The scent of eucalyptus, the sight of glass jewellery boxes suspended from branches and the sweet sound of birdsong—these are some of the sensory experiences that welcome gem connoisseurs visiting Cindy Chao’s Tree of Life installation at the European Fine Art Fair in the Dutch city of Maastricht.
During her bold debut at this world-famous fair, commonly known by its acronym, Tefaf, the Taiwanese jewellery designer is unveiling her 2019 Black Label Masterpieces within the boughs of a leafy sculpture towering over her exhibition space. Rising tall from a solid foundation of roots, this whimsical design reflects the inspiration behind Cindy’s latest collection—her own family tree.
When I meet Cindy she is busy tapping away on her laptop in a private room tucked away behind the booth for her brand, Cindy Chao The Art Jewel.
“Come and take a look at these,” she says, beckoning me towards her screen. “Aren’t these incredible,” she enthuses as she scrolls through digital scans of blueprints of Taiwanese temples meticulously hand-drawn by her grandfather in the days long before computer wizardry.
An architect, her grandfather built hundreds of sacred buildings across Asia during his 60-year career, many of which are now treasured national monuments.
“I love studying the details in his work,” says Cindy, who preserved thousands of her beloved grandfather’s sketches after his death and has framed originals hanging on her office walls.
“They remind me of where I come from, my heritage. My jewellery designs are very architectural and people often ask about the inspiration behind them. I grew up watching my grandfather create intricate drawings and calculating angles in order to craft beautiful structures. His genius shaped the way I think.”
While Cindy credits her grandfather with giving her the mindset of an architect, it was her sculptor father who sparked her imagination. “He showed me how to tap into my creativity and use my hands to mould and sculpt my feelings and emotions into pieces of art. He taught me skill and technique but also to listen to my heart and embrace my passion. So when people ask why I became a jeweller, I feel that it wasn’t a conscious choice. It’s my ancestry—it’s in my blood.
“Let me show you,” says Cindy, closing her laptop and whisking me through a black satin curtain into her dark, dreamlike exhibition space, where a crowd has gathered to admire her exquisite Black Label art jewels, each of which is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that can take up to three years to complete.
“This Emerald Architectural necklace is very special to me because it’s a homage to my grandfather,” she says, gazing into an illuminated glass cube that contains a choker featuring a pair of Colombian emeralds of 100 and 99 carats connected by delicate woven strands of 10,000 vivid green emerald beads.
The entire 2019 Black Label Masterpieces collection honours the skills and passions passed down by Cindy’s forebears. The jeweller’s great admiration for Renaissance artist Michelangelo, for example, was inherited from her father and is celebrated in her 2019 Black Label Masterpiece VI Scultura di Giglio bangle, a spectacular statement bracelet featuring 4,428 diamonds, fancy-coloured diamonds and sapphires weighing 180 carats. “Michelangelo once said, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ This echoes my creative philosophy,” says Cindy.
“When I do wax sculpting, my thought is always to create impeccable pieces by removing unnecessary material,” says the designer who, since founding Cindy Chao The Art Jewel in 2004, has become renowned for using an 18th-century European artisanal technique of wax sculpting in developing her designs.
Cindy continues to guide me around her magical tree display, stopping to introduce other new pieces nestled within its branches. First we encounter the Bow brooch, which dazzles with 3,600 diamonds, sapphires, tsavorites, alexandrites and blue spinels—weighing a total of 120 carats—superbly set on a delicate titanium base less than one millimetre thick.