With a notorious sculptor for a father and a much-celebrated architect grandfather, it is not difficult to see how this Taiwanese jewellery designer was destined to achieve great things as a creative artist.
Cindy has always had a very three-dimensional mind. Perspective, space and depth are concepts that have preoccupied her since childhood and that she has translated into her sculpted jewellery. “I have an architectural mindset which I think comes from my grandfather with whom I grew up,” she shares, “and the skill and technique of a sculptor, which I learnt from my father.”
Her creations are true pieces of art, with a volume, movement and depth that I hadn’t seen in any other jewellery designer’s work. As Cindy calls them herself, “They are miniature sculptures.” She starts sculpting in wax following an 18th century artisan technique known as “la cire perdue” (Lost-wax casting) and completes her pieces using precious metal and gemstones. It was her father who taught her the basics of sculpting, although he worked with clay rather than with wax.
Cindy first sculpts her pieces in wax, following a traditional method known as “la cire perdue”.
The complexity of Cindy’s creations and the skill required are difficult to convey on paper. One must truly see her jewellery in the flesh to realise the mastery involved. “I’m always trying to push the boundary, challenge myself with every new collection,” she declares. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. She laughs adding, “Oh I get it wrong many times but when I succeed, I end up with a piece I am very proud of.”
And proud she should be. In 2007, Cindy became the first Taiwanese jewellery artist to take part in a Christie’s New York fine jewellery auction. Her collections have been exhibited at art fairs and institutions around the world including Beijing Today Art Museum, Tokyo Mori Art Museum, Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris, Masterpiece London and TEFAF Maastricht. In 2010, Cindy Chao become one of the first Taiwanese jewellery artists to have one of her designs, an Annual Butterfly, inducted into the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
In 2004, she founded Cindy Chao The Art Jewel in Taipei. “I’d like to give credit to my son,” she says, “it was him who gave me the confidence to launch my own company.” At the time her boy was five years old so I am incredibly impressed that as a single mother she managed to start a company and keep making such incredible pieces of art. “I think for the last 15-17 years my 24-hour days have been like other people’s 72,” she comments laughing.
Cindy starts her pieces sculpting them from the back, even the initial was studies.
Cindy exudes energy and determination. Her journey has been one of no compromise at any point. “I want to do everything, I want to conquer everything,” she states with conviction, “and I have always been clear that I’d never compromise on my craftmanship.” Her pursue of perfection means she oversees every aspect of her company, so she is constantly travelling around the world, especially between Asia and Europe because her ateliers are in France and Switzerland.
Her creative process is very unique. She starts her pieces sculpting them from the back. “Thanks to my grandfather, I have a very different mindset than other designers,” Cindy shares, “I see things from a reverse perspective, a reverse psychology, a bit like Gaudí did for La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It is all about negative spaces.” La Sagrada Família is a one-of-a-kind temple, fruit of the work of genius architect Antoni Gaudí.
Cindy Chao’s 2021 Black Label Masterpiece Blue Dawn Feather Brooch.
Cindy has two main collections: Black Label Masterpiece and White Label Collection. Both of them exquisite but Black Label, inspired by her passion for architecture, sculpture, travel and nature is where she truly lets her imagination fly. “With Black Label the perspective is unlimited, there is not concern about cost or time, it is all about the final outcome, about achieving ultimate excellency.” Each of the jewels that Cindy creates for this collection every year (between 8 and 12) are named, numbered and dated.
For White Label her mindset is slightly different, “I need to hold back a little because this is a collection that needs to be easier for people to understand.” The quality of the pieces is as high as in Black Label; and they are made by the same artisans.
Cindy Chao The Art Jewel’s diamond and sapphire seashell earrings (Aquatic collection) and dragonfly brooch from Cindy Chao’s, both White Label.
Another of Cindy’s “trademarks” is her butterflies. Every year she presents one. The first was created in 2008 and has since been coined as the Annual Butterflies. Each of them takes more than 18 months to complete as gemstones and thousands of pavé-set diamonds are set on and around delicately moulded wings. That very first one, Ruby Butterfly Brooch, has taken permanent residency at the Musée d’Arts Décoratifs in Paris. “My Butterflies are the ultimate expression of my creativity as a jewellery artist, and it is a privilege to count the first piece from the series among the Musée des Arts Décoratifs’ prestigious collection,” says Cindy with a mix of modesty and pride in her voice. This unique piece of art features a pair of magnificent non-heated baroque Burmese rubies set alongside stunning fancy-coloured diamonds and colour-changing sapphires.
The 2009 Black Label Masterpiece I, Royal Butterfly Brooch, was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History’s gem collection. It is made of 2,328 gems, totalling 77 carats. The wings contain four large-faceted diamond slices stacked atop a pave layer of faceted diamonds, creating a pattern resembling a living butterfly’s wings.
Left to right: Cindy’s Annual Butterfly (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History) and the 2014 Black Label Masterpiece I, Ballerina Butterfly, designed in collaboration with Sarah Jessica Parker.
The V&A also claimed one of Cindy’s pieces for their permanent collection. In this case, 2018’s Black Label Masterpiece Peony Brooch, which is now in display at the acclaimed William and Judith Bollinger Gallery. This unique brooch is set entirely with rubies and purple-coloured titanium. Dynamic, ethereal and boldly beautiful, the deep red petals and contrasting yellow pistils add a striking impression of the intensely hued, bold and kaleidoscopic peony flower.
Cindy’s talent and skill seem to have no boundaries, so I wonder where she sees herself going as an artist. She takes a moment to reflect before answering, “I want to keep improving, to do even better work recognised for its artistic value and possibly, reduce the number of pieces produced.” As I look a bit surprised (her production is already pretty limited), she adds, “I think nowadays it is easy to burn commercially. Luxury is about choice, so I decided to have my choice of clients and the choice of my time and my creations. This is very much thanks to my son’s advice. He graduated from college just few months ago – he studied finance at Wharton, in the US.”
Morganite, yellow diamond and conch pearl earrings from the Four Seasons collection. By Cindy Chao The Art Jewel.
Cindy’s ambition takes her to keep moving the goalpost. She loves a challenge and in the last years she has finally received the recognition she deserves, although she considers that there is still a bit further to go. “The Western jewellery industry is very muscular so not many Asians are able to enter the sector, not to mention being recognised as female Asian jeweller.” I can’t imagine a better role model to inspire other female jewellers to follow suit. “I want my work to be meaningful, to leave a legacy. I want other women to think, ‘If Cindy can make it in such challenging masculine world, so can I.’ Then I’ll consider I am truly contributing to the evolution of the luxury business.”