Cover The Ruby Butterfly Brooch on display at the Galerie des Bijoux in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Photo: Courtesy of Cindy Chao The Art Jewel)

Jewellery artist Cindy Chao’s designs feature in prestigious museum collections the world over

Far from being mere spaces where priceless exhibits are put on display, museums play a crucial role in preserving cultural heritage and curating a legacy for future generations. These influential institutions implement strict induction criteria based on an item’s cultural relevance, artistic significance, display and didactic value. It is a great privilege for an artist when their works are chosen by leading museum experts, joining the ranks of highly coveted collectibles and cementing their artworks as ones to watch.

Cindy Chao’s Black Label Masterpiece collection exceeds the requirements. As the first Asian jewellery artist to have pieces inducted into permanent collections in the renowned Smithsonian Institution in the United States, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in France and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in the United Kingdom, Chao is leading Asian art jewellery’s entrance onto the world stage.  

See also: The Metamorphosis of Cindy Chao

 

The first of these achievements came in 2013, when Chao’s Royal Butterfly Brooch was installed in the Smithsonian Institution. Housed in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals of Washington DC’s National Museum of Natural History, the brooch shares the 20,000 sq ft exhibition space with world-renowned pieces, including The Hope Diamond and the 168-carat Mackay emerald and diamond necklace.

“The awe-inspiring array of colourful, glistening gems and Cindy Chao’s masterful design are combined to create a whimsically beautiful, jewelled butterfly,” said Jeff Post, curator of the museum’s natural stone collection. Featuring an intensely-hued diamond pavé, the brooch is defined by the four large-faceted, rough diamonds and eye-catching, iridescent sapphires on the asymmetric wings. In addition to the diamond-encrusted body and antennae, the back of the brooch is embellished with a polychromatic ripple pattern on the forewings, while the palette on the hind wings resembles that of Gustav Klimt’s gold-leaf-adorned paintings.

See also: Cindy Chao Celebrates the Peony Brooch's Induction into the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Annual Butterfly Collection, Chao says, is not only “the ultimate expression of her creativity”, but also symbolises the ongoing development of her artistic style and technique, as the artist challenges herself to revamp her signature every year.

Chao’s long list of accolades does not stop there. In 2020—coinciding with her eponymous brand’s 15th anniversary—the Ruby Butterfly Brooch was inducted into the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Occupying the northwest wing of the Louvre Palace—itself a work of art—the museum boasts more than 800,000 pieces in collections ranging from precious metals to jewellery, fashion and ceramics, among others. The Ruby Butterfly Brooch joined the permanent collection at the Galerie des Bijoux, sitting alongside 1,200 exquisite pieces of jewellery from the Middle Ages to the present day.

“The Ruby Butterfly Brooch has demonstrated the well-prepared and ready-to-take-off mindset of Cindy Chao during the time she just started her eponymous brand,” said Dominique Forest, chief curator at the Paris institution. This piece illustrates a youthful butterfly that has just emerged from its cocoon, and mirrors the early days of Chao’s exciting exploration in the realm of jewellery artistry. As well as the plethora of multi-coloured diamonds and opalescent sapphires on both sides, the butterfly is bejewelled with a pair of bold, non-heated baroque Burmese rubies on the wings.

Chao’s reputation continues to soar, with the third historic achievement announced earlier this year. Home to more than two million objects, the V&A houses the world’s largest collection of decorative arts and designs. It is not just the size of the collection that impresses, but also the significance. The permanent collection at the William and Judith Bollinger Gallery contains some of the finest jewellery in the world, including the Elizabeth I Armada Jewel and personal treasures once owned by Catherine the Great of Russia and Queen Victoria. And now Chao’s Peony Brooch, which received the Outstanding Object award at the Masterpiece London art fair in 2018, is among their number.

The kaleidoscopic bloom flaunts its undulating petals, adorned with rubies and diamonds in various sizes, while the wavy trims are shaded with purple lacquer which spotlights the gemstones’ vivid depth. Accented with powdered pistils in gradated yellow tones, the flower features smooth, organic curves in featherweight yet rock-hard titanium.

Combining superior craftsmanship, innovative techniques and a harmonious blend of colours, the three masterfully crafted pieces bridge the past and the future through the fusion of conventional silhouettes and never-before-seen motifs. Esteemed museums across the world have added Chao’s pieces to their collections, with the aim of preserving this longstanding art form and encouraging future generations to bring it to new heights.