It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
~ William Shakespeare
Like all historical greats, JOEL A. ROSENTHAL (a.k.a. JAR), a Paris-based jewellery designer, confidently carved his own destiny to mesmerise the world with his masterpieces that are ‘painted’ with coloured gemstones. The compositions – mostly exaggerated and fuller versions of nature’s bounties – are coveted by cognoscenti the world over.
In a fitting tribute to his vast repertoire of works, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is holding an exhibition ‘Jewels by JAR’, which has been on view from November 20, 2013 and will continue until March 9, this year at the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing. The exhibition is the first-ever JAR retrospective in the United States, and the first one to be held at the Metropolitan Museum devoted to a contemporary artist of gems and jewellery.
The visitors can feast their eyes on more than 400 works by Rosenthal, and for those who want to own a piece by JAR, he has also designed a collection of jewellery for sale at the Museum which consists of earrings ranging from $2,000 to $7,500, and watches designed uniquely for this event. The exhibition has been put together with the efforts of Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis, Phaidon Press Ltd., Nancy and Howard Marks, The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation, Agnes Gund, Mr. and Mrs. George S. Livanos, and Hilary and Wilbur Ross.
THE MAGIC OF JAR
Rosenthal was born in the Bronx, New York, where as a young lad he loved spending time at the city museums, which, in turn, sowed seeds of passion for art and history. He attended Harvard University and moved to Paris shortly after his graduation in 1966. There, he met Pierre Jeannet, his close friend and business associate for years. The duo spent hours at antique shops, museums, galleries, and auction houses learning about antique jewellery, diamonds, pearls and coloured stones.
In 1973, they opened a needlepoint shop on the rue de l’Université. For Rosenthal, needlepoint only meant ‘painting’, mainly flowers, on a white canvas and using a range of wool colours. This further impelled him to “play with gemstones,” as he later explained.
The business lasted only 11 months, but around that time, Rosenthal started getting offers to re-design clients’ jewels. This led him to shift base to New York in 1976 where he worked at Bulgari. A couple of years later, he returned to Paris and opened his own jewellery business under his initials, JAR on the Place Vendôme.
Rosenthal’s one-off graphic and lively creations became famous for their extraordinary beauty. He mastered the pave technique that was as delicate and intricate as the needlepoint stitches. This, in turn, also made him go for exceptional stones that were either complementary or contrasted to achieve gradations of colour from flat and understated to vivid and vibrant.
The maestro does not feel shy to pair precious and common metals – his jewellery is crafted with platinum, silver, gold, titanium or even aluminium, wood and steel. He even revived the use of blackened silver in fine jewellery to augment the colours of the stones and the shine of the diamonds. Rosenthal’s three-dimensional forms mostly gravitate towards flowers and butterflies that are designed into inventive brooches. His flowers capture the stages in nature – it could be a bud, a drooping or falling petal, or a bloom. Famous for his sculptural designs in vibrant colours, his works include wild rose and weeping- willow earrings; raspberry, asparagus, and leek brooches; soft-as-fabric handkerchief earrings; an ocean wave; a diamond-bridled zebra.
Today, JAR is considered to be one of history’s greatest jewellers – some even label him as “the Faberge of our time.”
Jeannet summarises Rosenthal’s process this way: “At every step of the making of a piece, he checks and corrects. And if at the end his eye is not happy, we destroy the piece. But the piece, finished, is not yet at home; his last look is to see that the jewel has gone to the right lady. Then he sighs, his work is done.”