Without any background in the jewelry industry and with no financial backing. Cindy Chao has become one of the most celebrated contemporary high jewelry artist in the world by using eastern cultural themes, natural and organic motifs, and combining them with painstakingly detailed western hand craftsmanship.
Her brand, Cindy Chao, the Art Jewel is celebrating 15th year in business just as the Taiwanese born artist turned 45. In an interview during the Masterpiece London art fair in early July, she says that her creations are changing as she becoming more confident as an artist and willing to take more risks than in the past.
“My confidence level for me has grown. I think I’m braver”, she said. “There’s much more freedom in my work and a willingness to be challenged. That’s because my skill and technique are much more mature. But the most important thing in being a creator is the confident level”.
This is most evident in one of her newest creation, the “2019 Black Label Materpiece XI Conch Pearl Solstice Sculptural Bangle”. It’s a mouthful but it’s nothing compared to the number and combination of gems, the multiple techniques and the time it took to create this jewel. The main gem in this colorful, weight piece is a 12.51-carat conch pearl that is perched above a landscape of 5.400 stones and 18k yellow gold. The gems comprise of diamonds, fancy colored diamonds, green sapphires and alexandrites, totaling to 260 carats. They are pave-set but not in a symmetrical way as is what is typical in jewelry, or in atypical cobblestone-like patterns. Instead, the pave patterns in Chao’s bangle incorporate both looks as well as a multitude of other shapes and sizes of gems.
This is a trademark of Chao’s jewels and it’s also extremely challenging for artisans, particular when it comes to a rounded piece like the bangle. “This is the biggest challenge four our pieces because the curvature is very three dimensional”, she said. “For the craftsmen to make this quality of pave setting, they need to record at least 15 years of experience.
The bangle is one of her “Black Label Masterpieces” her rarest and most prestigious creations, with production limited to no more than 30 pieces per year. Apiece in this collection can take upwards of three years to complete and can cost well into seven figures.
The pave gems are produces in a gradated color palette that includes brown, pink, blue, white, yellow and green. Chao says it’s this use of color that marks a new direction for her as an artist.
“People only see pink and yellow but if you take a closer look you’ll see I also used blue and green to highlight the pink and yellow colors”, she said. “In the past I wouldn’t dare use pink and yellow with blue and green”.
But it’s more than color. This jewel, despite the myriad of gems that are used, has both structural integrity and flexibility. Chao had the idea for this bracelet for five years prior to make it. During most of the time she searched for gems and consulted with her craftsmen before being able to figure out how to make the piece. The process of making it took “only” two years, Chao said.
“My original idea is that is would be like a painting you can lay out flat”.
In order to do this, the craftsmen developed hinges at a number of unusual places in a way that would allow the billowy bangle to retain its organic shape without sacrificing any of the gemstones. Then there is layering. On the center of the bracelet is a flower that grows from the base with irregular petals made of gold set with fancy yellow pave diamond. Again the hinges that make this jewel so flexible were cut in a way that didn’t damage the flower motif.
“In order to make the flower more three dimensional, the petals were made individual and then joined together”, she said. “From the back you can see my team merged the petal and bangle structure perfectly so it retains its flexibility’.
In the center is conch pearl, which Chao has expressed a special fondness.
“Conch pearls have their own very special pearls have their own very special character and color. It is a natural pearl so very precious too”, she said. “When I started to use it six or seven years ago they were not so popular and there was not a lot of knowledge about them. When you look at the auction houses in the past three or four years, conch pearls have become extremely expensive. This is also due to very low production. These days it’s impossible to find a conch with such quality and size”.
The result of this vision and work behind it is a rough textured jewel of natural, organic beauty. It has a delicate appearance but its structure, even with thousands of gems, is sound. It has volume and weight and has a rainbow of colors throughout the piece. At any angle and with the changing of light the jewel takes a new appearance. It is very much a Cindy Chao jewel but yet it does show a new way forward for the artist.
Chao was surprised I chose this piece to focus on instead of her Winter Leaves titanium necklace, which received the Masterpiece London Highlight Award, or even the “Scultura di Giglio Bangle”, which pays tribute to Michelangelo and uses similar design and uses similar design and artisan techniques. However, she also said the Solstice bangle is her favorite. She may have said this for my benefit but it’s obvious she has a lot of affection for the jewel.
“This is very much my own pleasure”, she said. “I created it the way that I wanted. I didn’t look for specific collectors or clients to design it for. It very much fulfilled my goals and vision”.