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Renowned jewelry designer JAR on view at the Met

Renee Minus White | 11/21/2013, 4:10 p.m.
At a recent press conference, the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduced “Jewels by JAR,” an exhibition of more than 400 ...
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At a recent press conference, the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduced “Jewels by JAR,” an exhibition of more than 400 works by jewelry designer Joel A. Rosenthal, who works in Paris under the name JAR. This exhibit is the first retrospective in the United States and the first retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum dedicated to a contemporary jeweler. “Jewels by JAR” runs from Nov. 20 to March 9, 2014.

Growing up in the Bronx, Rosenthal spent much of his youth visiting the city’s museums, which inspired in him a lifelong love of art, history and beauty. Rosenthal left New York to attend Harvard University and then moved to Paris after graduating in 1966, where he met Pierre Jeannet, the other half of the JAR story.

Rosenthal and Jeannet devoted much time to learning about jewelry and gems. In 1973, they opened a needlepoint shop, but Rosenthal’s passion for making jewelry soon surpassed that of his other ventures, and he opened a small, almost hidden shop on Place Vendôme where he could show his work. The shop later expanded, and he quickly became known for his vibrantly colored sculptural designs.

He designs wild rose and weeping willow earrings; raspberry, asparagus and leek brooches; soft-as-fabric handkerchief earrings; and diamond-bridled zebras. He uses traditional elements, as well as nontraditional materials such as aluminum, titanium, steel, wood, silver darkened by chemical processes and even beetle wings. Whether the jewels are large or small, natural or geometric, wild in color or quietly shaded, each work is a singular expression of JAR’s unique creative spirit.

Jeannet summarized Rosenthal’s process this way: “At every step of the making of a piece, he checks and corrects. And if at the end his eye is not happy, we destroy the piece. But the finished piece is not yet at home. His last look is to see that the jewelry has gone to the right lady. Then he sighs, and his work is done.”

“It’s a very expensive exhibition to move around,” said associate curator Jane Adlin. The exhibition is made possible by Henry and Maria-Josée Kravis, Phaidon Press Ltd., Nancy and Howard Marks, the Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation, Agnes Gund, Mr. and Mrs. George S. Livanos and Hilary and Wilbur Ross.