Designers began experimenting with new materials, such as titanium and wood, providing more flexibility with the size and shape of brooches.
While brooches didn’t radically transform in the ’90s and 2000s, these two decades ushered in material changes that continue to influence designs today. Whereas traditional brooches were made of dense platinum, silver and gold, contemporary brooches are often composed of lighter materials such as ebony or titanium. That way, jewellers can create larger, more intricate pins that won’t tip you over.
In Asia, haute couture jewellery designer Cindy Chao has mastered the art of featherlight brooches. Over the past decade, Chao has been experimenting with larger designs made with titanium—one of the most durable yet lightest materials on earth.
“Aesthetics and functionality are the two key points when I create a brooch,” says Chao. “I think of women who are wearing silk, chiffon, satin, cashmere, so the brooches must be light enough to be pinned onto these fabrics. Brooches that are larger in dimension are very eye-catching and can add a touch of glamour.” Her Phoenix Feather Brooch, which sold for US$8.7 million at Christie’s auction in May, features nearly 1,000 diamonds yet weighs just 36 grams—roughly the weight of two macarons. It’s so light, it can be worn on silk. “Chao’s craftsmanship and style is so distinctive and so special,” says Lim. “If you look at her background, she’s a sculptor, and she really used her hands to sculpt pieces. That is why it did so well in our auction.”
Prized for their rare gems and unique artistry, every piece in Chao’s Masterpieces collection has been meticulously crafted, requiring more than 10,000 hours—or roughly 23 months—to finish.
See also: 7 high jewellery timepieces that will make your jaw drop
The exacting work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2013, the Smithsonian Institution added Chao’s 77-carat Black Label Masterpiece Royal Butterfly brooch, which has 2,328 gems, to the collection of its National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, its first Taiwanese-designed piece.
“Compared to the brooches crafted last century, contemporary brooches seem to be more audacious in terms of subject matter, materials and craftsmanship,” says Chao. “I am certainly curious about how people 100 years from now will see our current works.”