Joel Arthur Rosenthal is commonly known within the jewellery community as the ‘Greatest Living Jeweller’.
But despite his impressive reputation, he is practically unknown to the general public.
Unlike the other reigning jewellery dynasties such as Cartier and Faberge, Mr Rosenthal has no family connections to jewels and gemstones. He has no website, no social media and his shop in Paris’ Place Vendôme has no jewels displayed in its windows.
So how does a man with no public persona become a living legend?
In 1966, after studying linguistics, art history and philosophy in his native New York, JAR moved to Paris and opened a small sewing shop. There he experimented with unusually coloured yarns, earning himself commissions from designers such as Hermès and Valentino. Rosenthal only began experimenting with fine jewellery when he was asked to design a mount for a Gemstone.
With his background in textiles, JARs pieces were characterised by their fine pavé set formations, which resembled a piece of needlework. His first creations were made of affordable materials such as coral, moonstone and small diamonds. Eventually, he began to work with semi precious stones such as sapphires, rubies & emeralds.
With his growing success it would’ve been assumed that his jewellery business would become a mainstream brand like his Place Vendôme neighbours but this is where the mystery of JAR and his creations lie:
You cannot simply walk into his atelier, buy or commission a piece from him; An introduction has to be made via an established client.
Once you meet with Rosenthal, he will create a piece FOR you; I imagine some input is made but the ‘myth’ is that upon meeting JAR, he decides the design, gemstones and metalwork that you will be adorned in. This intimate connection between JAR, the jewel and the owner is so central to Rosenthal’s philosophy that it makes up an integral part of the experience of any JAR jewel.
His business model is so selective that his workshop only produces around 70 to 80 pieces a year. Because of this tactic, his designs can only be seen at rare exhibitions or at select auction houses.
His first public exhibition was held in 2002 at London’s Somerset House. Featuring four hundred pieces from his exclusive clientele, the jewels were displayed in dark cabinets with visitors having to use a torchlight to see them. This, according to Rosenthal, was because “jewellery needs to flicker”.
In 2013, he became the only living jeweller to have an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“Joel is one of the pre-eminent jewellery designers in the world.,” the Met’s director said in an interview, “He’s almost like a sculptor in gems.”
The exhibit displayed the key concerns of Rosenthal’s work:
Colour, Sculpture, Nature and Intimacy.
Possibly the most famous event surrounding JAR was the Ellen Barkin auction in 2006.
After an unpleasant divorce, Ms Barkin decided to auction all the jewels that she had received from her ex husband. Amongst them were an astonishing 17 pieces by JAR, the largest collection of his work to ever come on the market.
Offered for sale were several impressive examples of JAR’s signature ‘needlework’ designs.
One notable piece was the Diamond ‘Thread’ Ring which featured a magnificent 22.76ct D VVS1 Oval cut Diamond housed within a diamond set two tiered ‘threadwork’ mount
So (in)famous was this auction that it became the inspiration for the Samantha Jones’ storyline in the iconic Sex and the City Movie.
The ring is question was modelled on JARs Diamond ‘Gardenia’.
Designed as a sculpted gardenia blossom, it featured pavé-set in diamonds and was set in both in silver and gold,
The Auction of the Lily Safra Collection was held in Geneva in 2012 to benefit Mrs Safra’s charitable foundation.
Arguably, two of the most impressive jewels ever created by JAR were to be featured at this historic occasion:
The Tourmaline and Diamond Flower Brooch
Designed as two green and pink tourmaline poppy flowerhead and bud, linked by a green tourmaline scrolling stem centering upon a pear-shaped diamond, weighing approximately 37.23 carats,
The Ruby Flower Brooch
Truly an iconic jewel, the flower was entirely pavé-set with rubies weighing a total of approximately 173.09 carats, mounted in silver and gold.
This jewel is not just visually stunning, it is a true testament to JARs dedication to fine craftsmanship.
Rubies come in all different shades and hues of Red; from deepest blood coloured to borderline pink.
Every ruby on this brooch matches all the others exactly. These stones would have taken months if not years to source.
In the ever-evolving world of craftsmanship and artistry, JAR continues to leave an indelible mark on the industry to this day. His exceptional talent and unwavering dedication has set him apart as a true visionary, redefining the boundaries of beauty and elegance in every creation.
As time goes on, this living legend’s influence remains a source of inspiration for aspiring artisans and budding collectors alike, ensuring that their illustrious impact on the world of jewellery endures for generations to come.