Eli Rubin, 86, president of the Winthrop jewelry stores here, died of cancer Wednesday at Washington Hospital Center.

Mr. Rubin was born into a family of jewelers in Baltimore. He came to Washington in 1912 and bought the old Cole and Swann jewelry store on 14th Street NW. In the early 1920s, he moved the business to 7th Street NW and changed its name to the Eli Rubin Co.

Over the years, Mr. Rubin his number of stores. In the 1940s, he became one of the early tenants in the Seven Corners Shopping Center in Virginia. In 1955 he changed the name of the company to Winthrop Inc., and continued as its president until he retired about 1973. Ther now are seven Winthrop jewelry stores in the Washington area.

After his retirement, Mr. Rubin spent much of his time making ornamental displays of watch movements and gave them away as gifts.

A resident of Washington for many years, Mr. Rubin lived in Chevy Chase at the time of his death. He was a member of the Amity Club and Woodbine Country Club.

Survivors include a daughter, Shirley R. Breslau, of Bethesda; a son, William L., of Boca Raton, Fla.; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.