The Art of High Jewellery: Cindy Chao's Artistic Inspiration and the Revival of Art Nouveau
The art deco movement, which came to the fore in the 1920s, looked to the future, celebrating technology, glossy chrome and black varnish, and strictly calculated lines. It was the antithesis to the organic, artistic, architectural and decorative style that immediately preceded it—art nouveau.
Popular during the period from 1890 to 1910, art nouveau was inspired by the beautifully untamed forms of nature. It was a movement that celebrated women, femininity, flowers and vines, delicate feathers and whimsical creatures such as butterflies, fairies and dragonflies. One of the best known examples of art nouveau was in Hector Guimard’s designs for the iconic entrances to the Paris Metro, the underground railway that was, at the time, an arabesque marvel of cutting-edge technology.
Art nouveau avoided the perfect symmetry, parallel lines, and black and white monotony of art deco, as these rarely occur in flora and fauna. It looked instead to the colours, patterns and the architectural forms of nature. Art nouveau’s practitioners embraced freedom, innovation and modern techniques, a spirit shared by acclaimed haute joaillerie artist Cindy Chao, who dares to be different in the traditional world of high jewellery.
Today, Cindy Chao The Art Jewel is creating stunning organic masterpieces often described as “nouveau art nouveau”. Together with her European master artisans, Chao pushes the boundaries of craftsmanship, taking her artistry to new heights.
Shining a light on her Asian heritage and the region’s rich artistic history, Chao’s intricate designs are a fusion between east and west, and are a favourite of collectors around the world in search of rare and unique artworks.
The arts run in Chao’s blood—her father was a prominent sculptor and her grandfather a renowned architect. She treats her jewellery as “miniature sculptures and three-dimensional architectural structures”, ever mindful of her father’s advice: “Regardless of the subject, the final piece of art must be as vibrant as [the subject] is in real life … Observe the object, pay attention to the tiniest details, and then, with your heart and soul, put into [physical] forms what you’ve perceived.”
This was precisely the approach Chao adopted with two of her latest pieces—the 2021 Black Label Masterpieces VII and VIII, Star Sapphire Floral Brooch and Blue Dawn Feather Brooch—both inspired by the art nouveau movement.
The incredible Star Sapphire brooch features an oval cabochon, non-heated Sri Lanka star sapphire of 49.12 carats accompanied by emeralds, tsavorites, diamonds and yellow diamonds in a titanium and white gold setting. The sepals—etched in anodised titanium—boast a delicate green hue, complementing the emeralds and tsavorites set within the metal, while the hand-sculpted petals evoke the vibrant colours of a garden in full bloom.
This piece was announced in June as one of the winning exhibits at the acclaimed 2021 Masterpiece London exhibition in the “Precious Stone” category. In announcing the prize, the judges said, “This work has a remarkable sculptural quality that is impressive not only for the design, but also for its technical skills. A wonderful piece.”
The Blue Dawn Feather, meanwhile, is a floating canopy of gems centred around 13 pear-shaped Sri Lanka sapphires totalling 154.06 carats, a pear-shaped diamond of 1.66 carats, and a shield-shaped diamond of 20.49 carats, deliberately cut into by Chao, who wanted to create a juxtaposition between a feather and a tulip for the first time. These stunning gems are complemented by more than one thousand sapphires of differing shapes and sizes, as well as tsavorites, alexandrites and diamonds in a setting of titanium and white gold. Owing to featherlight titanium and intricate honeycomb structure, the brooch weighs in at just 24 grams, equivalent to two macarons. The feather is one of Chao’s favourite motifs and has become something of a signature for the high jewellery artist since her Phoenix Feather brooch was presented at the 2016 Biennale des Antiquaires.
Each piece is designed to reflect and celebrate the beauty of nature, but also to serve as a lasting expression of creativity. As Chao herself puts it, “Only true art transcends time and can be passed down from generation to generation.”