"Everything conspires to make you bigger and more public, my instinct and my radar, my selfishness and arrogance and above all the passion for happiness told me to stay small, stay silent, do what you want to do, don't be seduced, don't be enticed, just get on with it the way you think it should be done."
Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR) is almost as famous for his elusiveness and loathing of publicity as he is his spectacular jewellery. Born in 1943 and raised in the Bronx area of New York he was the only child of a postal worker father and biology teacher mother who instilled in him the importance of following his dreams and doing what made him happy.
He studied linguistics (he speaks French, Italian, Yiddish and English) before attending Yale where he read Art History and Philosophy, graduating in 1966. He moved to Paris and initially worked as a screen writer before opening a tiny needlepoint shop where his experiments with unusual colours and combinations of yarns caught the eye of designers such as Hermès and Valentino. Long attracted to the history and mysteries of colour and the endless combinations that could be created from a primary palette he found himself drawn to the world of fine gemstones and jewellery. He went to work for Bulgari in New York but soon returned to Paris and together with his partner, Pierre Jeannet, opened his eponymous atelier just off the Place Vendôme in 1977. He still operates from the same location today and now as then, there is little to indicate what treasures lie behind the discreet black door with its distinctive and decorative door knob.
Renowned for his exquisite and painterly use of myriad tiny faceted gems pavé set in the finest of settings, he creates only a limited number of jewels each year. Every one is unique, many are bespoke creations for his select group of clients whilst others may result from a flash of inspiration or alternatively decades of contemplation. Such was the case with a round six carat pink diamond which Rosenthal bought at auction but kept unused for over 20 years whilst deciding on the best way to set it in order to enhance its beauty to the maximum. He developed a new metal alloy blending silver, gold and nickel amongst others which created a dark coloured background against which his gems could shine. His workshops are based in Paris, the south of France and Geneva and between them produce only about 100 pieces per year with each piece taking anything from a few weeks to two and a half years to create.
In 2002 London’s The Gilbert Collection at Somerset House staged an exhibition of 400 of his works which were displayed in near darkness with visitors using torches to view the jewels one at a time. A decade later in 2013 the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted a retrospective of his works with 145 clients loaning hundreds of jewels between them. Rosenthal is very particular about who he sells to and all new clients are introduced to him by existing ones. He never advertises, rarely gives interviews and has created an air of mystery and exclusivity around himself and his work. He says this is not intentional and simply the result of being extremely private, either way it has only added to the public’s fascination with both the man and his jewellery. When pieces come up at auction they consistently fetch hammer prices far in excess of their estimates and he remains one of the most highly regarded and sought after of contemporary jewellers.