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 jewelry industry, the designs he creates for his jewelry house, JAR, are legendary for their innovation and artful use of color. 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 personalized 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 color images depicting handcrafted JAR creations. While one finds copious amounts of luxurious gems, gold, and platinum in his jewelry, Rosenthal has never limited his creations to so-called precious materials. Materials such as beetle wings, wood, resin, enamel, bronze, and aluminum 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 exhibit 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 color 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 jewelry and jewelry design.

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