Known for her use of flora and fauna as inspiration, Taipei-based jeweller Cindy Chao reinvents the organic curves of a ribbon for a jewel she designed around a vibrant ruby for Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite sale in Hong Kong this October.

Jewellery designer Cindy Chao. Photography by Andreas Laszlo Konrath

HONG KONG - When Taiwanese artist-jeweller Cindy Chao came across a stupendous ruby – a rare, natural pigeon’s blood ruby of some eight carats – she knew immediately that she had found the perfect centrepiece for the dramatic new jewel that had been taking shape in her imagination. To Chao, this hypnotic ruby, of the finest colour and quality, resonating with historical, cultural associations, was the ideal gemstone to express and embody her latest design theme: a reinterpretation of the ribbon and bow, one of the most ubiquitous and traditional motifs in jewellery history. She felt the ruby, possessed a similar character. “It is very grand, majestic, and like the ribbon bow, has a mature, almost old-fashioned association,” she explains. “Asians love rubies but they don’t want to look mature.”

Chao designed a sinuous ribbon-inspired setting around an 8.03 carat Burmese ruby for Sotheby’s October sale of Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite.

Chao’s aim in framing the exceptional ruby was to elevate its grandeur and nobility – by encircling it in ribbons to depict it in an entirely new way. “I wanted to make the ribbon livelier, to give it powerful movement, as if flying in the wind, a ribbon dance,” she says. Yet it also had to have her signature style, organic and forthright, “like heavy silk, with its promise of a gift.” She was fascinated by the process of rejuvenating the ruby, bringing out its innate beauty and splendour, as well as by the challenges of transforming diamonds and gold into the softness of fabric. The final result will be presented in Sotheby’s October sale of Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite in Hong Kong.

Inspired by Gaudi, the organic curves of the Solstice Cuff are adorned with more than five thousand diamonds and gemstones, and a broad spectrum of at least 16 colour gradients. Photography by Travis Rathbone

Chao is one of a handful of elite Asian jewellers whose talents are now recognised around the world. She has been at the forefront of emerging Asian jewellery creativity, instrumental in changing Asian attitudes towards fine jewellery and leading collectors towards a more discerning and sophisticated appreciation of design, to balance the preoccupation with intrinsic value. She launched her first collection in 2004, and has since built an international reputation and clientele for her monumental, sculptural art jewels. Each intensely individual creation is composed around rare, supremely precious gemstones, combining intrinsic value with artistry and virtuoso European craftsmanship. Her themes – the four seasons, butterflies and the most recent addition to her series of “Masterpieces,” a spectacular emerald-bellied fish – all exude a strong Asian flavour, the balance of serenity and power, reflecting a deep Eastern affinity with nature. The pieces also show her talent and skill as a sculptor.

Marquise diamonds glisten like icicles against black diamond branches on Chao’s ‘Winter Branch’ brooch from her Four Seasons Collection. Photography by Travis Rathbone

Chao is the granddaughter of a celebrated architect, Zi-Nan Xie, and the daughter of a sculptor, An-Yu Chao, both of whom passed on their technical expertise, so that her work is characterised by complex construction and sculptural fluidity. Her signature undulating surfaces are skilfully smothered in pavé diamonds or melting dégradé coloured stones. Chao sculpts each piece herself, in wax, to create the three-dimensional organic softness of leaves and petals, exuberant spring blossoms, knotty branches and thick drifts of white diamond snow bursting through cabochon emerald green shoots, or voluptuously deliquescent biomorphic drops, pooled around massive emeralds or sapphires. They’re encrusted, gem on gem, with diamond briolettes or small pearls that seem to ooze from the silky pavé curves. Her jewels are made to the most exacting standards by craftsmen in Geneva, who she says have been pushed to new levels of technical excellence by the challenges presented by her three-dimensional sculptures.

Emerald Drop Earrings, from Chao’s Architectural Collection, were cut from one single rough gemstone weighing 500 carats. Photography by Travis Rathbone

The ruby ribbon jewel marks a new mood of creative direction, both simple and complex, which has been taking shape in Chao’s imagination, and in her hands. “It is how I am evolving as a sculptor. I used to want to show everything I could do, to add as much as possible,” she admits. But while reading about Michelangelo, she was struck by the idea of the artist trying to take out unnecessary ornament in order to free the spirit of the marble. “So now I take out whatever is not absolutely necessary, to reach the essence of a concept, form or curvature. The result is a jewel with even greater presence and power.”

Vivienne Becker is a jewellery historian, contributing editor for
Financial Times’ How to Spend It and author of The Impossible Collection of Jewellery, published by Assouline.

Cindy Chao’s ribbon-inspired ruby jewel will be offered in the Hong Kong sale of Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite