JAR is not a household name like Tiffany or Cartier. This is the way its founder Joel Arthur Rosenthal intends it. Famously reclusive, terribly exclusive, this Harvard educated New York-born Paris-based jeweller has deservedly been called “the Faberge of our time”.
He doesn’t do interviews (I tried), doesn’t lend pieces to celebrities or socialities, and doesn’t do advertising campaigns. He doesn’t have to. While he may be the jewellery connoisseur’s best kept secret, his reputation surpasses him so much that his work has inspired a cult following. There is no shortage of those coveting his pieces, but only a select few ever have the privilege of wearing his exquisitely crafted jewellery.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently exhibiting the jewellery of JAR, his first retrospective in the US and also the only exhibition given to a living jeweller at the prestigious museum. My best friend, and talented jewellery designer himself, went to the opening in November and teased me with an Instagram feed of some of the most exquisite jewellery pieces I have seen. They are, to put it simply and without resorting to an endless stream of gushing fashion superlatives, beautiful wearable works of art. The exhibition presents nearly 400 of Mr. Rosenthal’s pieces, all of them lent by their owners from all over the world.
Known as the master of the pavé technique, his stone setting skills are such that he can set tiny diamonds into fine twisting, curling lines of metal, recreating his own handwriting. His pieces aren’t about the size of the stone but rather the meticulous craftsmanship and design that goes into each and every unique one-off piece. He’s known for his use of unconventional cuts and stones, as well as both precious and non precious metal. “We are not afraid of any materials,” he once stated. It shows. Platinum, black gold, steel, pewter or aluminium all get an equal footing and are handled with exquisite skill, often paired in unexpected combinations.
Nature seems to be a predominant source of inspiration in his oeuvre and in the exhibition: the delicate purple and white pavé-set petals of a tulip brooch unfurling; a startling blue enamel butterfly that looks as life-like as any Blue Morpho; and flowers in bloom or in bud, drooping off branches in abundant magnificence. They are jewels created to serve an aesthetic purpose, rather than a commercial one.
Rosenthal, now 70, founded his jewellery company with partner Pierre Jeannet on the Place Vendôme in Paris in 1978. His little shop is still located there, only a door down from the original first site, but belies nothing of the beauty housed within. There is no jewellery displayed in the window, only a folded pink velvet screen, and the name of the shop is easy to miss. One doesn’t just walk into JAR and buy a piece. Potential new clients are said to need an introduction from a current client to even get an appointment.
But getting through the door isn’t enough to guarantee you’ll walk away with one of his desirable creations. Rosenthal’s difficult selling habits are notorious. He won’t sell if he doesn’t like the way a piece looks on someone, or a client’s aesthetic doesn’t meet his standard. He is as demanding and particular about his handpicked clientele as he is about the stones he chooses to work with. With a small production of only 100-120 pieces a year, there is a waiting list, even for his chosen few. It is a small secret society of collectors and aficionados. For those who can’t get their foot in the door, there’s always the auction market where pieces sell well above the estimate, or the Met exhibition, which runs through 9 March.
Jewels By Jar
Metropolitan Museum of Art
On until 9 March 2014
Images from top to bottom: Tulip Brooch, 2008. Rubies, diamonds, pink sapphires, garnets, silver, gold and enamel; Zebra Brooch, 1987. Agate, diamonds, sapphire, silver, and gold; Poppy Brooch, 1982.
Diamond, tourmalines, and gold; Camellia Brooch, 2010. Rubies, pink sapphires, diamonds, silver, and gold; Butterfly Brooch, 2013. Diamonds, spinels, aluminium, gold and silver; Bracelet, 2010. Diamonds, silver, and platinum.