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
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