2022 Black Label Masterpiece II Fruit Earrings
Cindy Chao the Art Jewel just unveiled its latest high jewelry creations during a private presentation at The Ritz Paris for Haute Couture Week. Since opening her first private salon in 2004, Chao has established herself as an unparalleled craftswoman that has earned the adoration of the Hollywood elite, prestigious auction houses and premier cultural institutions from around the world. Ahead of the exclusive presentation, we caught up with Chao to learn more about the new pieces, her artistic process and why jewelry is a powerful cultural force.
You had quite the year in 2021. Is there a moment you are most proud of?
The past year was a remarkable one, so much so it’s hard to believe we were able to do so much in 12 short months. While there were several career highlights, two experiences stand out as profoundly humbling moments I will never forget. The first took place in May, with the induction of one of my Black Label Masterpieces into the V&A’s permanent collection. The piece, my 2018 Peony Brooch, is an incredibly important piece to me, and to see it find a new home in the museum’s collection alongside some of history’s most important designs was a dream come true. Knowing the museum's millions of visitors will be able to experience my work for years to come reflects the realization of a goal of mine when I founded my maison.
The second highlight of 2021 took place in November in Paris when I was appointed Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres— a recognition I take very seriously. To be awarded this honor by French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot herself, surrounded by cultural luminaries, supporters and my family was, in a word, surreal. As the only founder of a high jewelry maison and the only Asian jewelry artist to receive it, I feel a tremendous amount of appreciation for the belief in my work which has since given me even more determination in my philosophy as an artist.
Coral Earrings 15th Anniversary Collection
Haute Couture Week is just around the corner. What does preparing for a presentation like that entail?
While we are returning once again to Paris to unveil my new high jewelry creations, each time it is a thrill to be a part of the esteemed institution of Haute Couture week. The presentation is the culmination of months, and years in many cases, of masterful work by my craftsmen who employ centuries-old techniques combined with an innovative use of materials. There is a remarkable amount of care taken to ensure that what we present is at the most sublime caliber possible before it is presented. As such, there can often be several layers of revisions before the final piece meets my standards. The resulting presentation, always intimate and high-touch, showcases the final pieces in a context that reflects my creative point of view. While it takes so many hands, it is a fulfilling experience to see the reactions and hear how the pieces resonate with our guests.
Feather Brooch 15th Anniversary Collection
The new pieces you are presenting are breathtaking. Can you tell us about their development?
Each of the seven new works we will present have been developed over the course of many months. Each piece begins in my imagination and I sculpt what I have envisioned in wax, allowing me to define the work through a highly intimate process. Once I am happy with the sculpture, I work with my craftsmen to create the final piece. It requires an unparalleled level of experience due to the exacting nature of the stone orientation to the difficult-to-manipulate materials.
For example, the 2021 Black Label Masterpiece II Fruit Earrings feature a pair of rarely-seen, emerald-cut fancy dark brown-yellow diamonds weighing more than 16 carats each. A hidden joint on each branch connects the main stones, allowing movement and the three loculi are fully paved with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, alexandrites, color-change garnets, creating a changing hue from blue to green within. Meanwhile, yellow diamonds contour the earrings, capturing the moment when the capsules are shone in the glowing sunlight. The titanium allows these magnificent earrings to be almost weightless despite their scale.
Magnolia Earrings 15th Anniversary Collection
Your artistic approach was shaped by your grandfather, an architect and your father, a sculptor. How does this distinguish your work from other jewelry designers?
My family heritage and the education I received as a child inform countless elements of my creative process. It is my entire nature and pulses through the expression of my work. When passion for creation is a distinctive part of one’s nature, their only option is to introduce works into the world with the hope that it has the power to move the onlooker to a new state of emotion. That’s a thread that has followed me my entire life thanks in great part to my father and grandfather’s influence.
Sapphire Floral Brooch 15th Anniversary Collection
You craft your designs in wax. Why are you committed to this time-consuming, 18th-century process?
I have been sculpting in wax since I founded my maison in 2004. It has always been important to me to nurture and master the techniques that defined the great European high jewellery traditions. Known as Cire Perdue, it is a 6,000-year-old tradition that I firmly believe in continuing. This lost technique allows me to craft the work by hand, developing each line, undulation, and statement as an extension of my vision.
2021 Black Label Masterpiece V Foliage Earrings
What are your main sources of inspiration when creating your pieces?
Inspiration can strike at any moment. I am often impacted by my travels, seeing the way in which nature exists in various forms depending on the location. You will most often see flora and fauna motifs in my work, whether in the form of a beautiful flower or an underwater creature. The images I see are imbued in my mind and take form in the art jewels I create.
How long does it typically take to create a piece of your jewelry?
Each piece follows its own unique timeline. From conceptualization to finished piece, it takes several months if not years to see the work come to completion.
Dragonfly Brooch 15th Anniversary Collection
At the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres celebration dinner, you said, “The distinction brought me an even bigger responsibility to be a bridge between East and West to facilitate a deeper cultural exchange between France and Asia.” Why do you believe jewelry is a powerful cultural force?
As an artist who uses precious metals and stones as my medium, I believe that the art jewels I create have the power to impact culture through the articulation of my creative vision. Like a painting or the written word, I want my work to spark conversation, create an emotional reaction, and transport the observer to an unprecedented place. This is why the honor means so much to me as it is the recognition of my ambition to push the boundaries of how jewellery can contribute to the cultural narrative.