Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the man behind the moniker JAR, is widely regarded as the greatest jeweler of our time. Once called “the Faberge of our time” by Diane von Furstenberg, JAR is known almost as much for his reticence and reclusiveness as he is for his breathtaking jewelry designs. The famously private JAR has quite purposely set himself apart as a brand-beyond-a-brand. He does not advertise, nor does he lend his pieces for red carpet events or magazine photo shoots, and his small shop in Paris has no display window, and no regular hours.
His highly coveted jewelry is beyond exclusive: the artisans who create his designs complete fewer than 100 pieces each year, and most are designed specifically for a individual clients. And even if you’re lucky enough to be counted among his clients, he may refuse to sell you a piece if he doesn’t think it looks exactly right on you—such is the exclusive world of JAR.
JAR: Early Life and Career
Joel Arthur Rosenthal was born in 1943, the only son of a Bronx postal worker and a biology teacher. As a child, he was always drawn to color, whether it was the marbles he played with or the glasses of water he would drop paint into to study the color’s diffusion. He always thought he’d grow up to be a painter, and in a way, he has. His fascination with color has remained an inspiration throughout his career.
Rosenthal attended New York’s High School of Music and Art, and later chose to study philosophy and art history at Harvard, but his heart was always in design. He moved to Paris in 1966 and opened a needlepoint store with his now lifelong partner, Pierre Jeannet. His work experimenting with unusually colored yarn was well received by designers from Hermès to Valentino, but once Rosenthal was asked to design a mount for a gemstone, his work turned toward jewelry design.
After a brief stint in the mid 1970s as a salesman for Bulgari in New York, Rosenthal returned to Paris and began his jewelry design career in earnest, opening a shop with Jeannet on the Place Vendôme in 1978 under his initials, JAR. His first pieces were designed around less expensive materials, like moonstone and small colored diamonds, and occasionally dealers would give him gems on consignment to work with.
Along with his continued fascination with color, Rosenthal focused on pavé, a technique for setting stones close together such that the surface resembles a ‘pavement’ of jewels. This process was particularly well suited for the young designer’s desire for gradations of color. He worked in even smaller stones and perfected “micro-pavé,” in which the settings for the tiny stones are practically invisible—an art as fine and intricate as the needlepoint he once worked in.
The Jewelry of JAR
As his career flourished, JAR continued creating jewelry based mostly on his love of color—inspired by nature, and the materials themselves. JAR typically favors naturalistic themes, with floral and animal inspired brooches, rings, bracelets, and earrings the most prominent. His pieces are not only life-like, but sometimes even life-sized.
Though he does produce the occasional piece in white diamonds, most of Rosenthal’s works are rainbows of color, rich cascades of color gradations that blend naturally and harmoniously in lush, sensual folds. His flower brooches are the best examples of this: tulips streaked with color, and lilacs with drooping heads and green dew-drops seeming to shimmer at their tips. And he often works in blackened gold and silver (alloys of his own creation) to make the colors stand out on their own.
Rosenthal creates jewels that are no less than works of art—much more than simply luxurious and fashionable ornamentations. His pieces are positively sculptural in scope, and intricate in a way that invites not just scrutiny, but contemplation. And his pieces are deeply personal, and even playful at times. JAR has been known to set a ‘hidden’ stone in the back of a piece as a kind of “personal secret” between the owner and himself.
As the most exclusive jeweler in the world, Rosenthal’s pieces are not only coveted for their artistry, but for their lasting value. The few pieces he sells annually are bought by a small circle of ultra-select clientele, and when one or more of his pieces shows up at auction, the ensuing bidding war can be nothing short of epic. A recent auction of a sapphire, amethyst and diamond ring from 1998 was estimated to sell for between $376,000 and $590,000. The final gavel price was an astounding $784,500. His works are some of the only jewelry created that regularly re-sells for more than the original price.
JAR: Artistic Influences
Though fiercely independent and original, with a reputation as a trailblazer, JAR is like any other artist and subject to the influences of his own history and evolution. Certainly his year at Bulgari influenced some of his early designs, and his interest in mixed metals and blackened gold and silver echoes techniques from the Georgian period into the late 18th century. One speculation about JARs early inspiration includes a particular Boucheron chatelaine watch he was “known to have handled.” Color variations of the pavé set stones and the three dimensional effect seen in the flower are both easily recognized as precursors to JARs work.
Another early echo of JARs creations can be seen in the work from the Art Nouveau period. Though the intricate pieces from that period featured plique-a-jour enamel over precious stones, the similarity to JAR’s work is in the realistic portrayal of flowers rather than the actual techniques. In both, the floral subjects appear to be captured in motion rather than depicted as static portraits. JARs heaving, folded flower petals of pavé set colored stones are reminiscent of leading Art Nouveau jewelers like Lalique and Tiffany & Co.’s Paulding Farnham.
The Legacy of JAR
Though Joel Arthur Rosenthal is still creating jewelry, his legacy seems assured. In addition to being called “the single greatest jeweler of our time” by loyal client/actress Ellen Barkin, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City hosted a “Jewels by JAR” retrospective in 2013, its first-ever show dedicated to a living jeweler. An astounding collection of 395 pieces went on display in the Modern and Contemporary Art galleries—the same facility that houses such greats as Matisse, Klee, and Picasso. Heady company indeed for the famously reclusive jeweler.
How to Sell My Designer Estate Jewelry
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