Cindy Chao Celebrates The Peony Brooch's Induction Into The Victoria And Albert Museum
Cindy Chao’s reputation precedes her. Her designs—a unique collection of wearable art—have featured in prominent institutions the world over, from the Smithsonian in the US to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The high jewellery artist has achieved a long list of accolades over the years, including the Outstanding Exhibit award at Masterpiece London in 2018.
And while she is no stranger to success, for Chao, having a piece of her work inducted into the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is a dream come true and a privilege without compare. “It is indisputably one of my greatest honours,” she says.
Among the world’s largest and most famous museums, the V&A is home to an extraordinary collection of decorative and applied arts, design and sculpture. With 145 galleries spread across its more than five hectares of space, the V&A’s permanent collection comprises well in excess of 2.2 million carefully curated items.
The V&A’s exquisite historic pieces and notable curiosities span the past five millennia. The eclectic array includes objects from across the globe, including Italian Renaissance sculptures, intricate Japanese lacquer furniture, Arabian carpets, Indian carvings, modern French couture gowns, iconic British photography, medieval European tapestry and illuminated manuscripts, African textiles—even early American skateboards.
The latter addition speaks volumes, for while the V&A’s memory may stretch back to ancient times, it is also very much engaged with the contemporary world, demonstrating the interplay between form and function and the links between works of creativity in times long past and today. The museum also possesses an enviable collection of jewellery.
The lion’s share of this glittering treasure trove is located in the William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, where Chao’s Peony Brooch will now find its place of honour. A one-of-a-kind piece, the Peony Brooch boasts 3,153 rubies and diamonds painstakingly mounted in a petal-like “honeycomb” structure hewn from titanium. Through a process of anodisation, the titanium was imbued with a purple hue, in perfect contrast to the deep red rubies it encases, while a lacquerware technique recreated the pale yellow tint of a peony’s pistils.
The brooch was designed and crafted over the course of a decade for a close friend of Chao, who at the time was battling an illness. “The Peony Brooch marks the completion of an emotional and technically challenging ten-year journey for me,” Chao says.
The ruby-studded petals—from her friend’s family heirloom—form the centrepiece of the design and instilled it with a deeply personal meaning. The brooch came to embody her strength and tenacity. “The creation process reflected evolving friendship and life experiences, for both the client and me.” It now serves as “an embodiment of prosperity, of life and the rich love of family and friends”, says Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A.
See also: The Metamorphosis of Cindy Chao
Now taking pride of place within the V&A’s William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, the Peony Brooch joins some of the most exquisite and historically significant jewellery ever to have existed—priceless pieces such as the Armada Jewel, given by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Thomas Heneage, privy counsellor and vice-chamberlain of the Royal Household; diamonds that belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia; and the emerald jewels given by Napoleon to his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais.
“Cindy Chao’s Peony Brooch is an exquisite and virtuoso celebration of nature’s beauty, as well as a deeply personal piece,” says Hunt. “It’s a testament to Chao’s artistry, while the peony itself is a symbol of good fortune in Asian traditions and imbued with meaning for the original wearer.”
Chao says it is at once humbling and fulfilling to be the only Asian contemporary female jeweller to date with a creation displayed alongside the V&A’s collection of world-renowned pieces of jewellery. “It is like bringing Asian contemporary high jewellery onto the same stage with these significant pieces from history, providing solid evidence that the values of jewellery from the eastern world have been recognised,” she says.
Learn more about Cindy Chao The Art Jewel here