Celebrated Jewelry Designer Henry Dunay Dies at 88

MajorsNov 13, 2023

Celebrated Jewelry Designer Henry Dunay Dies at 88

His wake is set for Wednesday, while the funeral will take place Thursday in Brooklyn, New York.

Henry Dunay with the “Lachrymosa” diamond mask
Jewelry designer Henry Dunay with one of his most notable creations, the “Lachrymosa” diamond mask. The innovative, award-winning designer died Friday at age 88.
New York—Henry Paul Dunay, the award-winning jewelry designer known for his bold, creative designs, died in his sleep Friday at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York.

He was 88.

His wife, Frinette Dunay, shared news of his passing over the weekend, prompting an outpouring of support and admiration from retailers, designers, and other industry professionals.

Jim Rosenheim, CEO of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C., wrote on Facebook, “Henry was a giant within the jewelry industry and a warm and welcoming man. I was proud to be his friend and will miss him greatly. As a jewelry designer, he was one of the few genuine geniuses that I have ever known. RIP old friend.”

Fellow designer Paula Crevoshay said Dunay taught her so much.

“He was generous and so helpful in every way in my first year of creating one-of-a-kind jewels,” she wrote on Facebook. “May he RIP.”

Born Henry Loniewski on May 1, 1935, in Jersey City, New Jersey, Henry was the second of three sons born to Polish immigrants Henry and Helen Loniewski.

His family did not have a lot of money, so Henry worked odd jobs from a young age, including delivering newspapers and shining shoes at local bars.

At 14, the opportunity arose for Henry to commute into Manhattan to work for jeweler Rudolph Cacioli on Canal Street in the Bowery, then the center of the New York City jewelry trade.

He started as an errand boy and worked his way up to becoming a master model-maker and diamond setter, skills that set the stage for a remarkable career.

At 18, he changed his last name to Dunay, his mother’s maiden name, because it was shorter and, he believed, easier to remember.

“He knew he was going to be an artist,” Frinette told National Jeweler on Saturday. “He was very creative.” 

Henry started his own company in 1956 at age 21, initially taking on projects from other companies including Harry Winston, but it wasn’t long before his original designs started getting attention.

In the late ‘60s, Henry won a De Beers Diamonds International Award, an honor that, according to his obituary, marked a turning point in the then-young designer’s career.

He would go on to win three more De Beers awards over the years, as well as numerous others, including AGTA Spectrum Awards, the Johnson Matthey Platinum Design Award, and multiple awards from Robb Report magazine. 

Henry was known for his innovative designs, as well as for the “Sabi” finish, a groundbreaking technique he introduced that was inspired by the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic.

He also branched out over the years as his brand grew, developing a fragrance, also called Sabi, and building out an impressive roster of private clients.

His work was spotted on numerous celebrities and politicians in the 1990s, including Hillary Clinton, Drew Barrymore and the actress considered to be the greatest jewelry lover of all time, Elizabeth Taylor.

Among his most photographed designs was the “Lachrymosa” diamond mask, reportedly set with more than 130 carats of diamonds at its creation.

In a 2011 interview with National Jeweler conducted shortly after Taylor’s death, Dunay recalled how he was asked to design the mask for a function benefitting the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).

It took him eight months to make the mask and Taylor, the founding national and international chair of amfAR, wore it in a 1993 photo shoot designed to generate publicity for the event.

A book about his life, “Henry Dunay: A Precious Life,” was published in 2007. Jewelry historians and authors Penny Proddow and Marion Fasel wrote the biographical essay for the book.

While Dunay enjoyed decades of success as a jewelry designer, he was hit hard by the Great Recession in the early aughts. He filed for bankruptcy in June 2009.

Frinette recalled how she encouraged Henry to break up his pieces so he could pay his bills around this time, but he refused.

“Each piece of his jewelry was his baby,” she explained. “He always believed he was going to [get] back into business, but he didn’t believe he was going to lose his name.”

Get back into his business he did, launching HDD Inc. in February 2010, though he was restricted from using the name “Henry Dunay” following the bankruptcy.

Henry and Frinette Dunay
The late Henry Dunay with his wife, Frinette Dunay, in New York City

“When we speak of one of the absolute, all-time greats, and best jewelry designers in our industry, Henry Dunay comes up as legend,” longtime jewelry marketer Sande Finkel wrote on Facebook. 

“[I remember] working alongside of him on many occasions back in the ‘90s at Bergdorf Goodman. He was always a true gentleman and artist, humble and warm. Henry will be missed but always remembered. This is no doubt the end of an era for our industry.”

Henry is survived by his wife, Frinette Dunay; two biological children, Valerie Dunay Corvin and Paul Dunay; three stepchildren, Sharon Bella Simon, Frinette Susan Lupo, and Robert Valenzuela; and numerous grandchildren, step-grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 

His wake is scheduled for Wednesday from 4-9 p.m. at Andrew Torregrossa Funeral Home on 79th Street in Brooklyn. 

The funeral mass will take place Thursday beginning at 9:45 a.m. at St. Athanasius Church on 61st Street in Brooklyn, with burial to follow at Resurrection Cemetery in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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