Cindy Chao museum pieces
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Cindy Chao’s butterfly and peony dreams take flight at world-renowned museums

Celebrated contemporary high jewellery artist made history by having three masterpieces inducted into the permanent collections of The Smithsonian, Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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A legacy in the making

Stewards of culture, museums collect, conserve, and communicate heritage through exhibitions and display, making cultural heritage, in all its expressions, forms and dimensions, accessible to all. Through their visits, museum-goers can go on a cultural journey, marvel at the exhibits and draw inspiration from the past that informs the future. 

When appropriate, museums induct unique contemporary pieces that they consider an invaluable object in the future. 

So, for Chao to have three one-of-a-kind museum pieces is a testament to the historical importance and artistic virtuosity of her exquisite wearable art created with meticulous craftsmanship that harkens from the past. By hand sculpting in wax every design sketch during the initial creative process, Chao brings the essentially lost wax carving technique initiated by royal jewellery craftsmen in the 18th century into the 21st century. 

And, as the first Asian jeweller inductee, she is forging a legacy that looks certain to stand the test of time.

Hallmark butterfly brooch debuts at The Smithsonian

The awe-inspiring Black Label Masterpiece Royal Butterfly brooch inducted into The Smithsonian.
Chao’s path to the hallowed museum halls started in 2013, just nine years after she founded her eponymous brand CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel. Her 2009 Black Label Masterpiece I “Royal Butterfly Brooch” adds sparkle to the gems collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C, one of the world’s most visited museums. 

It takes pride of place among 2,500 exhibits, including the famous 45.52-carat deep-blue Hope Diamond, the centrepiece of the gallery collection that comes with a colourful history dating back to at least the 1660s. Also present is the Star of Asia, a magnificent, 330-carat cabochon-cut star sapphire originating from the Mogok mines of Burma and said to have once belonged to the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

Composed of 2,328 glistening gems totalling 77 carats, the whimsically beautiful jewelled butterfly is set with fancy-coloured and colour-changing sapphires and diamonds, rubies, and tsavorite. The centrepieces of the butterfly’s wings are four large-faceted diamond slices stacked atop a pave layer of faceted diamonds, creating a pattern resembling the microstructure and scale of a living butterfly’s wings. 

Second butterfly brooch flutters into Musée des Arts Décoratifs 

The 2008 “Ruby Butterfly Brooch” depicts a butterfly that has just emerged from its cocoon.
Seven years later, Chao’s first piece from her iconic Annual Butterfly Series – the 2008 Black Label Masterpiece I “Ruby Butterfly Brooch” - was inducted into the acclaimed Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2020. Housed in the Palais du Lourve, the museum preserves around 800,000 artworks from the French national collections ranging from jewellery to silverware. The Galerie des Bijoux, where Chao’s Ruby Butterfly Brooch calls home, features a display of some 1,200 pieces that provide an exemplary overview of the history of jewellery from the Middle Ages to the present day. 

Commenting on the induction, Dominique Forest, Chief Curator at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, said, “This butterfly brooch from Cindy Chao is in the continuity of animal themes dear to the history of jewellery, while renewing it with the suggestion of flight and the very refined and complex scaling of the rubies and diamonds paving.”

Depicting a butterfly that has just emerged from its cocoon, the brooch features a pair of bold non-heated baroque Burmese rubies surrounded by bright fancy-coloured diamonds and colour-changing sapphires in an ultimate expression of Chao’s creativity.

Peony brooch blooms at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Chao’s ascendancy continues unabated, with a third creation inducted into a major museum in May 2021. This time it’s the V&A in London, the world’s largest museum of art and design. Among its permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects are more than 3,000 of the finest jewels in the world exhibited in the acclaimed William and Judith Bollinger Gallery.
2018 Black Label Masterpiece XVIII “Peony Brooch” is inducted into the V&A in May 2021.
This is where the 2018 Black Label Masterpiece XVIII “Peony Brooch” now resides. Another virtuoso celebration of nature’s beauty, the bold and dynamic brooch is set entirely with over 3,000 rubies and diamonds on a petal-like structure created in titanium. The colour of the titanium was then transformed, through anodisation, into resplendent purple hues designed to perfectly complement and celebrate the vivid depths of the red rubies. The Peony’s pistils, with a powdered and gradient yellow hue, perfectly contrast with the petals. Awarded “Outstanding Object” at Masterpiece London 2018, the Peony Brooch is a fitting addition to the V&A, where it sits alongside historically significant pieces. They include treasures such as the Heneage (Armada) Jewel that Queen Elizabeth I gave to her courtier, the diamonds that belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia, and the emerald jewels given by French emperor Napoleon to his adopted daughter. 

With pandemic-induced travel restrictions lifting (for now) in these three world capitals, jewellery and art lovers heading there should make it a point to view these masterpieces in such a prestigious setting.