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LONDON — The gallery is so dimly lit that you can’t see your toes, just the silhouettes of visitors peering into a long, narrow vitrine sparkling with 400 treasures from JAR, the celebrated Paris jeweler Joel Arthur Rosenthal.
This story first appeared in the November 4, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But voices emerge from the dark.
“Do you remember that one?” Marie-Josee Kravis asks her husband, Henry, pointing a miniature flashlight — the principal source of light at this unusual installation — at a group of glittering gems. “I love that. Oh, that one is beautiful. Why didn’t we buy all three of those?”
“That looks like one of Lily [Safra]’s rings — the one like a chandelier,” says David Furnish, a few feet further down the display. “It’s a good thing Elton [John] isn’t here or he’d want to buy everything.”
“Kenny Lane said my earrings looked better without my head between them,” cracks Nan Kempner, who loaned pieces to the show, but seems most impressed by a six-inch-tall carved agate zebra pin that Ann Getty wears at her waist.
Everywhere one looks, there are diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and jeweled flights of fancy, such as an orange peel brooch made of mandarin garnets. One large case holds several dozen butterflies and dragonflies.
“The Jewels of JAR,” at The Gilbert Collection, Somerset House until Jan 26 presents 25 years of work from the Bronx-born Rosenthal. Among jewelry experts, he is known for his imagination, the craftsmanship of his workshops — and for his rarified clientele.
Last week in London, a swirl of dinners and private viewings open “The Jewels of JAR,” forcing the normally retiring Rosenthal and his partner, Pierre Jeannet, into the social swim. They’re feted all week by the international social set, who usually gather in such numbers only for royal christenings or the Prince of Wales’ Ascot week dinners at Buckingham Palace. Rosenthal, who speaks about his “profound antipathy” to public events, must be getting a dose to last a lifetime.
It all begins Tuesday night with a dinner and private viewing hosted by Firyal of Jordan, Janet de Botton and Jacob Rothschild. The 60 animated guests, among the very first visitors at the exhibition, move through the darkened exhibition like children on an Easter-egg hunt, each searching for her contribution to the show.
“Those look familiar,” says Beatrice Santo Domingo, as Jeannet ushers her toward a pair of flowered ear clips. The Santo Domingos, among JAR’s best clients, own so many pieces they couldn’t keep track of them all.
“You got me these, the star sapphires,” says Beatrice to her husband.
“Did I?” answers Julio Mario. “I forgot.”
“Oh, thank God,” beams his wife. “I’m delighted you forgot.”
“I have the poorest piece in the exhibition,” notes Susan Gutfreund, who announces her ownership of a curious necklace made not from stones, but from a handful of real chestnuts. Of course, Gutfreund also loaned a JAR swan, made from a wobbly baroque pearl “the size of a golf ball.”
Among other lenders, Ellen Barkin gave her wedding ring from Ron Perelman (“The big one, with the wide band,” she says). A camelia brooch, with a central diamond the circumference of a quarter, came from Patty Cisneros. A cushion clock of carved white Russian agate came from Eugenie and Nicholas Clive-Worms — notice the hands, shaped like E and N, following each other around the dial. The biggest diamond necklace in the show, which Rosenthal calls a “scattering of diamond dust,” but really has about a bushel of Golconda’s best, is rumored to belong to Kravis. Other pieces may have belonged to Aysha, the Maharani of Jaipur, Caroline of Hanover and Jo Carole Lauder, according to various guests. Marella Agnelli is also known to have contributed, and there are pieces owned by the late Marie-Helene de Rothschild, one of JAR’s early clients. Rosenthal, as a matter of policy, doesn’t discuss his clientele and insisted that all loans to the exhibit be made anonymously.
But the guest list Tuesday night gives a good indication of the JAR inner circle, including de Botton, Firyal, Eugenie Clive-Worms, the Kravises, Lily Safra, Christie’s François Curiel (who had Christie’s underwrite the exhibition), Kempner, Barkin and Perelman.
“Ronald took me to JAR the first time,” reports Barkin, who, with her husband, provided additional support for the exhibition. “Ronald is the best husband for buying jewelry. I said to him, ‘Remember, Hanukkah has eight days.’ I tell him to buy it in bulk.”
To round out the six tables, Rothschild also calls in a few local glamour queens — like Elle Macpherson and Daphne Guinness — and select members of the press, including Christiane Amanpour, Suzy Menkes (who wrote an introduction to the Jewels of JAR catalog) and that ink-stained wretch, the Duchess of Devonshire.
“I was asked to do something for Country Life,” says the Duchess when asked how she knew of JAR. She explains that she had not previously met Rosenthal, but was taken aback by his creations — and particularly by the startling realism of the jeweled flowers that have every pistil and stamen in place.
“There is amazing jewelry in England, which people throw on like an old Mackintosh,” says the Duchess. “This is something totally different and quite extraordinary.”
The Duchess also confides to one guest that a pair of chandelier earrings in the exhibit would make “good Christmas tree ornaments.” Ironically, that’s just the kind of line Rosenthal himself has used on unsuspecting visitors to his shop on Paris’ Place Vendôme.
Eugenie Clive-Worms, a close friend of the JAR team recalls: “Joel is quite capable of saying, ‘Take off that necklace and earrings; you look like a Christmas tree.’ He said that to my mother [Lita Livanos] the first time she went in the shop.”
