A Designer For All Seasons: Celebrating 20 Years of Cindy Chao the Art Jewel
A landmark year for designer Cindy Chao, 20 years just floated by like a dragonfly in flight.
BY P.Ramakrishnan  |  May 29, 2024
4 Minute Read

Dragonfly brooch from CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel

We’ve long covered—and not so secretly coveted—the exquisite works of designer Cindy Chao for years now as her sculptural, nature-inspired, museum-worthy jewels have been a point of fascination and debate: Is it jewellery, or is it art?

Her jewels have appeared in the pages of Robb Report Hong Kong’s annual Best of the Best, and intermittently in various iterations of Robb Report globally since 2012, such sporadic bursts of inspired creations finding a safe haven in the Best in Jewellery pages with increasing frequency. Chao’s earrings can be seen on the lobes of Academy-Award-winning actresses, her famed brooches on the lapel of gentlemen as they hit the red carpet. Chao’s singular sensations have also appeared in capital museums, guarded in enclosed glass cases, glimmering under a spotlight. How many jewellers can state that their work is part of the permanent collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC?

While others pontificate on the precious catalogue of Cindy Chao the Art Jewel, Chao’s swanned into her 20th year in the business with ease and elevated elegance, celebrating the landmark year with a travelling exhibition featuring her latest collection. The Rhythm of Life is a treasure trove of brooches studded with staggering precious stones in a variety of colour, size, and carats, holding collectors, critics, and connoisseurs captive for nearly two weeks in Hong Kong before the 20th Anniversary Collection travelled across Asia and the Middle East to a grand finale in Paris. Brooches of such dazzling retinue of fine craftsmanship and acuity, no picture—albeit shot with such precision and skill—has been able to capture the intangible glittering magic of the real thing. Its leaves fold as if nature intended, and the dragonflies in essence seem to be captured mid-flight, posed for posterity in a volley of light-activated resin, titanium, vivid Columbian emerald, and white diamonds. Kite-step-cut diamonds, tsavorites, and gold embody the dragonflies, giving life to creation, providing form to refined figurine. 

French artisanship in crafting titanium.

A thread that links the latest pieces to collections from 2004, when the designer’s eponymous label was launched, is her unshakable belief that each individual piece blurred the lines between art and jewellery, as she crafted with “the mind of an architect and the hands of a sculptor.” Although her collections bifurcate down two paths—Black Label (limited-edition rarities of 10 or less) and White Label (between 150 and 200 pieces)—both carry traditional European practices and profoundly Asian aesthetics. If nature seems to be a motif linking collections year after year, Chao’s inspiration derives from high art, legends, and myths. 

A familiar pattern that traces back to Chao’s “Four Seasons” motif is the fallen leaf silhouette from the 20th Anniversary Collection, her poignant poetic take on nature’s perpetual cycle of renewal, reaffirmation, and regrowth. Chao worked with a formidable dozen European master craftsmen to forge the organic forms of the leaves and completed them with three-dimensional gem-setting with around 1,500 gemstones on the titanium base. 

A piece from Cindy Chao’s Dragonfly series.

While many have fallen under the charms of the bejewelled leaf motif, we’ve been intrigued by the Dragonfly series—the ethereal beauty and fragility of the insect have been captured so vividly. Chao has embraced the mystique of a creature that has long fascinated cultures across the globe. In the West, dragonflies were a common motif in the Art Nouveau period and are visible in many great pieces throughout history. In the East, and in China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony, and as a good-luck charm. Among Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed, and purity. A heady mix of East and West meets at the designing table, where Chao’s Eastern philosophy, Asian aesthetics, and traditional European jewellery-making amalgamate to form immortal creatures of precious stone and symbol.

When Roselyne Bachelot, the French minister of culture, conferred Chao with a “Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature” honour, she said, “Cindy Chao is an exceptional artist-jeweller who keeps pushing the limits of her art. At the crossroad between goldsmith, sculpture, and architecture, this is for the exceptional quality of her works and contribution to the life and transmission of the jewellery savoir-faire of our country.” In essence, she has confirmed that the goals set out by Chao at the beginning of her career have been met. 

Cindy Chao The Art Jewel

50 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong (by appointment only)

Tel: (+852) 2561 8298