By Linda Lee
The ruby-and-diamond Peony Brooch that wowed the Masterpiece Award Committee in London this year has a long pedigree. Its creator, Cindy Chao, is from Taiwan, but studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Her grandfather was an architect and her father a sculptor. She has a degree from the Gemological Institute of America and has been working professionally as a jewelry designer since 2004.
Collectors of her fine jewelry include the Chinese movie star Li Bingbing, Ivanka Trump (who wore a pair of Chao’s blue-jeweled earrings to a Met Gala) and Sarah Jessica Parker, who has become a friend and collaborator. The Peony Brooch, which was cited as an “outstanding example of contemporary craftsmanship,” was sculpted in wax by Chao, then cast in purple titanium. Chao then chose 105 oval rubies (172 carats, if you are counting) for the highlights, and tiny yellow diamonds for the pistils at the center. In addition there are more than 2,000 rubies (over 150 carats-worth) used as pave on the petals.
Chao was inspired to make her collection, which included a pair of Emerald Feather Brooches, also on display in the show, by a trip to British Columbia. The feather brooches were crafted in a European workshop (one imagines watch-makers) with movable joints, 2-carat fancy-cut main emeralds, and 80 carats of emeralds on the individual barbs. She says she is inspired by travel, nature, architecture and sculpture.
Her Black Label pieces are masterpieces worthy of museum collections (one, a butterfly brooch, is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum), competitions like Masterpiece this year, and auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Prices might run from $50,000 to more than a million dollars depending on the weight and type of gems and the number of hours it took to create.
Her White Label jewelry, a more affordable line, is sold at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Selfridges in London and at the Cindy Chao the Art Jewel boutique in Hong Kong.