PARIS — “France is the origin of high jewelry, and it had a sense to see me before I knew myself. The country gave me courage and determination when no one else gave it to me, and recognition along the journey,” said Taiwanese jeweler Cindy Chao at a dinner celebrating her induction in France’s Order of Arts and Letters in Paris on Wednesday.
The distinction brought an even bigger responsibility to be a bridge between East and West, she said, explaining it was the reason why she had set up a partnership with Fu Jen Catholic University Taipei in Taiwan, providing a two-year scholarship and internships for aspiring jewelers.
She hoped to “bring the sophistication and essence of French culture to my home country,” where she noticed a fervent desire to learn the craftsmanship of her métier, including in specializations that were at risk of dying out. “To be able to cultivate a good designer takes at least five years. In Asia, and especially in Taiwan, there are only a few professional design schools,” she added.
Earlier in the evening, at the ceremony presenting the jeweler with the medal conferring her as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, France’s minister of culture Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin characterized Chao as an “exceptional art jeweler, at the crossroads of goldsmithing, sculpture and architecture,” who chose to work with French specialized ateliers and even set up her company’s international department in Paris.
The minister applauded the “sense of construction and multidimensional aspect” of Chao’s art, crediting her “singular relationship to matter and impressive technical mastery” to the jeweler’s grandfather, an architect who designed a number of temples considered masterpieces in Taiwan, and father, who was a sculptor of renown.
“You always follow the injunction of your father, who said life and emotion are the essence of sculpture and more widely, of artistic creation,” Bachelot-Narquin continued, noting that Chao “captured the fragility and transience of the living world” in particular in the annual butterfly designs, highly sought after by collectors and museums alike.
The first, 2008’s “Butterfly Ruby,” was added to the permanent collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2020. Another two pieces, the Royal Butterfly and Peony brooches, joined the collections of the Smithsonian Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum, respectively.
Praising the balance between tradition and modernity of Chao’s practice, Bachelot-Narquin described her pieces as “masterpieces in miniature” that made use of techniques traditional and contemporary, like lost wax casting or anodization.
Guests to the ceremony and dinner were equally enthralled by Chao’s organic shapes and bold hues. Designer Bruno Frisoni, who once asked the jeweler why she didn’t wear any jewelry, not even her own. “She told me that she [just] drew them,” he recalled, adding that they connected over a shared “idea of beauty and of precious without being precious about it.”
Since their first meeting at the 2019 TEFAF trade show in Maastricht, Belgium, where they met while exhibiting in neighboring booths, designer Hervé van der Straeten saw Chao’s work as “extraordinary designs that always surprise, in shape, execution and precision.”
Her sense of color found an echo for former Guerlain creative director of makeup Olivier Échaudemaison, who called it “incredible and full of sensitivity. And it’s not artifice, there is something incredibly delicate, which you often find among female jeweler.”