Cindy Chao’s Ballerina Butterfly is the blossoming of a partnership with actress Sarah Jessica Parker. Offered in the Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite sale in Hong Kong this October in support of the New York City Ballet, the piece reflects the shared aesthetic of these kindred spirits.
HONG KONG - It was an unexpected meeting of minds, not to mention hearts and souls, when Sarah Jessica Parker met Taiwanese artist-jeweller Cindy Chao at her Masterpieces exhibition in Beijing some three years ago. They hit it off immediately. Parker was in awe of the lyrically beautiful jewels, and the passion and artistry poured into them, while Chao admired Parker’s “unique eye for fashion and style” and the instinctive way in which she responded to the jewels.
by Cindy Chao and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Estimate HK$6,000,000– 7,500,000.
Parker was invited back to Beijing a year later for the opening of Chao’s first boutique-gallery. She recalls, “It was an extraordinary occasion, and we spent two or three days together, during which time I became familiar with Cindy’s unique art, and was taken with the tender person she is. You can’t plan or plot it, we became friends and sisters.”
Somehow, the idea of a creative collaboration floated to the surface during a conversation about Parker’s passion for the ballet and Chao’s art jewels. They worked together to create a jewel, which, Chao generously offered, could then be sold to benefit the New York City Ballet, a cause championed by Parker, who sits on the board.
Soon after their initial discussion, Chao visited backstage at the ballet in Paris, at the Opera Garnier. In the rehearsal room she saw butterflies carved on the pillars, a reminder that each ballerina should be as light as a butterfly. It was the perfect connection: the butterfly has become Chao’s signature, the symbol of her own metamorphosis, from sculptor to jeweller, interpreted each year in her annual Black Label Masterpieces, breathtaking in their dreamlike artistry and virtuoso craftsmanship.
“Parker was in awe of the lyrically beautiful jewels, and the passion and artistry poured into them, while Chao admired Parker’s unique eye for fashion and style”
So the Ballerina Butterfly became the theme for the collaboration. Over the course of the next several months, these two creative spirits worked together, on opposite sides of the world and over several visits by Chao to New York, to come up with a design that would reflect their personalities, their styles, dreams and desires; something that would tell the story of their friendship.
Eventually, the design was finalised and the challenge of crafting the jewel began. It had to be light yet strong, like a ballerina, with dynamic yet graceful movement, and a powerful yet whimsical silhouette, evoking a tutu, with all the spirit of Parker’s inimitable style. Titanium, light and strong but notoriously intransigent to work with, was chosen for the body along with gold for fluidity, a sophisticated, emotively exquisite palette of fancy brown and coloured diamonds, textural contrasts between brilliant cuts and rough diamond slices, all accented with three conch pearls. The pearls, explains Chao, were Parker’s suggestion, to inject a note of soft but striking pink, of her hallmark femininity. The gem colours were also inspired by personal concepts, such as the birthstones of Parker’s children.
As always, Chao painted the design on black paper, then modelled the butterfly herself in wax, from which the jewel was handcrafted by her dedicated artisans in Geneva. For Parker following this process was a revelation that has helped her to understand “why people covet and value these art jewels,” she says. It has strengthened her admiration of Chao. “Jewellery houses are manned by hundreds of people, but Cindy does everything herself.” It has also increased her appreciation of the jewels she is often loaned for special events. “Jewellery is part of the portrait you’re painting when leaving the house,” she explains. However, so complex was the design that the process of bringing the 2014 Masterpiece collection to life took far longer than expected; the intricacies of stone-setting on such fluid, floating surfaces proved particularly exacting.
The mesmerising Ballerina Butterfly, however, was well worth the wait, says Parker: “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It was a ballerina. Really so decadent, so extravagant,
The Ballerina Butterfly brooch will be exhibited in Hong Kong starting 3 October. Auction: 7 October. Enquiries: +852 2822 8112.
Vivienne Becker is a jewellery historian and contributing editor for FT’s How to Spend It.
LEAD IMAGE: Cindy Chao and Sarah Jessica Parker discussing the sketch and wax model of the Ballerina Butterfly. Photograph by Andrew Macpherson.