Unlike many notable jewelers, the career of JAR’s founder is not a straight line from apprentice to master.
Joel Arthur Rosenthal was born in the Bronx in New York City in 1943, the only child of a postman and a biology teacher. Rosenthal’s first area of study was linguistics. Matriculating at City College of New York, Rosenthal acquired fluency in French, Italian, and Yiddish in addition to his native English.
Next up, Rosenthal studied philosophy and art history at Harvard University, acquiring his degree in 1966 before relocating to Paris. There he became first a screenwriter, then a needle-stitcher, designing, among other things, tapestries. He opened a small store, where he experimented with unique colors of yarn. Famous designers that included Valentino and Hermés were smitten with Rosenthal’s creations. At one point, someone asked if he could design a setting for a gemstone. That’s when Rosenthal’s jewelry career was born.
Back in New York, Rosenthal became a salesman for Bulgari. In 1977, he returned to Paris, where he designed jewelry crafted using materials such as moonstone and coral, as well as tiny colored diamonds. His self-taught skills paid off, and Rosenthal expanded his talents, acquiring a reputation for his vibrant jewels in organic shapes. He opened a salon at 7 Place Vendôme with his partner, Pierre Jeannet. At this choice Parisian address, Rosenthal was able to rub shoulders with the most notable of the Maisons de bijoux.
Directly after his Parisian salon opened, Rosenthal took his monogram and created the name for his jewelry business: JAR.
Rosenthal’s salon remains an exclusive venture. You will find no jewels displayed in the windows and no advertising produced. Admittance to the salon is restricted. Strictly based on word-of-mouth from his prestigious clientele, JAR only designs for the elite. Each piece is one-of-kind. Typically, JAR creates 70-80 pieces per year, meticulously created under Rosenthal’s direction with the help of his expert craftsmen from France and Switzerland.
Christie’s auction house has described JAR as “The Fabergé of our time.” The Chairman of Sotheby’s in Geneva has stated, “In terms of creativity, JAR is without peers.”
Nature is a common theme for JAR pieces. Flora and fauna are created using a mixture of techniques from the past and present. Typical motifs include flowers, insects, and mythical animals, with a subtle nod to Art Nouveau styling as well as complex spheres, spirals, and geometric shapes. His early needlepoint experience has influenced his style, with gems arranged in pavé patterns that mimic his stitching. The effect is amplified by mounting the gemstones on a blackened alloy or, as often occurs, set in non-precious metals such as aluminum, titanium, or steel – or even in wood. Traditional precious metals such as platinum and silver remain featured in many of his works.
- 1987: A one-day display of Rosenthal’s exquisite jewelry took place at the National Academy of Design.
- 2002: A London art gallery hosted an exhibit of JAR’s creations. Four hundred pieces were shown, most on loan from their owners. The jewels were displayed in full darkness, requiring viewers to use a flashlight. At the time, JAR published a book featuring his collections. Entitled JAR Paris, the 720-page catalog was a limited edition publication.
- In 2013, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art held a public exhibition of gemstone works, to date the only show of its kind by a living artist. More than 300 works were displayed in the exhibit, entitled “Jewels by JAR.” A one-day trunk show took place at the museum, featuring ten pieces created by JAR for the exhibition. The show was a huge success.
- 2017: Menorah: Worship, History, Legend, was an exhibit co-sponsored by the Jewish Museum of Rome and the Vatican. The museum and the Vatican commissioned Rosenthal to design a piece for the show. This action is significant as it marked the first time JAR created a jeweled piece that was not for a client, but, according to Rosenthal, was meant only “to be seen out there.”
Ellen Barkin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elizabeth Taylor, Elle Macpherson, Barbara Walters, Ann Getty, and Mary Pinault are among the JAR clientele for whom Rosenthal’s one-of-a-kind-jewels have been created.
While designed to be unique to each client, the process is unusual in that Rosenthal uses artistic license to create his jewels to complement the client. And these jewels, to his discerning inventive mind, must absolutely suit the person who wears them.
Due to their unique nature and the provenance of the pieces, JAR’s creations have brought upwards of $4 million at auction. Rosenthal’s designs continue to increase substantially over time.
Clients have what has been described as a cult-like devotion to Joel Arthur Rosenthal. His reclusive nature, refusal to be beholden to traditions, discernment about whom he designs for, his perfection – all combine to paint the picture of the artist-turned-jeweler with the legendary reputation.