Cindy Chao Peony Brooch at the V&A
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The Cindy Chao “Peony Brooch” takes pride of place at The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery in the V&A Museum. Peter Kelleher©️Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2021.

Renowned jewellery artist Cindy Chao’s “Peony Brooch” inducted into the V&A Museum

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A ten-year labour of love, the magnificent 2018 Black Label Masterpiece XVIII rubies and diamonds “Peony Brooch” by CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel takes pride of place at the acclaimed William and Judith Bollinger Gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In the same league as the world’s best

The absolute epitome of Cindy Chao’s artistry in craftsmanship, design and execution, the “Peony Brooch” is a miniature work of art that is now on permanent view at the celebrated V&A in London, the world’s largest museum of art and design. Among its permanent collection are over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. That includes more than 3,000 jewels considered to be one of the finest and most comprehensive jewellery collections in the world. 

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Peter Kelleher©️Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2021.

Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, lauded the induction saying, “Cindy Chao’s Peony Brooch is an exquisite and virtuoso celebration of nature’s beauty, as well as a deeply personal piece. The undulating petals studded with rubies, once part of a family heirloom, were first carved in wax, then cast in titanium to create a complex lattice of individual settings that was ten years in the making. The brooch is a testament to Chao’s artistry, while the peony itself is a symbol of good fortune in Chinese tradition, and imbued with meaning for the original wearer, who, at the time, was battling a life-threatening illness. We’re delighted that the Peony Brooch has joined our collection.” The masterpiece is now sitting alongside some of the finest jewels in the world. They include 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, to name but a few. 

The Peony Brooch also represents the first time a contemporary Asian female jeweller’s creation is displayed among these illustrious jewels at the V&A. “It’s like bringing Asian contemporary jewellery into the same stage with these significant pieces in history, and solid evidence that the values of jewellery from the Eastern world have been recognised. The Peony Brooch becomes my legacy and a gift of love that keeps on giving to the worldwide visitors of the museum,” Chao said.

Jewellery artist Cindy Chao celebrated the 15th anniversary of her eponymous business in 2020.

Not the first of Chao’s creations to feature in a major museum, the Peony follows in the footsteps of her Butterflies brooches that form part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. 

A tribute to love and friendship

An initial sketch of the Peony Brooch.

When a client commissioned Chao to revitalise her heirloom ruby necklace, she initially started by creating a simple pair of ruby earrings. But during that time, her client’s health took a sudden turn for the worse, followed by a miraculous recovery.  “I was heartbroken because I witnessed the fragility of life. I felt the earrings no longer did justice to such a critical turning point in her life,” Chao recalled.


Over the next decade, she created over 20 designs in the initial wax carving model stage. “When I looked back today, these ten years of creation was an epitome of the life journey. When my bonding with the client grew stronger, we exchanged our experiences and learned from each other, which helped me revisited the design over and over, resulting in this magnificent piece. A full bloomed peony symbolises the prosperity of life and ever-lasting love of family and friendship,” explained Chao.

Pioneering and innovative craftsmanship

The “Peony Brooch” is a testament to her exquisite jewellery art, vibrant design and pioneering and innovative craftsmanship from her European workshop. 

Chao started by sculpting every line, arch, turn and shift of the peony bloom using the age-old wax carving technique. Then her craftsmen cast the piece in titanium heated to a softening point of over 1,000°C to shape the hard metal into the smooth, organic curves of the peony bloom and create the desired sense of visual tension in the piece.

For the large-scale brooch to remain lightweight, each one of 3,153 rubies and diamonds was mounted in a petal-like “honeycomb” structure which was made in titanium. Every individual mounting site was carefully shaped with a fine line and sawn gradually in a process that took around three times longer than it would have in 18K gold. 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. Finally, Chao used her jewellery lacquerware techniques to imbue each of the Peony’s pistils with a powdered and gradient yellow hue, perfectly contrasting with the petals and exquisitely capturing the powerful and exceptional beauty of nature.

The Peony Brooch was awarded “Outstanding Exhibit” at Masterpiece London in 2018.

So stunning and unique was the Peony Brooch that the client was profoundly impressed and told Chao that it was worth a decade’s wait.  A month later, Chao borrowed the piece from the client and unveiled it at the Masterpiece London 2018, where the Masterpiece Award Committee gave it the “Outstanding Exhibit” award. 


For Chao, who celebrated the 15th anniversary of her eponymous business in 2020, the induction of the Peony Brooch into the V&A in 2021 is another milestone. It proves once again that her ethos of “devoting yourself, striving for the best without any compromise is the only way to shine” path the way to artistic greatness.