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A New Leaf

Embracing new techniques, but evoking influences from her family past, the latest masterpiece from Cindy Chao The Art Jewel hails the Caribbean way of life, but her new museum project proves home in Taiwan is very much where the heart is

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The latest masterpiece from Cindy Chao The Art Jewel takes the artist in an exciting, modern new direction. The tall, graceful shape of the Caribbean Summer Brooch (2022 Black Label Masterpiece VIII) would be familiar to connoisseurs of her airy feather brooches but this piece has an extraordinary, architectural formality, perhaps the clearest expression yet of Cindy’s heritage as the granddaughter of an architect.


Maybe it was this aspect of her make-up that made her so inspired by the big, distinctive leaves of the banana trees, known as musa, that she saw everywhere on visits to the Caribbean, and resolved to create a piece redolent of its holiday islands, where the trees often fringe beaches and fields, and the dry swish of their leaves in the sunshine as tropical breezes pass through is as much a background noise as the lapping of gentle waves. 


What attracted her most was the leaf’s dramatic structure, a gently arched and sturdy central rib, undulating surface and edges contrasting with the regularity of a multitude of horizontal veins. Recreating this in light but ultra-hard titanium, her favourite metal, with a profusion of painstakingly set gems was the task she set herself and her craftsmen.

2022 Black Label Masterpiece VIII The Emerald Caribbean Summer Brooch in titanium, set with a 3.8ct pear-shaped Muzo Green Colombia Emerald and nearly 2,200 pieces of three varieties of diamonds and tsavorites


The design itself has the wow factor, and the craft involved, including techniques new to the brand, is its equal. Working with the ancient lost wax method, where a wax mould of the exact shape of the design is created and then every detail of it filled with metal, the craftsmen reproduced Cindy’s concept, which owes a lot to the other great influence on her designs – the work of her sculptor father. She wanted to recreate the gentle movement of the leaf in the breeze, with rippling surfaces and subtly curved centre stem.


To make this 3D effect, the craftsmen manipulate the titanium with 1.5kg hammers, moulding it into a sinuous, organic shape – a supreme task as the process makes the metal even harder. Then the metal is carved out into tiny tracks to represent the leaf veins, into which over 400 white diamonds, most of them specially made, square, Asscher-cut diamonds around 3mm are inserted, the tension from each side holding them in place next to each other so no metal appears and the diamonds blaze. This is known as channel setting and it is the first time Cindy has used it, a great feat on such a challenging shape.


Click EXPAND to see all details from the hand-making process of the 2022 Black Label Masterpiece VIII The Emerald Caribbean Summer Brooch:

The holding edge is an organic-looking, undulating frame with 1,731 tsavorites, their vivid green tone recalling the leaf in sunshine, while a curved-up section frames the piece’s star gem – a 3.8 carat Colombian Muzo emerald, a type famed for great depth of colour and clarity and regarded as the world’s best. The leaf’s central rib is truly organic, made from natural horn, polished to a translucent amber and shaped by gently heating and bending into the exact shape required by the design, something that can be done only once with each piece of horn. In the base is the classic finishing touch of a pear-shaped white diamond.


This amazing piece, which blends an imagined version of natural reality in Cindy’s adventurous style with the use of high craft pushed to the limits, appears in her latest project, her own Gallery. She travels constantly, and has certain aspects of her designs crafted in Europe, but she keeps strong links with Taiwan and its capital, Taipei – where her career started.


Here, in the luxurious setting of the Regent Taipei Hotel, she has opened her first “mini-museum” to introduce both her work and her philosophy to the public. It is in itself a work of high design. Cindy’s concept is overseen by Dutch architect Tom Postma who has applied the principles of classical architecture in creating a space with a strong central axis, lined with spectacular showcases and a focal display and using materials designed to last centuries, such as the textured bronze walls by French designer Ingrid Donat.


The four deep gold, freestanding showcases “frame” Masterpieces within each and enable them to be seen from all angles, evoking different emotions. On slender bases, each seems to float in the softly lit Gallery, while the nine works in the centrepiece display on a mirrored wall literally do float, levitating by a high-tech system to create a dream world of jewels.


With her work already displayed in some of the world’s great decorative arts museums, including the V&A in London, Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, opening her own museum is a logical and generous move, giving her compatriots the chance to see her stunning, unique pieces. Jewellery aficionados across the world will be hoping she will repeat the idea in other regions.


Click EXPAND for an inside look:

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