The one-of-a-kind bespoke jeweller Cindy Chao gives us an exclusive glimpse of her signature Four Seasons collection and shares her philosophies on jewellery, life and creative freedom.
You must be travelling a lot lately. What are your travelling essentials?
I always travel heavy. I’m a global citizen and I like to know I won’t fall short of anything. I live between Asia and Europe. I spend a lot of time at my factories in Europe, in Geneva, Paris and Lyon. I carry a lot of options for clothes and accessories because in Europe you are required to live up to a busy social life, and you’re required to dress for the occasion, so I carry enough to at least get me through two changes a day. I can never have enough shoes when I’m travelling. I carry everything I own! I also love leather trousers when I’m on the go. I meet with many suppliers on work trips so I like to be comfortable.
The Four Seasons collection includes the Black Label masterpieces and White Label pieces. How did you conceptualise the idea of black and white with separate collections?
Originally when I divided my collection into black and white, it was mainly because I personally love monochrome. I am a black and white person. And, to be able to sustain a print, you need to realise it on a personal level. My Black Label masterpieces allowed me creative freedom, where I could go crazy with my ideas and experiment without any boundaries. The Black Label collection was limited with only 12 pieces because of the intricacies in design, with each piece consuming a year, and more, to finish. The White Label collection was born to counter balance the Black Label with a more realistic and grounded approach, which is more accessible to customers who are newly introduced to Cindy Chao as a brand. The two collections best represent the essence of our work. Every single piece is a piece of art and tells a story.
How long does it take to complete a piece?
The masterpieces take a minimum of a year to be finalised. The longest I have spent designing a piece is the one I am working on now. I have been working on it for six years and counting.
How do you turn an idea into a three dimensional sculpture? What is your process?
I have a different moda operandi compared to the traditional process of designing jewellery. Normally, designers always sketch their ideas which results in a two dimensional visual. But I learnt a technique that was passed onto me from my father, which stems from sculpting. At Cindy Chao ateliers we actually mould the pieces with wax. It’s a more organic way for me to move forward with my ideas and emotions when I can visualise it and feel the wax structures with hands.
My father taught me to use my hands to sculpt and turn my emotions to reality.
You come from a family of artists. Your grandfather was an architect and your father, a sculptor. How influential have they been in your career?
Art has been a part of my life and my upbringing. As a child, it has always tremendously interested me. I have intentionally learnt a lot from my father and grandfather. They have passed their skills onto me, which instantly allow me to assess an idea as a three dimensional piece of work with a different point of view. My father taught me to use my hands to sculpt and turn my emotions to reality. My family always encouraged me and gave me a lot of freedom to do what I want and explore new architects and sculptors. I always wanted to be a sculptor, which I am now but in a different way.
The butterflies reflect on the metamorphosis of my life experience, they represent me as a brand and as an artist, as my voice.
Nature, and butterflies in particular, play an important role in your work.
When you look at one of my pieces, there is no symmetry. One of my favourite architects Gaudi said, “The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.” I love the concept because I love everything organic in life. When you look at my work you can see that I love everything floral, organic, natural. The butterflies reflect on the metamorphosis of my life experience, they represent me as a brand and as an artist, as my voice. The butterfly has turned out to be a signature of Cindy Chao because it is integral to my own life philosophy.
What is your most treasured piece of jewellery?
One of my pieces that took me two years to complete from the Black Label collection turned out to be the most challenging project in terms of material (titanium) and the many precious gemstones that were sourced from around the world. The piece was finally finished with the help of the amazing craftsmen who worked with me, and overcame the challenges with me to bring the masterpiece to life.
Your work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum amongst historical pieces of jewelled treasures. What sets your designs apart?
I think it’s the concept with which I started to create. Jewellery is not just a luxury accessory in my eyes. I always treat it as a miniature piece of art, a miniature piece of sculpture. What sets me apart is that my designs are very sculptural, which allows me to play with my ideas. When you see my piece in a museum or an art gallery, they are easily distinguishable because they are unique, just like art.
Are you a collector of art? Who are some of your favourite artists?
I love sculptures. I go to a lot of art fairs around the world. I like to discover new and contemporary artists. Some of my favourite artists of the moment are Damien Hirst and his remarkable butterfly collection, Marc Quinn and Dan Cullen. Everyone is different in their own unique way.
You have dipped your toes into watchmaking. Do you have any more plans to expand into horology?
The only watch I made was an extension of my maple leaf collection for Salma Hayek. It was my client’s request. We still prefer the way we operate “by appointment only” so if anyone has needs I will cater to my clients.