13th Mar 2014


Metropolitan Museum of Art Features First Modern Jewelry Designer, Ever. And We Were There.


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Sometimes you have to drop everything because there’s no choice. Other times you drop everything because you want to. Such was the case with the JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal) closing weekend exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this past weekend.

I booked a last minute flight hoping that it would be worth it. It took a lot of work (Thanks, Vu and Kristin) and support for me to get there and keep everything else going at work and at home. My family sort of looked at me funny and kept asking, “why now?” Oy vey.

Mr. Rosenthal’s been a bit of a reclusive jewelry designer located in Paris for nearly forty years. There is not a lot written about him and the exhibit itself had scant information about Mr. Rosenthal or his inspirations or even details about each piece of jewelry.

In our research we dug up a few details such as: he went to Harvard, at one point wanted a film career; and he was known to admire art at the Met along with Tiffany jewels in the window when he was a little boy.

He does have an atelier in Paris today, with his partner Pierre Jeannet, which I found by wandering last summer. It looked much like a closed office with not a jewel in the window. I didn’t go in because I thought it was closed. Now, I wonder. Rosenthal and Jeannet teamed up in their early twenties and began by collecting and selling antique jewelry which is where they gained their love and appreciation for old stones which are often used in their pieces today.

One story is that when he is in New York, folks line up outside his hotel room door to take a look at what he has created lately – celebrities included. The retrospective of his work at the museum included over 400 pieces of jewelry/art/sculpture donated mostly by private collectors. It was well worth the effort, not only because it was a visual feast but because to see his work was to see fearlessness.

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He considers no material unworthy or unsuitable and in fact used materials such as silk or wire with unbelievably gorgeous stones to create an original, fine work of art, or jewelry, depending on if you would wear it.

The snake necklace shown below is a coffee table piece in my book, suitable for a nice thick slab of marble or some kind of intimate, glassed bronze case. It’s a pet snake I could surely love regardless.

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His technique of hand selecting stones for pavé work is one of his trademarks, along with his organic design choices such as roses, sea shells, rose petals, pansies and acorns. The shape and form of the pieces felt hand rendered and organic, not stiff and manufactured.

Rock of Eden created shell coffee table pieces with sapphire stones and silver in the coiling veins several years ago and my first design was based on a sand dollar from my grandparents beach cottage, all of which, I have felt sheepish about. Mr Rosenthal’s work instructs otherwise! No material was off limits to him and nothing was too simple or natural to use. So of course I loved this wholly encrusted shell with rubies, spinels and garnets.

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One of JAR’s favorite techniques used is that of inverting the stone so that the culet, the point, is face up. This creates some great texture to certain pieces not unlike moss or a rolling, slightly uncut grass. Not placing the stone face up for maximum “showiness”? Who does that? This is but one example of his fearless and creative pursuit of design and execution.

His collection of butterflies mounted on a perfectly lit, vertical panel were astounding – each one a veritable masterpiece worthy of study. Some of the prettiest were not jewel encrusted so much as delicately painted or glazed with layers of color and tiny veins of diamonds and fire opals that felt authentic and natural without “literal representation.”

His pieces remind us why nature is beautiful and something to be revered and further, how talisman-like great jewelry is and always will be. I can’t help but wonder if he has a beautiful secret garden wherever he lives– to have captured such beauty and joy in his work.
Like Monet’s love of flowers and lilies on the lake, Mr. Rosenthal is also clearly a romanticist and naturalist, for his love of flowers, butterflies and bugs was uplifting in every way.

In the foreword to the book catalogue of the exhibit the author writes…”Joel Arthur Rosenthal would prefer that we use our own eyes to look at his creations in person…rather than ask him too many questions.”

Boy, was he right.

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