Bridging the East-West gap

Jewellery artist Cindy Chao was recently awarded one of France's highest honours in art

Last November, Cindy Chao received the Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres insignia directly from the hands of France's Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot.

Cindy Chao has been appointed Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

One of the few Asian designers to be honoured with the insignia, Chao noted that her creations have always been linked to France -- the origin of high jewellery.

"The distinction has brought me an even bigger responsibility to be a bridge between East and West and to facilitate a deeper cultural exchange between France and Asia," said the jewellery artist.

Since 2004, she has been upholding the same vision of representing the forefront of Asian luxury through Cindy Chao The Art Jewel.

Her grandfather was a distinguished architect in Taiwan, and under his guidance, she learned to see the world in a three-dimensional way, now expressed in 360-degree works of art under the Black Label Masterpiece and White Label collections.

Chao also learned sculpting from her father and employs an 18th century artisan technique of crafting designs in wax before completing intricate sculptures with precious metal and gemstones.

From the onset, she chose to work with French workshops, whose master craftsmen, one of whom is Meilleur Ouvrier de France, are virtuosos. Meeting the challenges inherent to her jewellery, they can fashion not only gold in three dimensions but also titanium -- her favourite metal and one of the most difficult to work with due to its hardness.

2016 Black Label Masterpiece IX Winter Leaves Necklace.

Her works are inspired by ribbons, flowers, leaves, feathers and butterflies.

The Royal Butterfly, Ruby Butterfly and Peony brooches have been respectively inducted into the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Victoria and Albert Museum.

"Every piece should be a miniature work of art that is sculptural, architectural and organic," she said. "The butterfly is an iconic motif of my Black Label Masterpieces. It is a crucial test of expertise, as it requires the use of the hardest metal and stones to recreate the creature's wings with infinite grace and extreme weightlessness.''

Another Black Label Masterpiece, the Winter Leaves Necklace debuted at the 28th Paris Biennale des Antiquaires in 2016. She worked with her craftsmen for two years on the piece, which has an unprecedented design.

"I thought this work was the best representation of what I was capable of and I devoted all my efforts to craft every detail and every layer. However, it was the other 15 exhibited pieces by Cindy Chao The Art Jewel that received huge applauses from the media and public and not the Winter Leaves Necklace," she recalled.

It made her realise the fundamental difference between artist and designer. The primary objective of a designer is to satisfy customer needs whilst the vision and creative mindset of an artist is not driven by marketing.

2021 Black Label Masterpiece XX Maplewood Earrings.

"I understood why the Winter Leaves Necklace wasn't well-received in 2016 -- because the market could not comprehend the spirit behind the piece," she said.

However, three years later the necklace triumphed at Masterpiece London, which showcased the finest works of art, design, furniture and jewellery. It received the Masterpiece London Highlight Award and was selected as the "Best Jewellery Piece" at the art fair.

"When the effort and spirit behind the piece were acknowledged, especially from a significant Western art circle, it was an encouragement to my path of creating jewels," she said.

The Black Label Masterpiece IX Winter Leaves Necklace sparkles with around 6,000 fancy-cut diamonds is set entirely in titanium which is a fifth of the weight of gold. Resting lightly on the neckline, the curves, undulations and layering arrangement of the winter leaves on the necklace highlight their perfect shapes and organic appeal.

"The conduits of art pieces are not limited to precious metals and diamonds but anything that can communicate the message from the artist to audiences. For instance, titanium, a tough metal requiring triple the time to craft compared to gold, has always been used on my Black Label Masterpiece," she said. "It is light, so it can minimise the weight of my high jewellery pieces while maintaining a substantial size physically to tell a story."

2021 Black Label Masterpiece XVI Morning Dew Green Vine Earrings.

Chao boldly combines titanium and yellow gold with maple wood in the creation of the Maplewood Earrings -- one of the three 2021 Black Label Masterpieces. The block of maple wood was sculpted and hollowed out to encapsulate two unique light brown diamonds.

The Morning Dew Green Vine Earrings shimmer with Colombian emeralds evoking soft dew that glisten around two cushion-shaped diamonds. The titanium structure has been anodised to a brilliant blue-green hue and paved with precious stones that showcase the craftsmanship.

The third piece is the Ribbon Brooch with gemstones of different shapes, colours and sizes meticulously positioned and paved onto the mere 1mm titanium base.

With the recurring ribbon bow motif, the new Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres further pays tribute to France's rich history.

"I was inspired by the magnificence of Louis XIV. I discovered during one of my visits to the Palace of Versailles that it had been made into a symbol of nobility," she said.

2021 Black Label Masterpiece X Ribbon Brooch.

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