Collecting jewels by JAR

Joel Arthur Rosenthal was the first ever living jeweller to have a retrospective at the Met in New York, and his creations are loved by movie stars, tastemakers and collectors the world over. Illustrated with jewellery offered at Christie’s

A JAR sapphire and diamond ring, 2002 (sold for CHF 138,600), and a pair of JAR lapis lazuli and diamond ‘Fan’ earrings (sold for CHF 107,100). Both sold on 15 May 2024 at Christie’s in Geneva

There’s no shop sign or window display at 7 Place Vendôme — nothing that hints at the brilliance within, beyond three discreet letters, JAR. Yet for jewellery collectors, this is a place of pilgrimage: the store of the acclaimed contemporary jewellery designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal.

Born in New York City in 1943, Rosenthal graduated in art history and philosophy at Harvard before moving to Paris. There, he opened a needlepoint shop, where his experiments with unusual colours of yarn attracted the custom of designers for Hermès and Valentino. After working with Bulgari in New York, he returned to Paris, opening his own jewellery store with his partner, Pierre Jeannet, in 1977.

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JAR, an emerald and diamond ‘Bonnet’ ring. Rectangular diamond of 3.21 carats, round diamonds and emeralds, 18k yellow gold and silver. Sold for CHF 214,200 on 15 May 2024 at Christie’s in Geneva

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JAR, a pair of morganite and sapphire clip-brooches. Oval-shaped morganites, round sapphires, 18k rose gold and blackened silver. 5.7 cm high. Sold for CHF 226,800 on 15 May 2024 at Christie’s in Geneva

JAR, as he is generally known, is celebrated for his creativity and craftsmanship. He pairs unusual gemstones with non-traditional materials and has a daring way with colour and proportion. The quality of his work recalls the jewellery of the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2013, he was the first living ‘artist of gems’ to be honoured with a retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Producing only 70 to 80 pieces a year, JAR creates jewels of unusual dynamism and architectural depth, making him a favourite with style icons, tastemakers and collectors.

Floral and foliate earrings

It was JAR’s blockbuster exhibition at London’s Somerset House in 2002 that placed him in the consciousness of fashionable women everywhere. To thank the 145 clients who loaned jewels for the 400-piece show, he sent each one a pair of ‘Pansy’ earrings in coloured aluminium.

The gift was symbolic: the French word for pansy — pensée — also translates as ‘thought’, and the motif is traditionally used in French jewellery to indicate thoughtfulness. JAR made an additional 1,000 pairs for purchase by visitors to the exhibition; they were snapped up within days.

Other floral pieces include JAR’s ‘Geranium’ ‘Violet’ and ‘Ivy Leave’ earrings.

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JAR, multi-gem ‘Pansy’ earrings. Round sapphires of various hues, amethysts, emeralds and diamonds. 4.2 cm. Sold for CHF 491,400 on 17 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

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JAR, a pair of multi-gem ‘Violet’ earrings. Round amethysts and diamonds, purple and pink sapphires, round yellow diamonds, 18k rose gold and blackened silver. 3.7 cm high. Sold for CHF 289,800 on 15 May 2024 at Christie’s in Geneva

JAR’s flower bangles

In 2002, Christie’s offered JAR’s ‘Mogol’ flower bangle, its rich colours and decorative motifs inspired by the artistic riches of south Asia.

The bangle is an early example of JAR’s use of oxidised titanium, a material that had rarely, if ever, appeared in haute joaillerie before. The metallic purple of the titanium is overrun with vibrant sculpted buds and flowers — a common feature of JAR’s work that pays tribute to traditional Indian jewellery — spilling over the edges to continue inside.

JAR, a gold, diamond and green garnet ‘Parrot Tulip’ bangle, 1994. Designed as a sculpted gold flower, the two petals at the base forming the hinged cuff, enhanced by single-cut diamonds and circular-cut green garnets. Flower size 9.5 cm. Sold for CHF 3,525,000 on 11 November 2014 at Christie’s in Geneva

Nature is also exquisitely captured in JAR’s ‘Parrot Tulip’ bangle from 1994. The petals appear to be made of fabric and are enhanced by diamonds and green garnets. Like the ‘Mogol’ bangle, this gold bracelet engulfs the wrist, although in this instance in a single blossom.

