Friday, June 25, 2010

The JARlings...

The master jeweler of out time, the man regarded by his peers as the Carl Peter Faberge of the modern era, is a difficult and mysteriously reclusive American named Joel Arthur Rosenthal who works in Paris under the name JAR Paris. He is the jeweler of choice to an elite coterie of the haute monde, the super-rich and the very famous, yet most people have never heard of him. That's hardly surprising since, unless your name is up in lights or attached to one of the world's great fortunes, Rosenthal has little interest in selling you a piece of his jewelry or allowing you an appointment to visit his by-appointment-only salon. About the only chance a mere mortal has to become a JARling (as the women who wear his jewels are dubbed) is to buy a piece at auction or from a gallery that bought a piece from a private client.
The person whose work has created all the excitement is described by those who have crossed his orbit as either an ornery, cantankerous, rude, snobbish and “incredibly sarcastic” monster or as a genius, the greatest living jeweler. More frequently, he’s called both at the same time. Certainly, his background, or at least what little is known of it, contains no clue to the origin of his staggering talent or his personal eccentricities. Rosenthal was born in 1943 in the Bronx, New York and went on to study philosophy and art history at Harvard University. After graduation, he worked for a time as a screenwriter for Hollywood and French film-makers and then moved to Paris where he joined forces with Pierre Jeannet, a Geneva- based Swiss psychiatrist in a business venture in which Rosenthal worked at designing tapestry-like needlepoint canvases. At one point, Rosenthal returned to New York to spend six months working with Bulgari and in 1977, Rosenthal and Jeannet opened JAR, their tiny two-room shop hidden away in a courtyard off the Place Vendome, with nei ther signs nor display windows but within spitting distance of the Ritz. Once they opened their doors they blew every other jeweler in Paris out of the water—none of them could compare to the jewels of JAR.

Rosenthal’s work is whimsical and extremely complex. His obsession is nature; life-size blossoms and butterflies rendered so perfectly as to appear real, were they not composed of a myriad of tiny brilliant stones in almost invisible settings. He pioneered the use of micro-pavĂ© and perfected the technique of making a “thread” of tiny diamonds. He uses this thread to create meshes or galleries in which to set stones, for the most part eschewing traditional settings. The only metal of which he seems particularly fond is color-oxidized titanium, but he uses platinum and also mixes silver with gold of various shades. His approach to color is that of a watercolorist and he has no great interest in stones for the sake of carat size alone. Rather, he uses stones that entrance his artistic eye such as ancient pigeon-blood Indian rubies, Kashmiri sapphires, green garnets, Golconda pure water clear diamonds or rare gray-green pearls. So complicated are his designs that certain pieces contain as many as 10,000 stones. Naturally these pieces are made very, very slowly so only about seventy pieces per year are produced and the waiting list, that may require as long as a three year wait for a piece, just grows larger. Don’t think that Rosenthal makes each piece all by himself, he isn’t that skilled. He is essentially a designer, his extraordinary vision creates the idea but the work is performed by a few master craftsmen who are, in essence, his hands.

In 2002, this intensely private jeweler and his equally private clientele allowed 400 pieces of his work to be shown at Somerset House in London. “The Jewels of JAR, Paris” was held at the Gilbert Collection under the auspices of Lord Rothschild, who is rumored to be one of Rosenthal’s backers. That may well be true since there’s a huge gaggle of Rothschild’s who wear JAR. The deep Victorian gray and mauve mourning colors of his Paris shop were echoed in the Stygian darkness of the exhibition rooms. With little in the way of lighting, each visitor was given a flashlight with which to illuminate the jewels, the same obsessive procedure that Rosenthal insisted upon at the one-night show he permitted in New York City nineteen years earlier. So far, he hasn’t forbidden his clients to wear their jewels in daytime or electric light but that could become a future condition before being granted the privilege of buying a JAR piece.

No matter the lighting conditions, the exhibition was a pure celebration of genius. Each of the 400 pieces, though divided into themes, was a highly individual work of art. There were full-sized lilac branches in diamonds and violet sapphires, flocks of butterflies with jeweled wings, a diamond serpent necklace with amethyst spots and a zebra of black and white agate with a diamond bridle and feathered plumes to mention only a few of the wonders on display. Supposedly, there were people who returned time and again to marvel at the jewels and check to see if their flashlights had missed any pieces.

When I wrote that I was going to stick my neck out and make a prediction as to which jeweler of our time would withstand the vicissitudes of time, it really wasn't too much of a gamble.

1 comment:

ron said...

Thank you for letting us "commoners" know about this stunning work. Truly beautiful!!