Joel Arthur Rosenthal
Joel Arthur Rosenthal (b. 1943) has said, “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 should be done.”
“Staying silent” and “just getting on with it” has been Joel Arthur Rosenthal’s lifelong mantra. Even though he has been called the “Faberge of our time,” he shuns the spotlight. Known as “JAR” among insiders, the design and the creation has always been more important to him than giving interviews or attending shows.
Born in Bronx, New York to a postman father and a biology teacher mother, Rosenthal has never been comfortable discussing his personal life. Growing up, he spent much of his time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National History Museum, especially in the melds and minerals galleries.
Having aspirations to become a painter, he attended high school at the Museum of Art and Design in New York. After graduating, he spent a semester at City College, studying linguistics (he speaks Yiddish, Italian and French). He then transferred to Harvard, where he studied art history and philosophy. Upon graduating in 1966, he moved to Paris where he did some screen writing before opening a needlepoint shop. His creations there caught the eye of designers including Hermès and Valentino. One day, Rosenthal was asked to design a mount for a gemstone and his career trajectory changed.
He went to New York and worked for a short time for Bulgari, before returning to Paris. With his partner, Pierrè Jeannet, Rosenthal opened his own boutique in 1977.
Though he had no formal training, he quickly became a success. His shop has no windows or signs. The front door is painted black and the only nod to embellishment is an ornamental doorknob. Entry is the sponsorship of another established customer.
Rosenthal never advertises. Each piece is custom made for each client and his studio only produces 70 to 80 pieces a year. Despite this, Rosenthal’s creations sell for thousands of dollars at auction. For instance, his gold, diamond and green garnet Parrot Tulip bangle sold for $3.35 million and a pair of his diamond ear clips sold for $225,000.
Rosenthal’s pieces are sought after collectibles. In 2002, London’s Somerset House staged an exhibition of Rosenthal’s creations. Nearly 150 of Rosenthal’s clients loaned the museum 400 pieces for the show. Rosenthal is also the only living gem artist to have a solo exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 2017, Rosenthal designed his first work of Judaica for an exhibition called Menorah: Worship, History, Legend which was sponsored by the Vatican and the Jewish Museum of Rome. It was his first work not meant for a customer.
The menorah he created is shaped like the branches of a blooming almond tree, with pink enamel flowers and a centered bud radiating a pavé mix of white and gold diamonds, blue and violet sapphires, and pink rubies. The piece was inspired by his grandmother’s almond cookies.
He said about the show: “…It was unexpected. I have done all I could to shield myself from what’s going on in the world,” but this exhibition and its message of unity made him participate.