T here are few fine jewelers more elusive than Joel Arthur Rosenthal, otherwise known by the signature on his creations: JAR. Famous for being inaccessible and entirely mysterious, Rosenthal never advertises his jewels, rarely invites anyone to view them, carefully chooses potential buyers, and reportedly produces just 70 pieces per year from his Switzerland and France-based ateliers. Such secrecy has resulted in a voracious cult following, with collectors taking note when JAR signed pieces are sold at auction. It is for all these reasons that Rosenthal has been referred to as the “Fabergé of our times”.
Prior to becoming the legendary JAR, Rosenthal was born in the Bronx, New York, and graduated with a degree in art history from Harvard University in 1966. Despite an initial stint in the film industry, his creative talents led to a needlepoint business in Paris, adored by the likes of Hermès and Valentino. This was followed by a brief time working for Bulgari in New York, before he jetted back to Paris to open his own, appointment-only jewelry boutique on the Place Vendôme in 1977.
For more than 30 years, beautiful fine and high jewelry pieces have emerged from this secretive Paris boutique – although don’t expect to see examples in the windows, as there are no displays. Inspired by his needlepoint past, many JAR jewels are dusted with diamonds and gemstones in stitch-like pavé arrangements that create an almost uninterrupted surface of colour. These bold shades are given greater impact by Rosenthal’s use of blackened precious and non-precious metals, including aluminium, titanium, steel and wood. JAR pieces are often recognisable for their nature inspirations, with subtle hints of Art Nouveau styling and more complex spirals, spheres and geometries.
The sheer collectability of JAR creations makes Rosenthal one of the most influential living jewelers in the world. In 2013, Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art showcased more than 400 JAR treasures in a show titled, ‘Jewels by JAR’, allowing international fans the rare opportunity to see them face-to-face.