|Butterfly Brooch, 1994; Sapphires, fire opals, rubies, amethyst, garnets, diamonds, silver and gold; Private collection. Photograph by Katharina Faerber. Courtesy of JAR, Paris|
Jewelry is supposed to sparkle, glitter and glow. Joel A. Rosenthal, better known as JAR, also says it should “flicker,” which is why in his last exhibition, held in 2002 at the Somerset House in London, he requested that his jewelry be seen in the dark aided only by tiny flashlights.
Those visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the landmark U.S. exhibition of Jewels By Jar won’t be asked to do anything drastic this time. However, in a museum bathed in light, the space dedicated to JAR is in darkness, with the exception of the spotted glow of jewelry displays.The designer who creates gemstone jewelry on the highest level is known for his fearlessness in his vision and in using a variety of jewelry techniques to create one-of-a-kind pieces for his private clients.
|Colored Balls Necklace, 1999; Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts, spinels, garnets, opals, tourmalines, aquamarines, citrines, diamonds, silver, and gold; Private collection. Photograph by Jozsef Tari. Courtesy of JAR, Paris.|
The exhibition, which opens Wednesday and runs till March 9, 2014, is the first US viewing of jewelry by the famed and famously reclusive jewelry artist. 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.
|Raspberry Brooch, 2011; Rubies, diamonds, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Collection of Sien M. Chew. Photograph by Jozsef Tari. Courtesy of JAR, Paris.|
The press preview Monday at the museum was my first opportunity to see JAR jewelry pieces in the flesh and it didn’t disappoint. The 400 pieces on display, nearly all lent by private collectors, represent 35 years of designing jewelry at the highest level.
|Lilac Brooches, 2001; Diamonds, lilac sapphires, garnets, aluminum, silver, and gold; Private collection. Photograph by Jozsef Tari. Courtesy of JAR, Paris.|
It’s obvious that Rosenthal isn’t a just a jewelry designer but an artist. In brief words during the press preview Monday, Jane Adlin, the exhibition curator, was a bit more specific, describing him as a sculptor.
|Poppy Brooch, 1982; Diamond, tourmalines, and gold; Private collection. Photograph by Katharina Faerber. Courtesy of JAR, Paris|
“I think Joel is best known for his technique of pavé. He’s discriminating but indiscriminate in his use of gemstones,” Adlin said. “So he’ll mix very, very fine perfectly cut, perfectly flawless gemstones with some that are not. He will use lesser quality stones. He will use lesser-known stones. But the outcome is this extraordinary piece of jewelry, which if you just put it on your dresser or your coffee table it would in fact be a piece of sculpture.”
|Bracelet, 2010; Diamonds, silver, and platinum; Private collection. Photograph by Jozsef Tari. Courtesy of JAR, Paris|
That’s probably the best way to look at the works of JAR. From the time of the Greeks, great sculptors are able to take a subject and create a more perfect vision of it. That’s part of Rosenthal’s skill and expertise. For example, his flowers and animals, in addition to being precise, seem to be more perfect than what nature intended. He can create texture with jewels, such as his colorful handkerchief earrings in which one has a fold. And, as previously mentioned, there’s his exemplary use of pavé combined with exceptional colors from the many types of gems he’ll use for a single piece. He treats metals the same way in his pieces as it ranges from gold, platinum and titanium to silver and aluminum.
|Earrings, 2011; Emeralds, oriental pearls, diamonds, and platinum; Private collection. Photograph by Jozsef Tari. Courtesy of JAR, Paris.|
His 1994 butterfly brooch (one of many he created over the years) may be the best example of all of his sculptural attributes. Like many of his pieces it’s a combination of multiple materials. In this case sapphires, fire opals, rubies, amethyst, garnets, diamonds, silver and gold. Colors include different shades of violet, red, orange, yellow, blue and green with specks of white. Micro pavé is used throughout. In some cases there’s clear separation of color, in other parts of the creature, the colors seem to blend together.
|Zebra Brooch, 1987; Agate, diamonds, a sapphire, silver, and gold; Private collection. Photograph by Katharina Faerber. Courtesy of JAR, Paris.|
The mystique of JAR is enhanced by the man himself. Rosenthal is famously private. The New York native who lives and works in Paris has rarely given interviews although he did agree to a select few for this exhibition. The window of his store on Place Vendôme, perhaps the most famous luxury shopping district in the world, is often blank or showing a single object unrelated to jewelry design, such as a twig. The customers who are fortunate enough to enter his chambers get singular treatment and leave, eventually, with unique pieces of art created just for them.
|Tulip Brooch, 2008; Rubies, diamonds, pink sapphires, garnets, silver, gold, and enamel; Private collection; Photograph by Jozsef Tari. Courtesy of JAR, Paris.|
His eccentricity was apparently on display during the preparation of the Met exhibit. To the disappointment of many Rosenthal wasn’t present at the press preview with staff saying he is “shy.”
But we did get a bit more detail of the man behind JAR from Jennifer Russell, Metropolitan Museum associate director for exhibitions.
“Joel is passionate, he’s opinionated, he has a very definite point of view about almost everything, from what he’s going to eat for lunch to how the show should be arranged,” she said. “But he listens too and it’s been a wonderful dialogue in deciding how things should be arranged and discussing the exhibition in general.”