As Christie’s prepares to sell the largest private collection of JAR jewels ever offered at auction – at Geneva’s Four Seasons des Bergues on May 14 – I dug up an interview I did in 2006 with François Curiel about Joel Arthur Rosenthal.
Curiel, then the Geneva-based head of Christie’s jewelry department, was getting ready to sell 17 JAR jewels, at that time the largest single-owner collection of JAR to be auctioned. They belonged to actress Ellen Barkin, who was unloading a hundred jewels after her divorce from Ronald Perelman.
Among the stunning pieces in that sale: a JAR diamond thread ring, a remarkable pair of topaz-and-ruby earrings, and an over-sized gardenia diamond ring that inspired a scene in the first Sex and the City movie. It looked a lot like a bracelet in this sale, made in 1994, in the form of a camellia.
(All photos courtesy Christie’s Images)
Camellia diamond bracelet by JAR, 1994 (left) est. $400-600k, sold for $624,792 at Christie’s Geneva May 14, 2012, and diamond Gardenia ring (right) sold for $486,400 at Christie’s NY in 2006
The treasure trove coming up for sale in May has 18 JAR pieces, beating Barkin’s record by a jewel, and demonstrates, once again, the Bronx-born Rosenthal’s exquisite taste in gems and often unconventional way of putting them together. This time, the jewelry belongs to Lily Safra, a Brazil-born socialite and philanthropist whose four marriages left her a billionaire with a $500 million villa on the French Riviera. It’s no surprise to learn that she’s also a longtime customer of the exclusive, Paris-based JAR. Now 77, Safra is selling off 70 of her jewels, estimated at $20 million (although JAR pieces are famous for selling above estimates).
No, the villa is not going into foreclosure. She’s donating it all to charity – 20 charities, to be precise – as chair of a foundation set up by the late Edmund Safra, a banker and her fourth and final husband. Safra, who was suffering from Parkinsons, died several years ago. Lily Safra has donated millions to emergency relief efforts (including Katrina), medical research (including AIDS and Parkinsons), and higher education. Now she’s liquidating some jewels to donate more.
Lily and Edmund Safra began commissioning JAR jewels in 1981. Before the Barkin sale six years ago, Curiel explained that Joel Rosenthal works closely with his customers (which, by the way, included Elizabeth Taylor).
“Say you have a wedding anniversary coming up and you’d like something special and your husband goes there,” Curiel said. “If JAR knows you and your family, he will think of something you like, some kind of flower, something that reminds you of your children or happy pieces of your life. He will incorporate that in an understated way that only the people who owned the piece would recognize.”
Judging from her jewelry, I’m guessing Ms. Safra loves flowers, particularly camellias and poppies – two of the most beautiful. One is soft and feminine, the other bold and exotic. I think the fact that she loved and wore both says something interesting about her – perhaps that she’s multifaceted and both JAR and her husband (when he commissioned the jewels) recognized that. Then again, maybe she just has good taste in flowers.
For more background on JAR and the Barkin sale, see my first post on JAR. Here are a few more clues to the mysterious JAR, outtakes from my 2006 interview with François Curiel for a feature that ran in JCK magazine:
Why is Joel Rosenthal’s work so desirable?
François Curiel: Because the jewelry is not advertised, because it is not easy to buy, because it is so rare. He only produces 60 or 70 pieces a year. He doesn’t work very hard. His shop is open from 10 am to 12:30, then he goes to lunch, then reopens from 2 to 6. The shop is closed altogether from July 10 to September 15. People get frustrated by the fact that they have no access because he’s not there like any other jeweler. If someone important, a major client, wants to see you Sunday at 10 am, every other jeweler runs to meet them. Not JAR. If you want to make an appointment with him, you do it between 10 and 12:30 or 2 to 5. He doesn’t work Saturday or Sunday.
I heard a story that somebody from Texas was in his shop once and said, “I like them all. How much for the lot?” That is not JAR. You won’t get a discount because you buy four pieces. He said, “I can’t sell to you.” The person left unhappy. This is not a place where you can negotiate the price. That is the price. Some people get a bit annoyed by that.
If I was in Paris and tried to make an appointment, would I get in?
FC: You would probably not. He gets a lot of mail, as an American who lives in Paris, letters from students, from people who would not necessarily be buyers. He might answer if he doesn’t see it as a journalist trying to go through the backdoor. He’s very amenable. He talks to everybody, he’s not a snob. He’s not a high flier.
So, what is it that makes JAR’s jewelry so desirable—the design, the rarity, the inaccessibility?
FC: All of the above.
Jewels for Hope will be on view at Christie’s London March 29-30, Christie’s New York April 14-17, Christie’s Paris April 19-20, and Christie’s Hong Kong April 27-28. Viewings at Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva begin May 11. Sale: 8pm, Monday, May 14.