Taiwan-born Cindy Chao’s intricate butterfly jewellery pieces caused such a sensation that a series of five were inducted into Washington’s Smithsonian Institution. Fanciful works that can incorporate thousands of gem stones.
We spoke to Chao, on the role her family have played in her development, her collections and the inspiration she finds in nature.
How has your family been so influential in your career?
My grandfather was an architect who designed and built hundreds of temples across Taiwan, many of which are now classified as historical monuments. He used to take me to them and I would listen while he explained the blueprints and construction to the craftsmen. I also had the opportunity to see some of his projects from conception to completion and because of him I developed the love and passion for architectural design. He taught me to think outside of the box, to view every side of a building as if it were the front and to be meticulous. My father was a sculptor and I would watch him immersed in his work. Sometimes he would explain techniques and styles of sculpting, and let me help. Most of the time, it was a long, tedious and silent process, when artworks were skilfully created. Starting from nothing, with just his hands my father sculpted life and emotion in all his works, be they figures, plants, or Buddha.
What was the first design that you sold?
The first as an ‘art jewel’ collection was the Four Seasons Collection, within which the winter choker and cuff were the first to be completed. In order to create them, I spent countless hours sculpting the wax models and communicating with craftsmen. The two pieces took almost 18 months from conception to completion and were eventually featured in the Christie's 2007 New York fine jewellery auction – each hammered at more than twice the estimate. It opened the door to an international stage with endless opportunities ahead.
How did you feel when Transcendence Butterfly sold for almost USD 1 million – close to five times the pre-sale – in Geneva?
Geneva is the centre for the world's best watch and jewellery craftsmen – I believed the collectors who frequent the auctions would have impeccable taste in jewellery. Nevertheless, when I learned that my Transcendence Butterfly had sold for almost five times the estimate, I was speechless. Most of the time the value of a piece of jewellery is defined by its centre stone, but the result far exceeded the value of the gemstones alone.
Tell us about the inspiration you draw from nature.
Nature is mesmerising because it is always passing. It is this brevity that makes it captivating. Yet, every evanescent moment is so subtle. What I try to do with my creations is capture its fleeting moments: a frosty maple leaf in early winter dawn, a midnight rose, a whimsical flower in the wind. I do so by using the toughest and most timeless material, diamonds. They are complete opposites but also the perfect match.
What does it mean for your work to be inducted into the Smithsonian?
I believe that a piece of jewellery can reflect the history of an era, and being inducted into a leading institution like the Smithsonian is a dream for any artist. It is humbling to know that millions of visitors will be able to experience the Black Label Masterpiece Royal Butterfly brooch and be exposed to my art.
Which design means the most to you?
I would have to say my annual butterfly-themed masterpiece. Butterflies have always been a favourite of mine. I love how they dance elegantly and gracefully through life, despite how short it may be. To me, the annual butterflies symbolise the ongoing metamorphosis in the advancement of both my brand and myself, and in both artistry and craftsmanship. A singular one has been given life each year since 2008.