A dozen jewels may not sound like much, but when the jewels in question are by the incomparable Joel Arthur Rosenthal, revered by jewelry connoisseurs as this century’s answer to Peter Carl Fabergé, the calculus shifts dramatically.
In the case of the 12 JAR jewels hitting the auction block at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale in New York on June 8, there is even more to the equation: The pieces are from the Estate of Ann Getty, the San Francisco-based philanthropist, paleoanthropologist, publisher and interior designer (and, oh yeah, wife of the billionaire Gordon Getty, son of J. Paul Getty), whose early interest in JAR—she was already a collector of his work before a 2002 exhibition at London’s Somerset House cemented his reputation as a visionary designer—was just one example of her impeccable taste in art and antiques.
“These 12 jewels speak volumes about her as a jewelry collector,” Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry at Christie’s Americas, tells Robb Report.
“To recognize Joel Rosenthal and his work at an earlier stage shows the kind of eye she had as a collector, and you can see it throughout this collection,” Lingon adds. “Different themes are represented: the flora and fauna theme so prevalent throughout his work, the historical references. And also the palette he has dazzled us with all these years: the colors, the vibrancy, the techniques, the workmanship. This collection encompasses all of that.”
Getty, who died in 2020 at age 79, purchased the dozen jewels—nine brooches and three pairs of earrings—between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. The treasure trove represents one of the largest and most important private collections of works by the intensely private Paris-based jeweler.
So spectacular are the jewels that Christie’s placed one, the c. 1991 parrot tulip brooch, on the cover of the sale catalog.
“It’s got a beautiful combination of rubies, pink sapphires, green tourmalines, green diamonds and lacquer,” says Lingon of the piece, which is estimated at $200,000 to $300,000. “We used it as the anchor of the collection because Ms. Getty was of Dutch heritage. We don’t know if that’s what drew her to it, but we think there was some connection.”
With its cross-section of transparent gemstone cells, Lot 71, a fleur de lys brooch with diamonds and pink and purple gemstones, c. 1987, evokes stained glass. “Every time I look at it, I am blown away,” Lingon says. “How was that done? Each one of the cells—they’re amethyst, pink tourmalines, pink garnets—is trimmed by this beautiful pavé diamond work.”
A spectacular example of JAR’s imaginative style comes in the form of a mismatched pair of statement earrings, one set with a cushion-cut diamond against a green garnet backdrop and the other with a cushion-cut blue sapphire. Estimated at $200,000 to $300,000, the earrings championed an asymmetric look long before it became commonplace in the traditional world of high jewelry.
“He was at the forefront,” Lingon says.
A leaf brooch from 1989, estimated at $500,000 to $700,000, offers a wonderful example of JAR’s signature use of gems in varying hues and sizes. Here, a green tapestry of emeralds, green beryls, peridots, green garnets and green tourmalines in a range of round sizes offsets a single, central cushion-cut emerald of 11.96 carats.
“We think she was drawn to this because of her granddaughter, Ivy,” notes Lingon.
A shell brooch studded with rubies and spinels offers further proof that when it comes to pairing colors and gemstones, JAR, a Harvard grad who opened his salon at 7 Place Vendôme in 1977, is a living master.
“There are so many varying hues in it that it reminds you of something you’re going to find in nature,” Lingon says. “Some are in a pinkish palette, some are a bit more gray. I admire the fact that it’s not all symmetrical, not all the same.”
The only constant jewelry lovers can expect to encounter in Getty’s JAR collection is what all collectors eventually run up against: To collect JAR is to be confronted by the limits of collecting.
“So few of these jewels are produced on a yearly basis,” says Lingon. “Each one represents a unique vision from him. It’s part of the allure—of his mystique. They’re not splashed all over the pages of magazines. People who collect them wear them, treasure them, but are in many ways private about them.
“The desire to own one of these jewels has grown so much on a global basis—in the US, Europe, Asia,” Lingon adds. “There are not enough to go around.”