be an author who collaborates on ‘gossipy tell-alls.’” It cites a handful of less-than-positive reviews about Stadiem’s “chatty memoir/history mashup formula,” a “preference for gossipy anecdote over smart analysis,” and “sketchy research.” (Stadiem did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.)

As for a motivation behind the allegedly false claims, Fradkoff’s suit says it is “not difficult to discern—making outrageous statements sells books.”

Salzano, Fradkoff’s lawyer, told The Daily Beast on Monday that, under New York law, King of Diamonds “unquestionably crossed” the line into defamation. Fradkoff, he said, “eagerly awaits his chance in court to defend his impeccable reputation, built over a lifetime.”