If you took the detailed observational field skills and plant-and-animal artistry of JJ Audubon and crossed them with the gold-and-jewels precision of a Fabergé master, you can understand the enjoyment, beauty, and wonder that await the luxury-lovers crowding into Jewels by JAR, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s tribute to the world’s most exclusive and reclusive jewelry artist. Meditate on his exquisite take on the natural world before it all goes back to the vaults on March 9.
Plenty of worshippers were wielding tiny flashlights last Saturday night, working their way meticulously through the darkened gallery perusing every detail of 400 tiny, sparkling, jewel-encrusted pieces by JAR (or, Joel A. Rosenthal as he was known growing up in the Bronx). He’s one of the world’s experts in the pavé technique and achieves subtle effects by painstakingly arranging miniscule diamonds, rubies, opals, and amethysts across gold, platinum, and silver surfaces.
Despite being one of the most sought-after jewelers in the world, JAR will not do commissions. Each piece is one of a kind, so the subjects that he chooses tell you a lot about him. Look closely.
The first case features bracelets, earrings, brooches, and necklaces fashioned into exact, delicate replicas of just about anything you can find at the New York Botanical Garden on a spring day — gardenias, roses, camellias, tulips, lilacs, carnations, wisteria, pansies, and even wild oats. Across the room, you’ll see perfect oak leaves and acorns (made from diamonds, platinum, silver, and gold) formed into dramatic rings, cufflinks, necklaces, and earrings.
Growing up, JAR loved roaming the halls of the American Museum of Natural History and the Met, which shows. He’s made one pair of pendant earrings (No. 83) from iridescent beetle wings, married with tiny emeralds, garnets, and diamonds set into silver and platinum.
Right next to that (No. 84) you’ll see his 1981 Egyptian-style faience earrings with emeralds, coral, and gold — a 20th century take on the Middle Kingdom. He’s crafted stalactite earrings (No. 93) from diamonds and silver and found a heart-shaped pebble into which he’s set a perfect ruby surrounded by silver and gold (No. 283).
In the center of the room there are moon and stars pendant earrings (a tribute to Cole Porter) made of sapphires and diamonds (No. 274), and a box (No. 260) inspired by lightning (rock crystal and diamonds). JAR’s 1991 Phases of the Moon Bracelet, made of basalt, diamonds, silver, and platinum, makes you think he probably also hung out at the Hayden in his youth.
The finale to the gallery is the Met’s jeweled twin to the AMNH Butterfly Conservatory – a wall in which 22 of JAR’s beautiful butterflies take flight. OK, there are 2 dragonflies in there, too, but the overall message is butterflies.
Every person in the crowd seemed to pause here in the dark to choose which creature was the most beautiful before entering the bright, unforgiving lights of the gift shop. A personal favorite was the 1987 Dragonfly Brooch (No. 378) with double-layered rock crystal wings.
If you love nature, wit, color, and fool-the-eye magic, you’ll like getting lost in the dark among the billions of points of light that JAR has created in his glittering universe.