Collecting guide: JAR jewellery
Joel Arthur Rosenthal produces only around 70 imaginative, meticulously crafted pieces a year, making them highly sought after by movie stars, tastemakers and collectors the world over — illustrated with jewellery offered at Christie’s
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.
JAR, as he is generally known, is celebrated for his creativity and his 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 the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Producing only 70-80 pieces a year, his ability to create jewels of unusual dynamism and architectural depth has made him a favourite with style icons, tastemakers and collectors the world over.
The ‘Pansy’ 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 is ‘pensée’, which also translates as ‘thought’, and the motif is traditionally used in French jewellery to indicate thoughtfulness.
JAR made an additional 1,000 pairs of aluminium Pansy earrings for purchase by visitors to the exhibition; they were snapped up within days.
JAR’s flower bangles
JAR’s ‘Mogol’ flower bangle was auctioned by Christie’s in April 2002, its rich colours and motifs conjuring potent images of India.
The bangle is an early example of JAR’s use of oxidised titanium, a material that had rarely, if ever, featured in high jewellery before. The metallic purple of the titanium is overrun with vibrant sculpted buds and flowers that spill over the edges to continue inside — a common feature of JAR’s work that pays tribute to traditional Indian jewellery.
The beauty of nature is also exquisitely captured in JAR’s ‘Parrot Tulip’ bangle from 1994. The petals appear to be made of fabric and are effortlessly enhanced by diamonds and green garnets. Like the ‘Mogol’ bangle, this gold bracelet engulfs the wrist, although in this instance in a single flower blossom.
‘He’s like the Matisse of our time’
When Ellen Barkin’s jewellery collection was offered at Christie’s in October 2006, it included 17 jewels by JAR — making it at the time one of the most important JAR 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.
JAR’s 22.76-carat, elongated oval-cut diamond ring is an exceptional example. The mount is complicated, but has a lightness to it, highlighting the diamond while maintaining a presence of its own.
The imperial topaz earrings are another example of JAR’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.
In 2011, Christie’s offered the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor, which remains one of the most valuable single-owner jewellery collections in auction history.
The ring below was a gift from JAR on Taylor’s 70th birthday. It features an articulated heart set with a diamond ‘E’ on one side and an infinity sign on the reverse, mounted in platinum. The simplicity and sentimentality of the design is representative of JAR’s use of single-cut diamonds — diamonds cut in the old-fashioned manner with only eight facets on the table and eight on the pavilion, creating a much softer brilliance.
Single-cut stones have become a JAR trademark. Single-cut diamonds elevate each jewel without overwhelming the overall design, at the same time 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 to its pair — an understated detail that is pure genius.
In May 2012, Christie’s in Geneva 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.
The camellia brooch below features 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. It set a record for JAR, selling for CHF 4,003,000.
Also inspired by nature was a tourmaline and diamond flower brooch, incorporating a pear-shaped 37.23-carat diamond, offered in the same collection. Its green and pink tourmaline poppy heads and the soft-edged tourmaline cabochons contrasting beautifully with the brilliant, sharp-edged diamond.
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The Al Thani Collection
Christie’s Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence auction in June 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.
The Pink Golconda Diamond ring features a 10.46-carat diamond from India’s oldest diamond mine, mounted by JAR together with blackened-gold and single-cut diamonds. Synonymous with quality and romance, Golconda diamonds are exceptionally rare and highly sought after by royal houses and gem connoisseurs.
JAR returned to titanium once again to sculpt an extraordinary elephant brooch adorned with a Belle Epoque-style diamond aigrette — a reference to the Indian tradition of dressing royal animals with jewellery.