After becoming the first Asian jewelry artist to be appointed a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature) by the French government in November 2021, Cindy Chao The Art Jewel was back in Paris during Haute Couture 2022 in January, showcasing a selection of High Jewelry pieces at an exclusive presentation at the Ritz. The seven jewels on show brought nature to life, combining exquisite artistry with an incredible sense of movement.
Gemstones winked in the late winter sun streaming through the windows of the F. Scott Fitzgerald suite, as Cindy Chao’s latest wearable art glinted amongst a lavish display of fresh flowers. Two 16-carat yellow diamonds quivered in their pods, while light activated resin traced a graceful leaf skeleton amongst frosty diamonds, and hand-enameled stamens leaned protectively into a 32-carat sapphire cabochon. Eternally inspired by the natural world, Chao is known for a level of artistry and innovation that bestows incredible detail and near-tangible vitality upon her jewelry.
“It was a tremendous honor to return to Paris with our latest creations,” says the jewelry artist, of the presentation. “It is a treasured city to me, I was deeply humbled to be appointed Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres last year; it was a culmination of my work bridging the gap between Western and Eastern cultures.”
Chao comes from a family of artists – her grandfather was a notable Taiwanese architect and her father, a sculptor – and her early experience sculpting laid the foundation of her eventual jewelry design style. She aims to unite East and West by combining elements of Asian contemporary art, with European craftsmanship, and as “the greatest global hub of craft and tradition,” Paris holds special significance for her. Fitting then, that her first presentation since she was honored by the French government for services to art and culture, should be back in the French capital.
She started her jewelry house back in 2004 and four of the seven pieces on show were from the 15th Anniversary Collection, including the Feather Brooch, a delicate rendition of a fallen feather, picked out in 82 carats worth of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, rhodolite and garnets. As a motif, the feather is rooted in the Belle Epoque – perhaps another nod to the City of Light – and as the light moves over the 1,790 stones on the titanium frame, new colors appear, mimicking nature with all the verve of that vibrant era.
“I’m interested in expressing the undulations one finds in a flower or underwater species, and the changes that take place over time,” says the designer, whose explorations of nature and especially her annual butterflies, have become a hallmark. For the past decade, she has employed titanium, which although hard and difficult to manipulate, can in the right hands be transformed into soft, organic curves. “After creating sculptural and organic art jewels in precious gold metal for years, I thought it was about time to seek a breakthrough with my pieces, as well as breaking the general perception that high jewelry must always be made in precious gold.” The majority of pieces on show at Paris Couture contained elements of titanium, rendering them surprisingly light to the touch.
One such piece is the Sapphire Floral brooch, a reinterpretation of the four-leaf clover as a flower, featuring a 31-carat cushion-cut Burmese sapphire and 2,057 other diamonds, demantoids and tsavorites. There is something painterly in the way that the hand-enameled stamens have scattered yellow diamond pollen across the petals, and the freshly cut stalk glistens with diamond sap. For pieces that take months and sometimes years to create, the right stones are vital and Chao’s are sourced sustainably from the best mines for each – often rare – gemstone required, including rubies from Myanmar, emeralds from Columbia, sapphires from Sri Lanka and pink diamonds from the Agyle Mine in Australia.
It would surely take a certain kind of person to do such pieces justice; Chao’s collectors span Europe, the Middle East and the US, with a large percentage in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, where the brand has had the Shanghai Maison showroom since 2020. Interestingly, Chinese collectors are younger than average, thanks largely to a booming economy and generational enthusiasm for high jewelry. Back in Paris, as diamond leaves curl against the branches and blooms in the room, and the emerald wings of an ebony dragonfly seem to flutter as the light hits, I can see how Cindy Chao is captivating a new generation with her exquisite gemstone alchemy.