The world’s most enigmatic jeweler and his $4 million brooches: Joel Arthur Rosenthal

Joel Arthur Rosenthal is a world-renowned jeweler and a man of mystery. His brand store does not sell jewelry, he does not communicate with his clientele, does not advertise or give interviews.

He chooses only the most worthy of those wishing to buy his jewelry, and the rare appearance of the simplest items marked J.A.R. at auctions becomes a sensation. So who is he, this elusive genius of jewelry design?

Mystery is perhaps the key feature of the J.A.R. brand, and there is a certain amount of charm in this closeness. It is almost impossible to touch Rosenthal’s creations, unless you are recommended to him by someone from the Rothschild family. And even if you are a multibillionaire, you can not count on the favor of the master. He decides for himself whom to work with, and is distinguished by a rare incorruptibility. Any mention of Rosenthal, any statement by him is an international event. Even an album of photographs of J.A.R. jewelry became a bibliophile rarity in a matter of hours.

Not only Rosenthal’s jewelry, but even albums with their photographs are not easy to see.

His jewelry can not be found at presentations and exhibitions, and certainly not in advertising. The jeweler does not talk to journalists, does not announce the release of his collections. Few people ever meet him in person. Rumor has it that Rosenthal is a misanthrope and never meets with clients because he is irritated by banality and tastelessness in their appearance, behavior and speech. It is said that he can be rude to his titled customers and says whatever he thinks about their clothes and jewelry, often refusing to sell jewelry if he thinks it does not suit the customer. However, looking at his subtle, spiritualized, light-permeated masterpieces, it is hard to imagine him as a grouchy recluse.


An atmosphere of strict secrecy envelops both the personality of the master and the brand itself. The small store on the rue de Castillon, decorated in elegant lilac colors, offers its visitors high-end perfumes. However, at the end of the 70s one could see there the first J.A.R. creations — three luxurious diamond rings. True, they did not last long on the counter.

The American Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the son of a teacher and a letter carrier, never studied to be a jeweler, except for six months at the Bulgari firm in New York. But he graduated from Harvard, managed to get a degree in philosophy and art history, wrote paintings and movie scripts, and worked with famous couturiers.

Rosenthal is fluent in several European languages. He could have had a career in any field of art — but he chose to be a great self-taught artist.

In the 1960s, he met his business partner Pierre Janet in Paris — and devoted the next decade to creating the very three rings that instantly made him famous. The jeweler was inspired by butterflies with their fragile and exciting beauty. Photographs of the first J.A.R. pieces were immediately commissioned by Vogue — and Joël Arthur Rosenthal woke up a legend of jewelry design.

Over the years of his jewelry career, Rosenthal has created a little over a hundred pieces of jewelry — not much compared to the famous brands that release new collections several times a year. But this only adds to the attractiveness of his products in the eyes of collectors.

J.A.R. produces jewelry made of blackened gold and silver alloy, designed by Rosenthal himself, sometimes using titanium and even wood. There is nothing revolutionary in his design — pure, unambiguous, familiar to the eye beauty. The jeweler is not inclined to experiment with new technologies using old ways of cutting diamonds. A large part of the charm of J.A.R. jewelry lies in its conservatism and in the fact that it appears antique.

It should be said that Rosenthal has no piety toward precious stones, either: it is the color and texture that counts, not the status. Rubies are no better than opals, while other garnets are no worse than emeralds in terms of the complexity of their hue and the play of light in their facets.

Rosenthal’s favorite motifs are flowers and butterflies. The petals and wings seem alive, twitching, each stone seems to have the ability to breathe. Lilacs and camellias, lilies and freesias, clover and carnations — Rosenthal, like the great modernist jewelers, does not divide plants into noble and weedy, finding in each of them a unique character and beauty.

And even the simplest — of course, in terms of «elitist» materials — J.A.R. jewelry is inaccessible to mere mortals. Occasionally, J.A.R. items appear at auctions. — Titanium, garnets, unpretentious motifs. And for the possession of them flares up a real battle, and the value of the products increases by tens, if not hundreds of times. J.A.R. Titanium earrings made without precious stones went at auction for five thousand pounds. And the ruby Camellia brooch became one of the most expensive jewelry in history — it was sold to a private collection for almost four and a half million dollars. Only fourteen cases of J.A.R. jewelry at auction are known.

Of course, the history of any genius is incomplete without a muse — even one as enigmatic as Arthur Joel Rosenthal. In 1981, the husband of the socialite and famous philanthropist Lily Safra (the fourth in a row) purchased at auction the rarest pear-shaped diamond. However, not every jeweler, no matter how skilled, was prepared to work with such an unusual shape. So Lily turned to Rosenthal.

He created for her a stunningly beautiful brooch in the shape of a poppy, accompanying a diamond of marvelous beauty with no less beautiful tourmalines. And it was Lily Safra who managed to become a regular customer of the picky genius. Her collection includes quite a few pieces of jewelry created by Rosenthal just for her — jewelry for which any collector would sell his soul to the devil. In 2012, Lili decided to auction off some of her jewelry. The proceeds of their sale were spent on charity.

Sometimes, however, the reclusive jeweler makes public statements — he praises his young colleagues. His brief approving remarks to some modern jewelers are a pass to the world of elite orders. Claire Chouin, creative director of Boucheron, carefully keeps his postcard with a single word: «Bravo».

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