Most women in elite social circles who collect pricey jewelry wear them as instructed: brooches below the collar bone, one earring per lobe, necklaces cascading down cleavage. And then there was Ann Getty, the red-haired society swan who passed away at 79 in 2020. Married to oil heir Gordon Getty, she was aunt to trans model Nats Getty, grandmother (practically mother) to Ivy Getty, and daughter-in-law to tycoon J. Paul Getty, whose oil empire funded the family’s massive fortune. She was also a fashion trendsetter.
Ann had a famously cavalier way with her gems, wearing earrings as brooches and brooches all over her body, including at her hip. Now her collection of prized gems — created by jeweler Joel Arthur Rosenthal, aka JAR — are headed for auction at Christie’s New York on June 8.
Famously elusive and exclusive, Rosenthal insisted on personally vetting and approving each client before agreeing to sell to them. “The privilege of being able to buy Rosenthal’s pieces is about having a bank account and discernment,” said a source close to the Getty family. “If he didn’t want you to have his piece, he would refuse to sell to you. He wanted to sell to clients who understood what he was doing.”
Money and status helped with this “understanding,” but did not guarantee access. Ann — who sat on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library — proved her worth by giving her JAR pieces the starring role in many of her outfits.
To her husband’s 76th birthday gala, she donned a red gown with three JAR Fleur Pompons brooches clipped to her breast. To the 2017 San Francisco Symphony, she rocked an enormous pink tulip brooch at her sternum, and to Gordon’s 80th birthday bash at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, she fastened her circa 1989 leaf brooch to the shoulder of her blouse.
“Ann’s style was bold, unapologetic, sophisticated, creative, and daring,” Anna Getty, Ann’s great-niece, told The Post. “[Her style] was utterly her own.”
Throughout much of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ann purchased 12 pieces from JAR, a collection which is expected to fetch more than $1.5 million at auction, with proceeds going to the Ann Getty Trust.
Ann’s granddaughter Ivy, 27, who married her photographer boyfriend in an over-the-top three day extravaganza last year, has sported several of the pieces herself recently. She wore a zebra brooch for a May 2022 Vogue photo shoot and earrings as brooches to the 2022 Met Gala. In fact, Ivy’s entire Met Ball look was a tribute to her grandmother: Her Oscar de la Renta gown was constructed using one of Ann’s tablecloths.
“[Ann] didn’t keep these [pieces] locked up in a vault. She wore them all the time…she wanted me to just appreciate her things as art,” Ivy told Vogue earlier this month.
Ann wore her JAR jewels both boldly and casually: On the drapery of a gown to Patron’s Dinner for the 1991 Black and White Ball, on the collar of a black cashmere tee shirt for Gordon’s 85th birthday party at their San Francisco home.
She was a hostess who could effortlessly organize a black-tie dinner party for 60, but also spent much of the 1990s on her hands and knees digging for artifacts on expeditions in Ethiopia and Turkey as a fellow with the Leaky Foundation. In between digs, Getty would throw on her couture — and one of her JAR treasures — with minimal prompting.
“With San Francisco society women, like author Danielle Steele, you noticed the jewelry collection because it was always on display,” said a family friend who lives four blocks from the famous Getty mansion in Pacific Heights. “With Ann, though, she would put a brooch on her shoulder or on the bustle of her skirt, which made the whole look seem less flashy.”
In the past, Rosenthal, who is now 79 and living in Venice, hasn’t looked favorably on clients who’ve sold off his creations. He hasn’t spoken to Ellen Barkin since she famously dispensed with her collection of JAR pieces during her divorce from industrialist Ron Perelman in 2006.
But Ann, who never publicly spoke about her JAR collection, still seems to have his support. Though Rosenthal declined to comment for The Post, he paid tribute to his old client in the Christie’s brochure:
“From the very beginning, this lady, you, dear Ann, imagined the future of my imagination, seeing and picking the cherries that became your collection.”
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