Books: Jewels by JAR

JAR butterfly brooch
Essay by Adrian Sassoon, 144 pp., illus., publ. by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2013, US$40.00. The JAR butterfly brooch (1994) is from a private collection. Photograph by Katharina Faerber, courtesy of JAR, Paris.
Joel Arthur Rosenthal is not a household name. Yet to many in the jewellery industry, the designs he creates for his jewellery house, JAR, are legendary for their innovation and artful use of colour. Established in 1978, JAR is synonymous with quality and style. Alongside business partner Pierre Jeannet, Rosenthal has built a firm whose reputation is rooted in beauty, discretion, attention to detail and deeply personalised service. Jewels by JAR was created to accompany the retrospective of the same name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The book opens with a dedication by Rosenthal himself, with a foreword by Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan. The main text is an engrossing essay by art dealer Adrian Sassoon on Rosenthal’s career. The essay will be particularly interesting to followers of the notoriously publicity-shy Rosenthal.

The remainder of the book consists of page after page of fabulous colour images depicting handcrafted JAR creations. While one finds copious amounts of luxurious gems, gold and platinum in his jewellery, Rosenthal has never limited his creations to so-called precious materials. Materials such as beetle wings, wood, resin, enamel, bronze and aluminium have been used to complete his artistic vision. The success he has achieved is obvious in each photograph, deepening this reader’s lament that she did not have the opportunity to view the exhibition in person.

Even the pieces’ presentation boxes do not escape the discriminating eye of the designer. The interior of a given box might be custom-lined with suede of a colour meant to complement the jewel it will hold. Box lids are often embossed with the owner’s initials, serving as a reminder that each JAR creation is indeed one-of-a-kind.

Truly lovely to look at, with an interesting text, Jewels by JAR is a “must-read”, not only for serious collectors of Rosenthal’s work, but for anyone interested in jewellery and jewellery design.

Jana Smith is a subject specialist for Gems & Gemology at GIA in Carlsbad, California.