From top: Cindy Chao with French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot; 2021 Black Label Masterpiece X Ribbon Brooch
Taiwanese contemporary high jewellery artist, Cindy Chao, received one of France’s highest honours, Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Order of the Arts and the Letters), on November 17 2021. Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot presented the honour at a ceremony in Paris. L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres recognises artists who have distinguished themselves in the artistic or literary field or by their contribution to the influence of the Arts and Letters in France and the world.
While presenting the honour, the culture minister underlined the reasons for it: “Exceptional artist-jeweller, you keep pushing the limits of your art. At the crossroads between goldsmith, sculpture and architecture - for the exceptional quality of your works and your contribution to the life and transmission of the jewellery savoir-faire of our country – We make you a “Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Art et Lettres.”
Cindy, who founded her company, Cindy Chao The Art Jewel, in 2004, is known for her Black Label Masterpiece Collection and the Annual Butterfly. She spends more and more of her time in Paris, the city she chose to establish the European headquarter of her Maison. In the French capital, she presents her Black Label Masterpieces and White Label Collections to European, American and Asian collectors. Says the 45-year-old Cindy, “France is the origin of high jewellery, and it had the sense to see me before I knew myself. The country gave me courage and determination when no one else gave it to me and recognition along the journey. The distinction has brought me an even bigger responsibility to be a bridge between East and West to facilitate a deeper cultural exchange between France and Asia.”
Cindy’s creations are closely linked to France. The butterfly, an iconic motif of her Black Label Masterpieces, is also symbolic of French fine jewellery and a test of expertise to create the winged creature’s infinite grace and extreme weightlessness. Her other iconic motif is the ribbon bow, a tribute to France’s rich history. She explains, “I was inspired by the magnificence of Louis XIV and discovered that he had made it a symbol of nobility”.
Following in her grandfather’s footsteps, a renowned architect, and her father, a celebrated sculptor, Cindy sculpts her jewellery using the lost-wax technique. This method alone, she explains, allows the extreme precision she requires.
Cindy chooses to work with French workshops because “they can meet the challenges inherent to my jewellery. For example, they can fashion not just gold but also titanium in three dimensions.” After engraving, chiselling, and polishing comes the final step – stone setting with micrometric precision. The French workshops can spend up to 10,000 hours crafting a single Black Label Masterpiece.
Cindy Chao’s 2008 Black Label Masterpiece I Ruby Butterfly brooch is in the Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Dominique Forest, the curator of the Galerie des Bijoux, added the butterfly to the museum’s collection for, “the extraordinary manner in which Cindy Chao has captured the fleeting motion of a butterfly about to emerge from its cocoon”. As the first 21st-century piece from Asia to enter the Gallery, it sits alongside the creations of France’s most influential names: René Lalique, Froment-Meurice, Vever, Suzanne Belperron, and Claude Lalanne.
This year in May, Chao’s 2018 Black Label Masterpiece XVIII Peony Brooch became a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, the world’s largest museum of art and design. “The Peony Brooch is a virtuoso celebration of nature’s beauty, and a deeply personal piece,” says Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A.
This acquisition by V&A made Chao the only Asian female jeweller ever to have a piece exhibited in the museum. Adds the curator, “The undulating petals studded with rubies were first carved in wax, then cast in titanium to create a complex lattice of individual settings that was 10 years in the making … We’re delighted that the Peony Brooch has joined our collection.” The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. has a Cindy Chao in its collection, too - 2008 Black Label Masterpiece I Royal Butterfly Brooch.
To find out more about Cindy Chao The Art Jewel, visit cindychao.com