‘He’s like the Matisse of our time’

When Ellen Barkin’s jewellery was offered at Christie’s in 2006, the sale included 17 jewels by JAR — making it one of the most important collections to have appeared at auction. Barkin calls JAR ‘the Matisse of our time’ and credits him with teaching her how to wear jewellery.

Perhaps inspired by the needlepoint shop he ran in Paris in the 1960s, JAR’s celebrated ‘Thread’ designs feature complex strands of refined pavé work that often serve as a mount for a single stone. An exceptional example is his 22.76-carat oval brilliant-cut diamond ring. The mount is complicated, but has a lightness to it, highlighting the diamond while maintaining a presence of its own.

JAR’s imperial topaz earrings show the atelier’s skill at blending colours and gemstones. Each pendant is set with an elongated oval-cut imperial topaz enhanced by rubies and diamonds — an unusual combination of red, orange and white not typically found in jewellery. Barkin famously wore these earrings on the night of the Academy Awards in 2005.

Elizabeth Taylor’s JAR jewels

In 2011, Christie’s offered the The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor, which remains one of the most valuable single-owner jewellery collections in auction history.

Included in the sale was a diamond ring — a gift from JAR for Taylor’s 70th birthday — featuring an articulated platinum heart set with a diamond ‘E’ on one side and an infinity sign on the reverse. The simplicity of the design is highlighted by JAR’s use of single-cut diamonds with only eight facets on the table (the upper face of the stone) and eight on the pavilion (the lower, reflective part), creating a much softer brilliance.

JAR, a pair of diamond and multicoloured sapphire ‘Ball’ ear clips. Each of bombé design, pavé-set with blue, green and violet sapphires, enhanced by a line of circular-cut diamonds, mounted in 18k gold and silver. Sold for $602,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

Traditionally-cut stones have become a JAR trademark, offering a subtle nod to antique jewellery and the history of diamond-cutting.

Also featured in the Elizabeth Taylor sale was a pair of multicoloured sapphire and diamond ‘Ball’ earrings, purchased in Paris in December 2001. The bombé form of each earring, paired with the linear gem-set stripes, creates an unexpected combination of straight lines and curved surfaces. The stripes begin on one earring and continue asymmetrically on the other — an understated detail that is pure genius.

Lily Safra: a record-breaking collection

In 2012, Christie’s hosted Jewels for Hope: The Collection of Mrs Lily Safra, a charity auction featuring 18 jewels by JAR, making it the largest single-owner collection ever seen on the market at the time.

A ‘Camellia’ brooch offered in the sale featured more than 170 carats of rubies set in silver and gold, yet the blossom appears impossibly delicate. Created for Safra in 2003, it epitomises JAR’s extraordinary attention to detail as he pushes the boundaries between jewellery and sculpture.

Also inspired by nature, and offered in the same collection, was a tourmaline and diamond flower brooch incorporating a pear-shaped 37.23-carat diamond. The soft-edged pink and green tourmaline cabochons contrast beautifully with the brilliant, sharp-edged diamond.

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JAR in the Al Thani Collection

Christie’s Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction in 2019 was a landmark sale of Indian jewellery, jewelled objects and art from the renowned Al Thani museum collection.

Bringing together some 400 lots, the auction spanned four centuries, from the glamour and tradition of the 16th-century Mughal court to the extravagance of the Maharajas in the 19th and 20th centuries. Only two contemporary jewellers, JAR and Bhagat, were featured.

JAR, a diamond, cacholong (opal), sapphire and titanium brooch, 2013. Designed as an elephant wearing an aigrette, titanium, modified pear brilliant-cut diamond of 2.32 carats, single-cut diamonds, oval cabochon sapphires, tusk-shaped white cacholong, blackened gold and platinum. 6⅝ in. Sold for $555,000 on 19 June 2019 at Christie’s in New York

A highlight from the collection was JAR’s ‘Pink Golconda Diamond’ ring, which featured an exceptionally rare 10.46-carat stone from India’s oldest diamond mine, mounted in a blackened-gold setting adorned with single-cut diamonds.

Also in the sale was a sculpted titanium piece by JAR, an extraordinary elephant brooch adorned with a Belle Epoque-style diamond aigrette — a reference to the Indian tradition of dressing royal animals with jewellery.

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