In fact, a tongue-lashing from Rosenthal is one experience nearly all of the exhibition supporters share. De Botton, a wealthy art collector, recalls the first time she was taken to JAR by a friend. Rosenthal saw her sapphire earrings and grumped, “‘I hate your earrings. Why are you wearing them? They’re ghastly.’” She asked him to make a better pair, and in time became a collector — perhaps the most important single donor to the exhibition — and close friend of Rosenthal and Jeannet. The catalogue dedicates the show to de Botton, “the muse of our exhibition.”
Even Lord Rothschild recalls that he had personally felt the chilly blast of Rosenthal’s disregard. Once, a few years back, he tried to contact JAR with a business offer.
“I called to say my wife had a large emerald we were thinking of having reset,” Rothschild says during his toast on Tuesday night. “I was distressed that he never even called me back.”
The emerald may never have found its new setting, but Rothschild did eventually make the jeweler’s acquaintance, thanks to de Botton, who introduced them on the Eurostar. Although Rosenthal had already planned an exhibition at Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs, delays due to ongoing renovations there permitted him to entertain Rothschild’s offer. Rothschild describes the exhibition as “another great chapter in the life of Somerset House,” home to the Gilbert Collection, the Couthauld Collection and the Hermitage rooms.
As some visitors to “The Jewels of JAR” recall, this is not the first JAR exhibition. About 15 years ago, a three-hour showing in New York cemented the jeweler’s reputation — and provided the inspiration for the current exhibition’s torch-lit installation. The morning of the earlier exhibition, when the custom-made vitrines for the show arrived, Rosenthal was appalled by their cold light, “lights from a butcher shop,” he recalls. So he just unplugged them all and handed out flashlights to each guest.
“In the business, that’s the only light we sometimes use to look at a stone,” Rosenthal explains. Likewise, in London, the flashlights provide the best means to examine each piece in detail.
“The idea is that each guest controls the light,” says Rosenthal. “He sees well and he can concentrate on what he likes.” One client also suggests that there is an element of surprise to the installation, very much in keeping with Rosenthal’s delight in the unexpected. In his shop, for instance, Rosenthal will often tell clients to close their eyes, and then slip a jewel into their hands.
The walls of the three galleries are lined with the same dusty mauve that is JAR’s signature color, and the scent of JAR perfume wafts through the darkened rooms. (The perfumes Golconda and Diamond Water are for sale in the gift shop, along with an 800-page book and limited-edition JAR violet earrings in cast aluminum.)
“What he’s done is recreate his shop,” suggests Spain’s Duke of Lugo, husband of the Infanta Elena.
“I’m used to doing little things that go out into the world,” says Rosenthal. “For the exhibition, I had to make a little world for all those things to come back to.”
After the small dinner on Tuesday, the JAR celebrations mushroom on Wednesday, as Eugenie and Nicholas Clive-Worms give a dinner for 340 at Vinopolis in South London, attracting guests from every corner of the world.
The billionaires club has plenty of representation — including the Millers, the Fanjuls, the Kravises, the Santo Domingos and the Cisneroses. From the American benefit scene are Deeda Blair, Kempner and Anne Bass.
“All of Paris is here,” growls Bianca Jagger, sizing up the guests pouring into the Wine Vaults at Vinopolis, in South London. The Parisians include JAR’s very first client, Irene Amic, as well as Helene David-Weill and Betty Cattroux. Gwyneth Paltrow, whose delicate necklace of sparkling diamond circles is featured in the exhibit, is the one movie star. Christiana Brandolini, Lita Livanos, Linda Wachner, Paola Cussi and Joyce Ma are the international heavyweights. Hubert de Givenchy and Valentino come from the fashion world. England is represented by Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, the Marquess of Cholomondy and Lord and Lady Forte, while the European monarchies are upheld by the Infanta Elena of Spain, Marie-Chantal and Pavlos of Greece and Olga of Greece, who brings Johnny Pigazzi.
Olga wears a gold-plated gangsta necklace of a 9-mm pistol pendent topped with a big J.P.
“Isn’t that like wearing white to a wedding?” teases Lisa Fine, eyeballing the flashy gold plate.
“I’m a jewelry designer, too,” shoots back Pigazzi, “My line is for sale in the next room.”
By the next day, everyone is feeling a little addled from the celebrations, including Eugenie Clive-Worms, who admits, “I’m on my last legs.”
The official Thursday-night opening at Somerset House consequently has few of the glittering set and, ironically, Rosenthal and Jeannet move through the crowd practically unrecognized by the hundreds of admirers who stand in line to see the exhibition. Afterwards, a small dinner hosted by Lily Safra proves to be the most exclusive invitation of the week, while on Friday, one last private viewing is hosted by Rosenthal and Jeannet for the craftsmen in JAR’s workshops, as well as family, college friends and acquaintances from all over.
“We thought that we should invite the craftsmen who make the jewelry to see what they’ve made,” reasons Rosenthal. “Then there will be some jeweled and unjeweled friends, in a few cases, people I haven’t seen in 30 years. And then we’ll give them something to eat.”
Exhausted by all the attention, Rosenthal nonetheless declares himself happy with the outcome of this show, some 4 years in the making. “Jacob said you will have carte blanche and he kept his word — everybody in the museum, all the technical people, were wonderful,” Rosenthal says from the back of a cab, barreling towards Somerset House to escort another top client through the exhibit.
Asked about the early feedback, Rosenthal smiles and answers: “I got one very nice fax from a friend in the business. He wrote me and said, ‘I can retire now.’”
Rosenthal, incidentally, insists that he himself has no intention of retiring, despite the persistent rumors to the contrary.
“About eight people have also been thinking I was dead,” says Rosenthal, perhaps a victim to the retrospective feel of “The Jewels of JAR.” “I am not retiring. Why would I stop doing what I love?”