“The Fabergé of our time,” is how Diane von Furstenberg once described the jeweler Joel Arthur Rosenthal, or JAR as he is more widely known. “In a league of his own,” says François Curiel, International Head of Jewelry at Christie’s. Why? “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.” Add to that mystery (little is known about him aside from the fact he was born in the Bronx and is based on Paris’ Place Vendome), elusiveness (he is said to choose his clients rather than the other way round) and yet more rarity (his pieces rarely come up at auction). All of which makes Christie’s Geneva – where 18 lots of JAR jewels will be auctioned on May 14 – something of a gem Mecca for collectors and connoisseurs alike.

The largest single-owner selection of jewels by JAR ever seen at auction, the pieces come from the private collection of Brazil-born philanthropist Lily Safra and forms part of a 70-lot sale of her jewelry to benefit twenty charitable institutions. Highlights include a ruby and diamond Camellia flower brooch created in 2003 (estimate: $1,200,000-1,500,000) and another diamond and pink diamond Camellia flower bracelet from 1994 (estimate: $400,000-600,000).

More than just a rare opportunity for collectors, the JAR jewels offer a glimpse into the relationship between Mrs. Safra – regarded as an aficionado of art as well as jewelry – and Rosenthal. Their creative friendship (“based on a shared aesthetic sensitivity and sense of perfection,” notes the Christie’s catalogue) began in 1981. Francois Curiel has said that Rosenthal often works closely with clients to include motifs, stones and colours that make subtle references to the owner’s life, suggesting that flowers are a particular passion of Mrs. Safra.

The most recently created pieces in the sale, a natural pearl and diamond ring and another natural pearl, sapphire and diamond ring date from 2007. Rosenthal writes a foreword to the catalogue of the Christie’s sale – a rarity in itself from a man who has only ever given a handful of interviews and has never posed for press photographs – suggesting that their 30 year working relationship continues today. But it will be many more years before the rest of the fruits of the genius JAR and his connoisseur client are revealed.

“To design a jewel around a stone is child’s play, but to design
a jewel for a lady, all the more when she is a friend, this is a
design walking on eggs, a bauble aiming at portraiture,
a detail applied to decorate her, somewhat quietly,
but not too…

And then that time has its end, the subject of the portrait has
moved on from that life to this one today; the jewels have had
their say on her, and silent now, wait as jewels always do,
for their next life as temptation and adornment.

The jewels I made for Mrs. Safra, the beauty I wanted to put
into her hands, will, I trust, these years later continue to offer
pleasures elsewhere, their sparkle, their fragility and fleeting luxury,
by Mrs. Safra’s wisdom and generosity, will become too,
the highest human luxury, hope.”

Joel Rosenthal, April 2012

“A sublime collection of 70 rare jewels, comprising the very best in all styles, periods and makers, from the late 18th Century all the way to modern times, is enough to attract the attention of jewellery amateurs and professionals worldwide. When it includes also the largest group of creations by JAR ever to be offered at auction, it is bound to create a sensation. And when the entire proceeds of the sale are to be shared between 20 hand-picked charitable institutions in the four corners of the world, this landmark sale rises to a whole new level. Only a connoisseur with an eye as refined as that of Mrs Lily Safra could have collected such an ensemble of jewels, and only someone with her philanthropic conviction could have expressed such powerful support to worthwhile causes in all charitable fields. We are proud to be associated with such a commendable endeavour”.

François Curiel, International Head of the Jewellery Department, Christie’s