Jewels by JAR at The Metropolitan Museum of Art will feature more than 400 works by renowned jewelry designer Joel A. Rosenthal, who works in Paris under the name JAR. The exhibition will be the first retrospective in the United States of his work and the first retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum devoted to a contemporary artist of gems.
The exhibition is made possible by 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.
Growing up in the Bronx, New York, Rosenthal spent much of his early life visiting the museums in the city, stirring in him a passion for art, history, and all things beautiful that has stayed with him throughout his life. Rosenthal left New York to attend Harvard University and moved to Paris shortly after his graduation in 1966. It was in Paris that Rosenthal met Pierre Jeannet-the other half of the JAR story.
Rosenthal and Jeannet spent much time at antique shops, museums, galleries, and auction houses learning about antique jewelry, diamonds, pearls, and colored stones. In 1973, they opened a needlepoint shop on the rue de l’Université. For Rosenthal needlepoint meant painting, mainly flowers, on a white canvas and playing with the palette of the colors of the wools. But the passion for jewelry was there and he wanted to “play with stones,” as he later explained. The needlepoint shop lasted only 11 months, but during this period Rosenthal was encouraged by others to re-design clients’ jewels and turned his attention once again, and more fully, to jewelry. In 1976, Rosenthal moved back to New York to work at Bulgari but returned to Paris and decided to open his own jewelry business under his initials, JAR.
JAR opened in 1978 on the Place Vendôme. At the start, it was run by a team of only two-Rosenthal and Jeannet. The clientele broadened from local Parisians to a range of international clients, and in 1987, Rosenthal and Jeannet relocated JAR to a larger space next door to their original shop-the same space from which they operate today. As they worked more and more with exceptional stones, they expanded the team to include the few exceptional craftsmen still specializing in this field.
JAR makes jewels that fulfill an aesthetic rather than commercial ambition. A particular skill of the JAR team is selecting stones for their color compatibility, complementary range, or contrast. Rosenthal, who once said, “we are not afraid of any materials,” uses metals as strong as platinum and as lightweight as aluminum as bases for his designs. He reintroduced the use of silver in fine jewelry making and blackened the metal to enhance the color of the stones and the shine of the diamonds. The color and the shading of his pavé technique became a signature, as did the diamond thread work.
Rosenthal experiments with a variety of forms, designs, and themes. Two significant and recurring themes in his work are flowers and butterflies, which often appear in the form of brooches. Rosenthal’s flowers are not shaped regularly, but rather capture the role of chance in nature-be it in the form of a bud, a flower in full bloom, or a falling petal. Each JAR piece is unique and three-dimensional.
Jeannet summarizes 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.”