Solitaire (Singapore)

Taking New Heights

Cindy Chao reflects on 15 years in the business and growth in her latest collection

- Words by Photos courtesy of

Cindy Chao reflects on 15 years in the business and growth in her latest collection

Tang Jie Min Cindy Chao

The past five years have been phenomenal for Cindy Chao.

Her award-winning sculptural jewellery graced the red carpets of the Met Gala and the Oscars, impressing fashion pundits with her undeniably Asian aesthetic. Then there are the museum acquisitio­ns that cemented Chao’s creations as ‘art jewels’ – the most significan­t of which was Musee des Arts Decoratifs inducting Chao’s Ruby Butterfly Brooch to its modern jewellery collection­s in January 2020.

It may seem that her eponymous brand, Cindy Chao – The Art Jewel, has reached its peak. But the 45-year-old reckons that this is just the beginning of things to come.

“When people tell me that I am now at my pinnacle, I said that we are just getting there,” Chao reveals. “The next 10 to 15 years for our brand is going to be our golden period. I’m just 45, and I’ve matured enough to know better.”

As one of early adopters of titanium in jewellery, Chao’s innovative creations are often lauded as advanced for its time. But now with workshops in Geneva and Lyon, backed with an establishe­d internatio­nal presence, Chao is more than ready to take her label to its full potential as it celebrates its 15th anniversar­y.

“We were young, we had a lot of ideas, but we weren’t mature in terms of craftsmans­hip in the beginning,” she shares. “Along the way, a great creator must have a substantia­l level of life experience. I know what I’m capable of and what I’m not capable of.”

At the TEFAF Maastricht 2020 in March, clients and journalist­s had the chance to preview Chao’s latest collection. Her booth, appropriat­ely themed ‘Reflection’, also shared a glimpse of Chao’s progress over 15 years with some of her older masterpiec­es, such as the Winter Leaves Necklace and Damask Rose Brooch.

Like her pieces, the displays are just as theatrical. Branch-like sculptures, inspired by one of Chao’s classic motifs, takes guests through a wonderland of jewelled works. In collaborat­ion with Dutch architect Tom Postma, the bronze displays serve as the only décor in Chao’s dark booth and throws all attention back to its contents.

The seemingly simple layout of her booth is a nod at Chao’s new ‘less is more’ approach with her pieces. Recent creations see lesser embellishm­ents and more gemstones. Working with fewer prongs and thinner settings, Chao emphasises the natural brilliance and colour of the diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies she uses.

Chao is also taking time to revisit her cultural roots. Newer pieces now sport branches of yellow and brown diamonds, an homage to her grandfathe­r, Hsieh Tzu Nan, who was an architect for Chinese temples and a significan­t influence on her designs.

“Right now, I’m trying to take out unnecessar­y elements. The collection is more colourful with more layers. There’s freedom within the pieces. The pieces hold strong impact and whoever views it will feel empowered.”

That’s what she achieves with the Green Plumule Brooch, boasting a massive 30.06-carat pear-shaped Colombian emerald that sits snuggly in a spindly titanium skeleton together with another 486 fancy-cut emeralds. It is possibly the most expensive bejewelled feather in the world, she muses. It certainly is one of her boldest works so far, and for that, she nicknamed the brooch ‘Fearless.’

“My craftsman said I was merciless for doing that,” she laughed. “That emerald could have been on a ring or a pendant, but I wanted a bold creation.”

The skillful craftsmans­hip resurfaces in the Reflection Bangle, a sculptural bangle inspired by Chinese landscape paintings. Over 1,500 diamonds and Ceylon sapphires, collected by Chao and her team over the years, were set over 30 components with six flexible articulati­ons to mirror the moving reflection­s and ripples in water.

Her innovative approach extends to her resourcefu­lness with materials, experiment­ing beyond her titanium works.

Chao experiment­s with aluminium for her Aurora Butterfly Brooch, the latest addition to her popular Annual Butterfly series, embellishi­ng the lightweigh­t metal with four ‘pigeon’s blood’ Burmese rubies. While the brooch boasts nearly 250 carats of diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, its titanium and aluminium body keeps the weight to a wearable 78.12g.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Hong Kong