Living The Dream: Cindy Chao Gathers 12 High Society Figures To Present Her Latest Jewellery Masterpieces In Bangkok
In the contemporary world of high jewellery, CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with. Priding itself on a uniquely intricate blend of traditional craftsmanship and creative design, the award-winning brand has become synonymous with organic and breathtaking sculptural jewellery.
Over the years the revolutionary maison, which was established in 2004, has become known as the maker of chefs d’oeuvres sought by collectors and jewellery aficionados worldwide. Cindy Chao’s exclusive Black Label Masterpieces and White Label Collection have sold through prestigious auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In 2009 Cindy Chao’s Royal Butterfly brooch became the first piece of jewellery to front-page Women’s Wear Daily in the publication’s 100-year history. That same year the brooch was displayed at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC alongside some of the world’s most historic jewels, making Chao one of the first contemporary jewellers to receive such an honour.
Above and beyond building a successful business, Chao’s museum-calibre creations have also opened up an opportunity for Asia to be recognised in the competitive, Western-dominated world of fine jewellery, which is something the Taiwanese creative takes great satisfaction in. Her 2013 Burmese Ruby Ribbon ring, for example, sold for US$3.84 million, a record for an Asian contemporary art jewel. With the company’s rapid rise to global recognition her Peony brooch was the only piece by an Asian jewellery brand exhibited at Masterpiece London, also taking home the event’s Highlight Award. “It was the first time the award was given for jewellery,” says a rightly proud Chao.
The brand recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with its principal already regarded as one of the top jewellery designers of the 21st century. But to understand its essence is to also understand its talented founder, whose singular works find their DNA in her family heritage. Born into a creative clan, Chao’s father was a sculptor and her grandfather a distinguished architect. Teaching her to tap into her creativity, they have both shaped her mindset. “Growing up, their workshop was my playground,” she smiles.
This creative legacy permeates every facet of Cindy Chao and her celebrated Black Label Masterpieces and White Label collection are expressions of her savoire faire as a sculptor and artist. A prime example is her 2016 Black Label Masterpiece IX Winter Leaves necklace. Unique usage and settings of rough diamonds and top-quality precious stones play on colour and remarkably intricate designs—stellar craftsmanship permeates each and every piece by Chao, who spends endless hours in her studio perfecting each project down to the minute detail.
Today, only a few brands employ the 18th century wax sculpting technique, a historic approach that creates a three-dimensional wax model on a 1-to-1 scale of the final piece. “Before I sculpt the wax I also sketch everything myself,” says the designer. “The least important thing for me is time because I don’t compromise at all. The longest period it took me to create a piece was seven years. People often ask me whether I have a favourite piece and I always tell them it’s the next one. There is always room to polish my craft and I am a perfectionist.”
The road to success had humble beginnings for Chao. “I started the brand as a nobody working from my living room,” she says. “The first 10 years were very tough, persevering in the pursuit of my vision and proving myself to the world.” It takes a person with discipline to attain such remarkable achievements but behind her drive was a mother’s love for her child. Wanting nothing but the best for her son Jasper, and committed to her business, Chao decided to send him to boarding school overseas. “He was nine when I enrolled him in one of the most prestigious schools in Switzerland. After I paid the first lot of tuition fees I only had US$860 left in my bank account,” she laughs. However, her unyielding work ethic paid off and like her signature butterfly brooches her metamorphosis into one of the world’s leading jewellery artists was assured. Today, her brand continues to fly high but this brings its own set of challenges. “It’s one thing to have come this far and receive such recognition but the task now is all about how we improve, how we move forward and innovate,” the 45-year-old says.
In keeping with this issue’s themes of sustainability and technology, Chao explains that both play an important role in her unique approach to jewellery making. While it has become the norm for companies to incorporate high technology into almost everything they do, Chao uses it specifically to create the joints for her pieces. “I must say, these days few brands are willing to give time to traditional craftsmanship, which in my opinion is at the heart of beautiful art. What we do is celebrate the traditions of artisanal creativity—it can take up to 10,000 man-hours to produce just one of our Cindy Chao pieces using hands-on techniques such as wax sculpting. In fact, I am always astonished whenever I see 18th century craftsmanship in jewellery. As a modern artisan utilising a traditional technique like wax sculpting, I feel honoured to be able to preserve it and pass it on to future generations,” Chao explains. She adds, “When people ask me why I became a jeweller I tell them it is in my blood and I want to sustain our precious traditions of hand-craftsmanship.”
