Spectacular Jewels By Joel A. Rosenthal
When Money Has No Limits and Jewelry Has No Price Tag, JAR Is the Jeweler to Call
A prolific jeweler of the highest caliber, Joel A. Rosenthal,
known as JAR among jewelry cognoscenti, has achieved recognition as few jewelers before him. In the rarified world of high jewelry that includes artisans such as Fabergé, Chaumet, Boucheron, Van Cleef, Harry Winston, Lorenz Baumer and James de Givenchy, to name a few, JAR spent only two years at Bulgari before branching out on his own in Paris in 1978, working out of the same salon off the Place Vendôme where his salon remains today. It was his tenacity, remarkable craftsmanship and appreciation of beauty that forged his destiny from his humble beginnings in the Bronx to the apogee of success: a retrospective of his jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
“Jewels by JAR” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art features more than 400 masterworks by this renowned jewelry designer, and the majority of which are privately owned. The exhibition opens November 20 and closes March 9, 2014, and is the first retrospective in the United States of his work and the first retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum devoted to a contemporary artist of gems. It's also not surprising that since JAR makes jewelry for some of the world's richest tycoons and socialites, the exhibition is sponsored by the kind of customers that commission pieces from JAR: Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis, Agnes Gund and Hilary and Wilbur Ross.
Growing up in the Bronx, New York, Rosenthal spent much of his early life visiting the museums in the city, stirring in him a passion for art, history and all things beautiful that has stayed with him throughout his life. Rosenthal left New York to attend Harvard University and moved to Paris shortly after his graduation in 1966. It was in Paris that Rosenthal met Pierre Jeannet, who is the other half of the JAR story.
While enjoying Paris, Rosenthal was accompanied by Jeannet on visits to antique shops, museums, galleries and auction houses learning more and more about antique jewelry, diamonds, pearls and colored stones. In 1973, they opened a needlepoint shop on the rue de l'Université. For Rosenthal, needlepoint meant painting, mainly flowers, on a white canvas and playing with the palette of the colors of the wools. Within a few years, his passion for making jewelry surpassed his other ventures and he wanted to "play with stones," as he later explained. The needlepoint shop lasted only 11 months, but during this period Rosenthal was encouraged by others to re-design clients' jewels and turned his attention once again, and more fully, to jewelry. In 1976, Rosenthal moved back to New York to work at Bulgari but returned to Paris and decided to open his own jewelry business under his initials, JAR.
JAR opened in 1978 on the Place Vendôme. From the beginning, he quickly became known for his sculptural designs in vibrant colors, reflecting the needlepoint patterns he that so tantalized him. Rosenthal revealed his superb sense of color, whether in the hue of an exotic violet sapphire, the shimmer of topaz and ruby, or the simple clarity of a perfect diamond. Wild roses, weeping-willow earrings with diamonds, raspberry, asparagus and leek brooches; soft-as-fabric handkerchief earrings; an ocean wave; a diamond-bridled zebra. At the start, it was run by them, Rosenthal and Jeannet. The clientele broadened from local Parisians to a range of international clients and in 1987, Rosenthal and Jeannet relocated JAR to a larger space off the prestigious Place Vendôme which is where France's five historic jewelers have been in business for decades: Boucheron, Cartier, Chaumet, Mauboussin and Van Cleef. Tight and tiny as a salon privé, JAR's boutique in Paris is designed to delight the eye and make the heart skip a beat. As they worked more and more with exceptional rare and precious stones, they expanded the team to include the few exceptional craftsmen who persist in this field.
JAR makes jewels that fulfill an aesthetic rather than commercial ambition. A particular skill of the JAR team is selecting stones for their color compatibility, complementary range, or contrast. Rosenthal once said, "We are not afraid of any materials." He uses metals as strong as platinum and as lightweight as aluminum as the base for his jewelry designs. Even beetle wings didn't escape experimentation. He re-introduced the use of sterling silver in fine jewelry making and blackened the metal to enhance the color of the stones and the shine of the diamonds. The color and the shading of his pavé and micro-pavé techniques have become a signature, as is the diamond thread work. Whether small or large, natural or geometric, wild in color or quietly shaded, each piece by JAR is a composite of fearless beauty and unique creative spirit (and deep pockets).
According to Jeannet, Rosenthal is very connected to each piece he makes. "At every step of the making of a piece, he checks and corrects. If at the end his eye is not happy, we destroy the piece. But the piece, once finished, is not yet at home. His last look is to see that the jewel has gone to the right lady. Then he sighs, and his work is done."
Credits and Catalogue
Jewels by JAR is organized by the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The organizing curator is Jane Adlin, Associate Curator in the department.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue (hardcover $40), published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press. In conjunction with the exhibition, JAR has created a limited edition of modest jewelry for sale through the museum ($2,000 to $7,500). Education programs include a series of exhibition tours. The exhibition is featured on the Metropolitan Museum's website: