Renowned designer Henry Dunay recalled the highlights of his storied life and design career at the Initiatives in Art and Culture’s Gold conference on April 13.
Born and raised in Jersey City, Dunay’s father was a tugboat captain and his mother worked in a factory. Yet their three chldren all achieved success in their careers. “It’s all due to my mother pushing us,” he said.
Dunay had to leave school at a young age, but said he received his best education working as an apprentice for a jeweler. “By 18, I had a clear sense of who I wanted to be,” he said.
The designer’s original last name was Loniewski, but he changed it to his mother’s maiden name for professional reasons.
“It’s five letters,” Dunay said. “You figure everyone will remember a five-letter name.”
That name became famous as his star rose; career highlights include fashioning the ring Hillary Clinton wore to her husband’s inaugural in 1993. Dunay admitted he was sometimes commissioned to create strange pieces—such as, at one point, a gold chastity belt.
“My success is because I always took care of my customer,” he said. “I never went to [home shopping channels]. I knew it would tarnish everything I’ve done in my life.”
He added the industry no longer speaks to the general public like it once did.
“The customer who would buy five $30,000 brooches is no longer around,” he said. “We have to educate younger consumers about fine jewelry.”
Dunay currently does special order work out of his home studio.
“This is only part of life,” he concluded. “We’ll be back next year for the other part.”