400 Designs by JAR Highlight Colorful, Gem-Intensive Jewelry Exhibition at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

Considered a modern-day Peter Carl Fabergé, jewelry designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal is famous for his uncanny ability to “paint” with gemstones. His awe-inspiring sculptural interpretations of flowers, animals, sea life and even a lowly bagel — some 400 works in all — are on display through March 9 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

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Tulip brooch, 2008. Rubies, diamonds, pink sapphires, garnets, silver, gold and enamel. Private collection. (PHOTOGRAPH BY JOZSEF TARI. COURTESY OF JAR, PARIS.)

The 70-year-old Rosenthal, who was born in the Bronx, but who has worked in Paris under the name JAR since 1978, has gained an international following for his uniquely off-beat colorful creations.

It’s as if Rosenthal is painting with a palette of gemstones. In some pieces, there is a distinctive division between the colors, and in others, the colors blend seamlessly. He creates this effect with his precision pavé work, where he sets small stones so close together that they appear as a continuous surface of jewels.

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Geranium brooch, 2007. Diamonds, aluminium, silver and gold. Private collection. (PHOTOGRAPH BY JOZSEF TARI. COURTESY OF JAR, PARIS.)

He has never been afraid to mix precious and non-precious stones, and is as comfortable working in platinum and gold as he is in titanium or aluminum. JAR produces only 80 to 90 pieces a year, which makes them even more precious.

“He’s discriminating, but indiscriminate in his use of gemstones,” exhibition curator Jane Adlin told Forbes magazine. “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.”

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Poppy brooch, 1982. Diamond, tourmalines and gold. Private collection. (PHOTOGRAPH BY KATHARINA FAERBER. COURTESY OF JAR, PARIS).

In May 2012, philanthropist Lily Safra auctioned 18 of her beloved JAR pieces at Christie’s to benefit her charity. The sale yielded nearly $11.5 million and was one of the highest-profile events of Christie’s season. One particular item featured Safra’s 37.2-carat diamond cleverly camouflaged by JAR in the twisting stems of two poppies interpreted in pink and green tourmaline.

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Butterfly brooch, 1994. Sapphires, fire opals, rubies, amethysts, garnets, diamonds, silver and gold. Private collection. (PHOTOGRAPH BY KATHARINA FAERBER. COURTESY OF JAR, PARIS).

His 1994 butterfly brooch includes an impressive list of materials, including sapphires, fire opals, rubies, amethyst, garnets, diamonds, silver and gold.

This is only the second time Rosenthal’s work has been on public display. The first was in London in 2002. The pieces in the current exhibition were nearly all lent by private collectors.

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Zebra brooch, 1987. Agate, diamonds, a sapphire, silver and gold. Private collection. (PHOTOGRAPH BY KATHARINA FAERBER. COURTESY OF JAR, PARIS).

Critics commented that the show would have benefited from more documentation about the individual items, such as the rarity or source of the gems. But, Rosenthal wanted his visitors to focus on his creations without being distracted by explanatory captions or audio guides, according to The Economist.

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Lilac brooches, 2001. Diamonds, lilac sapphires, garnets, aluminium, silver and gold. Private collection. (PHOTOGRAPH BY JOZSEF TARI. COURTESY OF JAR, PARIS.)

Rosenthal’s partner, Pierre Jeannet, summarizes JAR’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.”

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