Asian jewellery artist Cindy Chao fuses the traditional and the modern to create beautiful one-of-a-kind contemporary pieces for the ages
Cindy Chao is the acclaimed jewellery designer described by CNN as a revolutionary in the world of contemporary high jewellery. Her unique style of singular, organic and sculptural works have their DNA from her family heritage. Granddaughter of an architect and daughter of a sculptor, her artistic skills could be said to be innate. From her grandfather Chao learnt to look at the world in a three-dimensional way, observing through angles and shapes—a lesson that today forms the basis of her creative process and culminates in her distinctive jewellery pieces. By observing her father, on the other hand, working with heart and soul to transform his perceptions into forms, she learnt the various sculpting techniques she would later explore when developing her own creative style.
CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel was established in 2004 with her desire to break boundaries and redefine high jewellery. She believes that every piece should be a miniature work of art and her brand’s Black Label Masterpieces and White Label collections are the expressions of her savoirfaire as a sculptor and artist. Original, innovative and technically challenging, only a limited number of these tour de force pieces are created annually.
Over the past 14 years, Chao’s museumcalibre creations have been highly sought after by connoisseurs and collectors at the most prestigious auctions worldwide, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In addition, they have been exhibited at museums and invitation-only events in New York, Dubai, Paris and Shanghai. In 2007, she debuted her signature sculpted Four Seasons collection at Christie’s New York fine jewellery auction.
By 2010 Chao had become one of the first contemporary jewellery artists to receive the honour of having one of her creations, an iconic butterfly, displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Showcasing her jewel, the museum said, “She ensures that generations to come may enjoy the colours, gems and craftsmanship of this timeless piece.” In 2013 her Burmese Ruby Ribbon ring, featured on the cover of an auction catalogue at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, was sold for US$ 3.84 million, setting a then record for an Asian contemporary piece.
In 2016 Chao was invited to participate in the 28th Paris Biennale des Antiquaires where the 2016 Black Label Masterpieces were revealed. Her participation at the highly regarded event signified the brand’s swift rise to global recognition. Earlier this year at Masterpiece London, where CINDY CHAO was the only Asian jewellery brand on show among nearly 160 exhibitors, her Ruby Peony brooch was honoured with the Outstanding Object Award by the Art Fair’s award committee, which praised it as an example of contemporary craftsmanship and great design. François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s
Europe and Asia, even regards Chao as one of the top jewellery designers of the 21st century.
Today only a few contemporary jewellery brands employ the 18th-century wax sculpting technique. This historic approach makes it possible to conceive a three-dimensional wax model in 1-to-1 scale to the final jewellery piece. Gemstones are carefully arranged on the wax model to calculate setting positions and then finely adjusted to allow each stone to sparkle with the greatest fire on the richly undulated and curved three-dimensional structure. This is a process instrumental in guaranteeing that the final work will be a miniature jewelled sculpture. Once completed, the wax sculpture is further processed to make the mould from which the metal base of the piece will be cast.
“I am always astonished and in awe whenever I see 18th century craftsmanship in jewellery. As an artisan in the 21st century utilising this traditional craft, I feel honoured to be able to preserve such artistry and pass it on to future generations. I hope more jewellers will be able to understand and continue this sophisticated, delicate craft, which captures the real essence behind the jewellery,” Chao explains.
Her savoir-faire is also expressed in the high quality of the precious stones with which
her singular pieces are set. In addition to the stones that make up the centerpiece, all of the side stones, even to the smallest sized 0.5 mm diamonds, must be meticulously selected. Three GIA certified examiners scrutinise these stones and only diamonds of the DEF colourless grading and VS clarity are used. The cut, grade and brilliance are also criteria determining whether a gemstone makes it into a piece. So strict is the standard that only 10 per cent of the white diamonds and 5 per cent of fancy-coloured diamonds will feature in the finished item.
Eech of CINDY CHAO's Art Jewels undergoes the process of wax sculpting, sketching, colour arrangement, structural engineering and gemstone selection. All these thorough and complicated steps lead to the last, most significant and time-consuming procedure—gem setting. In the creation of her Black Label Masterpieces Chao works in collaboration with a team of European master craftsmen, each with over 15 years of experience in high jewellery and titanium gem setting. These artisans work with microscopes set at 25x magnification and so precise and demanding is the process that the craftsmen can only spend three hours a day on this task.
Thousands of hours are devoted to this essential step, fine-tuning the angle at which each gem is set, considering the texture, colours, brilliance and reflection so as to enhance the silhouette and undulating layers of each piece. Hence each Black Label Masterpiece is the fruition of almost two years or 10,000 hours of dedication from conception to completion.
Accolades for Chao’s exceptional masterpieces keep coming. Earlier this year when she unveiled the brand’s annual collection at Masterpiece London, Philipp HewatJaboor, chairman of the organising committee, cited her work for using traditional techniques and materials of superior quality backed by intellectual integrity and imaginative design—saying in essence that Chao’s pieces transcend their function to become aesthetically astonishing pieces of art.
As Chao herself explains, there is only one way to create true art, which is to face and overcome obstacles with perseverance and courage. The result will be beautifully magnificent pieces that define opulent aesthetics.
Contact CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel at 50 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2561 8298 or visit cindychao.com for more information on both the Black Label Masterpiece and While Label series.
full bloom CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel's Ruby Peony brooch earned Chao the coveted Outstanding Object Award at Masterpiece London this year
inherited passion (Left) Learning from her architect grandfather and sculptor father, Cindy Chao makes good use of her upbringing to undertake the creative process when she designs her art jewels; (Below) CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel's 2009 Black Label Masterpiece I Royal Butterfly brooch, inducted by the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History into its permanent collection
labour of love The pieces in the CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel Black Label Masterpiece collection, such as this Flower Bud brooch in emeraldes and diamonds, take almost two years or 10,000 hours of painstaking work by highly skilled master craftsmen to come to fruition. So detailed and demanding is the work that the artisans can only spend three hours a day at their task
light touch CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel's craftsmen use an 18th century wax sculpting technique to create stunning pieces such as these 2018 Black Label Masterpiece XII & XV Emerald Feather brooches, which feature over 180 carats of emeralds