As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations, at the start of this year Cindy Chao commissioned a project that entailed an exclusive series of events in Bangkok to showcase the maison’s latest work. The project began with a photoshoot of 12 influential Thais wearing the brand’s pieces. The distinguished dozen included this issue’s cover stars, fashion designer Polpat Asavaprapha, businesswoman Sittharmanin Susamawathanakun and retail consultant Thipvipa Chantapasa Srivikorn, plus leaders from the worlds of fashion, hospitality and entertainment including Suquan Bulakul, Naphaporn Bodiratnangkura, Dr Cathleen Maleenont, Sirisopa Chulasewok, Nalinee Worawongwasu, Apiwat Yospraphan, Nandhamalee Bhirombhakdi, Ausana Mahagitsiri and Yuwared Sarutanond. Taken by Thailand’s leading photographer Nat Prakobsantisuk, the portraits of the 12 were then exhibited at a sumptuous private gala dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok. A veteran in his field, Nat has worked with countless leading magazines and brands. Being a part of this project, he says, was an honour.
During the dinner, Chao presented the latest jewellery from the maison’s collections. A highlight was this year’s butterfly brooch, the Aurora, a spectacular celebration of the maison’s anniversay. Comprising blue and white diamonds and rare pigeon’s blood rubies from Burma, this latest iteration of Chao’s annual butterfly brooch is the most spectacular in terms of colour, the contrast of which whimsically evoke the northern lights.
“Thailand is a new market for us, one that has a well-established jewellery industry and knowledgeable patrons,” says Chao. “That’s why I felt it was important we came to Bangkok. I am very grateful to our VIP models and our generous collectors who were prepared to loan back various pieces from the new Black Label Masterpieces and White Label collections for us to showcase here. I believe it is very important for people to be able to understand and learn about the craftsmanship and the brand as a whole first hand.” To that end, the day after the gala dinner Chao welcomed 40 prominent individuals back to the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok for an exclusive private viewing of her latest Art Jewel masterpieces.
Her unique designs caught the eye of a number of jewellery aficionados present and Chao says she is pleased with the impact her visit made in terms of raising brand awareness. “I have high hopes for the Thai market and I will be back in Bangkok at the first opportunity. Next time though, I will try to get out of the hotel at bit more and actually see something of this amazing city,” she laughs.
Our three cover stars—Polpat Asavaprapha, founder and creative director of Asava fashion house, Sittharmanin Susamawathanakun, managing director of Superrich Thailand and Thipvipa Chantapasa Srivikorn, consultant to Gaysorn Group are among the 12 individuals selected by Cindy Chao for the exclusive photo shoot. They share a sense of social responsibility in doing their part for a more environmentally-conscious and sustainable world.
Knowledge is the key to sustainability. The transfer of know-how to future generations is extremely important. In terms of sustainability for our planet, Supperrich Thailand has recently launched the Green Forward campaign enabling our customers to buy products from which proceeds go to the Green World Foundation.
— Sittharmanin Susamawathanakun
Technology has made life simpler. It connects people and the world. It also helps businesses grow. That said, particularly in this day and age, I believe in technological advancements that do not forgo the importance of sustainability and doing things in an eco-friendly manner. Technology is so abundant these days. It’s great to see a brand like Cindy Chao preserve traditional craftsmanship.
— Thipvipa Chantapasa Srivikorn
Sustainability in fashion is important and at Asava we try to use natural fabrics that won’t impact negatively on the environment. We also use recycled fabrics where we can. That we put emphasis on the quality and timelessness of our creations over trends is an important message because we want people to understand that our clothes last a lifetime, not just a season. These are garments that you can wear again and again.
— Polpat Asavaprapha
Watch the behind-the-scenes video of this story's ultra-glam shoot here:
See also: The New Asia: The Most Powerful, Influential and Stylish People to Know in 2020
- Photography Nat Prakobsantisuk
- Styling Apiwat Yospraphan