Born into a family of artists, Taiwanese jewellery designer Cindy Chao is known for her exceptional gemstone-setting techniques and three-dimensional jewellery pieces.
She established her eponymous brand, Cindy Chao The Art Jewel, in 2004 and began a fulfilling journey to becoming one of the most promising figures in the world of jewellery design. In 2016, she was invited to join the 28th Paris Biennale des Antiquaires, becoming the first female Asian jewellery designer to participate in the event.
The award-winning designer sits down with JNA to talk about her creative process, design inspirations and future plans.
JNA: Where did your passion for designing jewellery come from? Why did you choose this career path?
Cindy Chao: Creating artistic jewellery pieces is a continuation of my family heritage. I’m very fortunate because I was trained to think outside the box. My grandfather was a noted architect whose many works are now considered historical monuments. My father was a sculptor. He taught me to take into account every angle, form and expression of the things that I observe, and to transform these observations into well-rounded creations.
I grew up in a highly creative and artistic environment.
In fact, as a young adult, I aspired to be an architect like my grandfather. It was my mother who pushed me to use my creative talents in a profession that is more feminine. My grandfather used steel to create structures while my father utilises marble stones as his medium. As a designer, I have an expansive range of gemstones at my disposal to design my jewellery masterpieces. We may be pursuing different paths but in terms of our dedication to art and creativity, we are the same. The family legacy lives on.
JNA: Could you share with us your design philosophy?
Chao: I’m constantly motivated by a desire to break the boundaries between art and jewellery design, and to redefine high jewellery. I believe that every piece of fine jewellery should be a miniature work of art. This follows the idea I learned from my father and my grandfather that only true art can transcend time, and be passed on from generation to generation.
My artistic interpretation is conspicuous owing to my family background. My creations are architectural and sculptural.
My jewellery pieces are also an extension of myself. It is through my jewellery that I express my deepest, most profound emotions. Every piece of jewellery embodies a vibrant life, which in turn, helps elicit positive feelings from the observer and the wearer. What I create carry my thoughts, imagination and soul.
JNA: The butterfly figures a lot in your designs. Can you share with us its significance?
Chao: A butterfly’s lifespan is fleeting yet pure; it undergoes several transformations in a short period of time. I have also experienced this metamorphosis as an artist when I transformed and persuaded myself to create exceptional pieces. I always push myself to the limit to breathe life into something even more spectacular than my last creation.
I have been giving life to one butterfly piece each year since 2008. While each butterfly evolved with my journey as an artist, coincidentally, every one of the seven butterflies so far also has its own legacy. They are about progress, growth, and moments that bring new experiences and lessons.
JNA: Tell us something about your signature wax-sculpting technique.
Chao: I acquired this technique from my father. I use wax mainly because jewellery production requires a lot of detail processing. My creative process, which is laborious yet extremely rewarding, typically starts with an inspiration. I then hand-carve and sculpt the wax model right away. Since wax is a relatively soft material, it allows me to mould curves, silhouettes and undulations, creating a sense of subtleness in a jewellery piece.
The technique is crucial to our creations. It gives them a 3D free-flowing effect. There is no front or back view. One will be able to appreciate the splendour of the jewellery from every angle.
JNA: Which piece is your favourite work by far? Why?
Chao: My favourite work is always the next one. I am a perfectionist and I always challenge myself. My designs are detail-oriented because I pay attention to the tiniest structural aspect of every piece to make it more lifelike.
Once the work is done, I immediately ask myself: How can I further improve it? Can it be done in a better way, technically or aesthetically, to bring it to a higher level? These thoughts excite and inspire me to create something more challenging next time.
JNA: Who do you design for?
Chao: It depends on my design inspiration and the gemstones we have in our inventory. At the moment, we accept approximately 12 custom-made orders each year. These pieces will be specific to my client’s needs.
I always demand the highest-quality gemstones and craftsmanship for every piece of my work, and I never compromise. This inevitably takes time.
Due to my quest for perfection and respect for the sophistication of fine jewellery creation, I sometimes rework pieces more than a dozen times to make sure it conforms exactly to the design that I have in mind.
JNA: What is your favourite gemstone and why?
Chao: I love green and I am fascinated by the emerald. I also enjoy being outside and revelling in the beauty of nature. If I need to illustrate nature using a single colour, I will choose green. This is also why I often use the emerald as the star gemstone in my masterpiece collection every year.
JNA: What are your plans for 2017?
Chao: I am launching my masterpiece collection in September, so preparations are underway. JNA