“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 (b.1943), the only son of a Bronx postman and a biology teacher, is famously inaccessible. He never advertises his jewels, rarely invites anyone to view them at his blacked-out salon at 7 Place Vendôme in Paris and reportedly produces just 70-80 pieces per year from his ateliers in France and Switzerland.
Such self-conscious secrecy has resulted in a voracious cult following for JAR creations and a long waiting list of private patrons. The only way of jumping the queue is to buy on the secondary market.
It is partly through the increasingly private-buyer-oriented auction rooms of London, New York and Geneva that the JAR brand has prospered. It was here that a gold bangle with diamond and garnet accents modelled as a parrot tulip sold for a multi-estimate SFr3.25m (Christie’s Geneva in 2014) and where prices for JAR’s bespoke jewels now regularly pass six figures (three pieces in the Christie’s New York summer sale carry hopes of $150,000-200,000 each).
The auction room is also where some of JAR’s more democratic creations are soaring to new heights.
Although Rosenthal had held his first solo exhibition at the National Academy of Design in New York as early as 1987, it was the ‘view by torchlight’ Jewels by JAR exhibition at London’s Somerset House in 2002 that first placed him into the consciousness of the world’s most fashionable women.
Alongside the 400 bespoke pieces on view (each pictured in a now elusive 720-page catalogue) were a more ‘accessible’ range of anodised aluminium and titanium earclips modelled as flowers, leaves, petals and fans. Pairs were given to each of the 100-plus lenders as a gift of appreciation. Others offered for sale were snapped up within days at around £200 per pair.
The marketing wheeze was revisited in 2005 when JAR opened a perfume atelier at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman (by which time they were priced at something like $1400 a pair), and again when the fragrances were marketed at the third Masterpiece London show in 2012.
As strictly limited-edition works, they have become hugely collectable, steadily increasing in price across a decade. What had been affordable at Somerset House were trading at $3000-4000 per pair a few years ago and more in 2018 – by which time prices of $4000-5000 were becoming the norm.
Last December two pairs of the highly desirable two-tone green geranium leaf earclips from the 2002 run were offered in Sotheby’s sales on two continents: one in Geneva took SFr13,000 and another in New York a remarkable $15,000.
More JAR costume creations were offered as part of Christie’s New York (25% buyer’s premium) Jewels Online sale held from April 13-24 – estimated at around $2000 each, they sold for prices between $7000 (£5600) and $8500 (£6800).
Prices at a Sotheby’s New York (25% buyer’s premium) auction on April 29 went higher still.
This sale included pieces of the resin and gold-plated aluminium jewels from the collection designed by Rosenthal to sell alongside a retrospective held at the 2013-14 Metropolitan Museum (where the parrot tulip bangle had been exhibited).
At the time, Carnaval à Venise earrings with gold-leafed glass marbles on titanium wire sold at the museum’s shop for $2000, pairs of resin gardenias were $4000 while Tickle Me Feather earrings were available in purple or black resin at $4000 or in gold-plated aluminium with a $7500 price tag. Would these costlier JAR costume jewels also prove a worthwhile investment?
Two pairs of Tickle Me Feather earclips were ‘flipped’ to Sotheby’s where they were pitched at $5000-7000 each. In fact, the pair in black resin took $12,000 (£9600) while those in gold-plated aluminium brought $15,000 (£12,000).
Sometimes it pays to be out of reach.