Out of Bounds: Cindy Chao thinks out­side the jew­ellery box

At Shang­hai’s West Bund Art & De­sign fair this Novem­ber, Tai­wanese jew­ellery artist Cindy Chao el­e­vates jew­ellery to the level of fine art

Hong Kong Tatler Society - - Tatler Focus - Pho­tog­ra­phy MOSES NG

Cindy Chao, the cre­ative be­hind CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel, is no stranger to the un­ex­pected, but the Tai­wanese jew­ellery artist made an un­prece­dented move this Novem­ber. At the fourth-an­nual West Bund Art & De­sign in Shang­hai, Chao joined a sea of more than 70 cel­e­brated re­gional and in­ter­na­tional artists, in­clud­ing big-hit­ters like of Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Yayoi Kusama.

But what brought the fine jew­ellery de­signer to an art fair? “When the founder asked if we’d be in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing, I ac­tu­ally asked them why,” re­calls Chao. “They said: ‘Cindy, we have seen the pieces that you show­cased at the Paris Bi­en­nale des An­ti­quaires, and we see that col­lec­tors don’t just re­ceive your work as jew­ellery, but also as minia­ture pieces of art.”

The in­vi­ta­tion was yet an­other con­fir­ma­tion of Chao’s artis­tic prow­ess. Since found­ing the com­pany

in 2004, the fine jew­ellery artist has been break­ing down bound­aries and re­defin­ing the in­dus­try. Take her brooches, for ex­am­ple, which are of­ten 10 times larger than a tra­di­tional pin—an aes­thetic made pos­si­ble thanks to feather-light ti­ta­nium.

“I have al­ways tried to bring a dif­fer­ent view and con­cept to the in­dus­try—jew­ellery isn’t just a lux­ury ac­ces­sory; It can be a minia­ture piece of art, sculp­ture, ar­chi­tec­ture,” says Chao. “Ac­tu­ally, about 30 per­cent of my col­lec­tors are male. They of­ten put the pieces in a safe or per­haps dis­play them like art in their home.”

At West Bund, out­side the con­fines of usual fash­ion shows and auc­tions, Chao de­signed an al­lur­ing ex­hi­bi­tion dubbed Out of Bounds. “I love the en­ergy of West Bund—it’s very young art fair but the par­tic­i­pat­ing gal­leries are so­phis­ti­cated,” she says. “I didn’t want to cre­ate an ex­hibit that looked too much like a lux­ury jew­ellery brand, be­cause it didn’t make sense, so I cre­ated a quiet, mu­seum-like at­mos­phere, where the view­ers could fo­cus on just the pieces.”

Through­out the week­end, Chao watched as cu­ri­ous jean-clad mil­len­ni­als and trendy art col­lec­tors wan­dered into her ex­hi­bi­tion, stop­ping to ad­mire the seven brooches on dis­play. All from her Black La­bel Mas­ter­pieces col­lec­tion—of which only 36 pieces are cre­ated an­nu­ally—the artist hand-picked each piece her­self and bor­rowed them from col­lec­tors.

“I also de­sign ear­rings and rings, but I wanted this ex­hi­bi­tion to be solely about brooches,” ex­plain Chao. “I am not here to sell—I am here to share my in­spi­ra­tion, my crafts­man­ship, and my cre­ations. Many peo­ple don’t have the pa­tience to hand­craft things any­more— ev­ery­thing is very me­chan­i­cal. But for a cer­tain beauty, it has to be hand­crafted.”

Among the Mas­ter­pieces on dis­play, visitors ad­mired Win­ter Leaves and Phoenix Feather brooches. In­spect­ing Win­ter Leaves up close, we can hardly see any ti­ta­nium—the metal’s so el­e­gantly con­cealed un­der a veil of 2,100 di­a­monds, ev­ery sin­gle gem pre­cisely cal­cu­lated and cut for the brooch.

“The leaves and the lines, they’re very or­ganic. The curves are the most dif­fi­cult part, be­cause ti­ta­nium is five times harder than gold,” says Chao. “It re­quires years of ex­pe­ri­ence to shape, be­cause the metal is so dense.”

Each Mas­ter­piece takes up to two years to craft. First, Chao cre­ates a 3D mould out of wax, which can then be sketched on pa­per to help crafts­men vi­su­alise where to place ev­ery jewel.

“The Phoenix Feather brooch has al­most 1,000 di­a­monds, to­tal­ing about 100 carats — the weight is 36 grams, which is equiv­a­lent to two mac­arons,” says Chao. “It moves with you and re­flects the light.”

Just like her hard-to-de­fine jew­ellery, Chao says she doesn’t iden­tify with just one la­bel. She’s a CEO, artist and en­gi­neer—not only cre­at­ing mas­ter­pieces to ad­mire to­day, but also for the fu­ture.

“I am al­ways think­ing in the fu­ture tense: How will the peo­ple look at my work 100 years from now? What kind of crafts­man­ship should we as­pire to and pass on to the next gen­er­a­tion?” asks Chao. “If I wasn’t here with you, I’d be in my work­shop. I love it there—that’s the real Cindy Chao.”

As for her next col­lec­tion, Chao is al­ready hard at work. This sum­mer, she re­turned to her stu­dio on a wave of in­spi­ra­tion fol­low­ing a trip to Bri­tish Columbia. “I thought up the whole col­lec­tion there,” says Chao. “I enjoy cre­at­ing jew­ellery, but you rarely see any piece on me. Truth­fully, when peo­ple ask me what’s your favourite piece? I al­ways say: ‘The next one.’”

GILDED WINGS Cindy Chao wears the Conch Pearl Dragon­fly brooch from her White La­bel Col­lec­tion, which is set with ru­bies, di­a­monds and a conch pearl

Cindy Chao’s Win­ter Leaves brooches fea­tures 2,110 di­a­monds set on ti­ta­nium—a metal Chao picked for its light­weight qual­ity

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Forever­mark, Cindy Chao cre­ates the Ma­jes­tic Beauty Fan that’s set with a to­tal of 310 carats of di­a­monds

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