In honour of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we’ve decided to shine a spotlight on some of the talented women who have shaped the jewellery design industry over the years. Our final post in this series features Cindy Chao, fierce and fearless in her intricate design work.
Cindy Chao. Image: luxury-design.com
Cindy Chao (born circa 1974) is a Taiwanese jewellery designer whose delicate creations have drawn much-deserved attention all over the world. Using an 18th century wax casting technique called cire perdue (Lost-wax casting), Chao’s work features luxury gemstones like rubies, sapphires, and emeralds in artful pieces inspired by the natural world.
Her two primary collections, the Black Label Masterpieces and the White Label Collection, have been shown all over the world at events such as Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris, Masterpiece London and TEFAF Maastricht, and at museums like the Tokyo Mori Art Museum and Beijing Today Art Museum.
Black Label Masterpieces are limited-edition creations that Chao releases annually, with each piece being named, numbered, and dated. Each butterfly, for example, takes over a year to complete. The White Label Collection is considered by Chao to be more accessible since these pieces tend to sell for less than the Black Label creations–usually in the tens or hundreds of thousands rather than the millions.
“The White Label is actually a great entrance label that has allowed collectors to be able to start at something more affordable,” she says. “Then they can understand and study my work better in order to get into the next label, which is our (Black Label) Masterpieces collection.”
Growing up in 1970s Taiwan, Chao was inspired to see things in a multi-faceted, three dimensional way from an early age by her sculptor father and architect grandfather. She went on to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York as well as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and, in 2004, returned to Taipei to start her own business: Cindy Chao the Art Jewel.
Chao started out as a relative outsider to the jewellery industry and did not have any contacts or investors. She used $100,000 of her own money to fund her startup venture, and in just a few years that leap of faith paid off: in 2007, one of her coloured diamond necklaces sold at Christie’s for $91,000 USD.
Cindy Chao’s Winter Leaves necklace, one of this year's Black Label Masterpieces. Image: Cindy Chao’s Instagram
Since then, Chao’s pieces have been featured in high-end retail stores, other international auctions, well-known museums, and in the personal collections of some of the world’s most savvy jewellery aficionados.
Chao’s trajectory continued upward into 2010, when she became the first Asian jeweller to have a piece added to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s permanent collection.
Cindy Chao's Royal Butterfly. Image: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; Photo by Donald E. Hurlbert.
The Royal Butterfly, which was featured on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily before making it’s way to the Smithsonian, features 2,318 gemstones (77 carats) set on all sides so that the creation can be admired from any angle. The gems include diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and tsavorite garnets.
Why butterflies, you ask?
“Even though their life span is fleeting, they undergo several types of transformations,” Chao says. “This metamorphosis is one I have undergone as an artist, transforming and pushing myself to create and share something pure and beautiful.”
“I want people to feel the life and emotions gleaming from each of my art jewels.” she continues. “To experience the fleeting lifespan of a butterfly in still-life.”
As her business grew, Chao decided to outsource some of the work; she now draws up her original designs and sculpts her own moulds, then has some of her creations made by master craftspeople in Switzerland and France. Chao says she travels to these countries every few weeks to work closely with the craftspeople and ensure the high quality and intense detail that collectors have come to appreciate and expect.
“It is very rewarding to feed off of each other’s energy and ideas, and bring forth the beautiful works of art,” she says.
A pigeon’s blood Burmese ruby ring by Cindy Chao, which sold at Sotheby’s for $3.84 million USD. Image: luxury-design.com
In 2014, the designer partnered with friend and client Sarah Jessica Parker to design a one-of-a-kind butterfly brooch, named the Ballerina Butterfly, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $1.2 million USD.
Cindy Chao and Sarah Jessica Parker collaborating on their butterfly design. Image: Forbes
“I usually don’t do collaborations,” Chao said in an interview with Forbes. “But because I know her so well and we are so connected in a creative way, I was very excited. She has a keen eye and likes to discover new things.”
The Ballerina Butterfly, by Cindy Chao and Sarah Jessica Parker. Image: Forbes
Chao is force to be reckoned with in the jewellery and art worlds, so we leave you with a bit of her inspirational wisdom:
“You cannot make everybody like your products but the most important thing is how authentic you are. You can feel the life and the soul behind it.”
Cindy Chao often works with emeralds, sapphires, and rubies.
Here are some Skyjems pieces featuring those gemstones:
Inspired by Cindy Chao's intricate work? Check out this breathtaking wholesale parcel of rubies!
It would be our pleasure to work with you to design and create your own masterpiece.