MUSEUM PIECES: Cindy Chao was visibly moved as she hosted a dinner at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to celebrate the induction of her 2008 ruby butterfly brooch into the Paris museum, marking her as the first jewelry artist from Taiwan to have a piece in the permanent collection.
“I feel like I’m crowned — it’s a huge recognition,” Chao said of the experience. Light pink lanterns were placed on the floor to guide guests into the hall where the dinner was held — they were reproductions of ones designed by her grandfather, a prominent architect who was known for designing elaborate temples. Her eye-catching brooches floated around the room, worn by some of the guests, including Isabelle Adjani, who wore Chao’s Damask Rose Brooch, with an eight carat pink sapphire as a center stone.
After an introduction by gallerist Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, Chao stood before the guests sitting in long rows; deep, red flowers ran down the tables, marking the Chinese New Year. She recounted a moment when her father — a sculptor whom she cites as a great influence, along with her grandfather — told her he believed she would surpass his accomplishments and was proud of her.
“My only regret is that I should have given him a hug, but I didn’t,” she said, recalling that her father had been a great teacher but not a warm father — and that he passed away a few months after that conversation.
The butterfly brooch has curled antennae, evoking a butterfly fresh from the cocoon, and is built around two Baroque Burmese rubies — they form the center spots of the wings, which are otherwise encrusted with diamonds — including chunky, colored ones at the tips.
Chao sculpts her organic pieces in wax by hand, a fine-jewelry technique used by European royal jewelry designers for centuries.
Dominique Forest, the head curator of the museum, in a statement announcing the arrival of the piece, stressed that it fit an animal theme “dear to the history of jewelry,” noting the butterfly’s suggestion of flight and “very refined and complex scaling of the rubies and diamond paving.”
“The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is one of the specialty museums in jewelry, and Paris is the mother country of high jewelry,” said Chao, who also has a butterfly in the gem collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.