The Cindy Chao “Peony Brooch” on its stand in the V&A Museum
The 2018 Black Label Masterpiece XVIII “Peony Brooch” by Cindy Chao The Art Jewel was inducted into the acclaimed William and Judith Bollinger Gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The one-of-a-kind brooch is made primarily of purple colored titanium and set with thousands of rubies and diamonds. The red petals have lushness and gradation of red color that is contrasted with yellow pistils completed with a detailed lacquer technique.
Tristram Hunt, V&A director, described the brooch as “dynamic and boldly beautiful yet simultaneously feminine, charming and ethereal,” adding that “Cindy Chao’s Peony Brooch is an exquisite and virtuoso celebration of nature’s beauty, as well as a deeply personal piece.”
The Cindy Chao “Peony Brooch” among the historic jewels in the V&A Museum
The induction of the brooch on Wednesday coincided with the reopening of the London museum to the public. The V&A has one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of jewelry in the world. The William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery has more than 3,000 jewels that tell the story of jewelry in Europe from ancient times to the present day. Chao’s brooch will be shown among some of the greatest jewels in the world, including the Elizabeth I Armada Jewel and personal jewels once owned by Catherine the Great of Russia and Queen Victoria.
Chao, who celebrated her 15th anniversary as a high jewelry artist in 2020, is the only Asian female jeweler to have her creation placed in the historic gallery.
High jewelry artist, Cindy Chao
“The induction of my Peony Brooch into the Victoria & Albert Museum is indisputably one of my greatest honors. Created as an embodiment of prosperity of life and rich love of family and friends, it gives me tremendous delight to see the Peony Brooch joins some of the most exquisite jewelry collections,” Chao recently said via email. “It is like bringing Asian contemporary jewelry onto the same stage with these significant pieces in history, and solid evidence that the values of jewelry from the Eastern world have been recognized. The Peony Brooch becomes my legacy and a gift of love that keeps on giving to the worldwide visitors of the museum.”
The brooch marks the third Cindy Chao creation to be placed in the permanent collection of a major museum. Examples of her gem-encrusted butterfly brooches are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
This same brooch received the “Outstanding Object” award by the 2018 Masterpiece London art and design exhibition, noted as “an example of contemporary craftsmanship and great design” for its design aesthetics and artistic values.
An initial drawing of the Cindy Chao Peony Brooch.
In addition to high art, the Peony Brooch, completed in her studio in Europe, is an achievement in design, craftsmanship and engineering. It was also a 10-year emotional journey for Chao, and her client and friend who commissioned the jewel, purchased the piece, and now donated it to the museum as a sign of friendship and respect.
“The collector who generously donated the brooch is a longtime champion of my work,” Chao said. “Together we share a belief that great art should not hide in a vault but be displayed in the hopes it can inspire and educate future generations. We both deeply admire the V&A and how it serves its viewers, knowing fully that this is the ideal home for my work. I’m very appreciative of the generosity and collaboration that led to this moment.”
A craftsman works on a sculpted wax model of the Cindy Chao Peony Brooch
Chao initially started to make a pair of earrings using rubies from the client’s heirloom necklace. However, while creating the jewel, the client, who requested anonymity, suffered an unexpected period of extreme ill health. After her recovery, which Chao describes as “miraculous,” she felt the earrings no longer suited the collector. She decided to create a jewel that represents such a critical turning point in the client’s life.
Over the course of the next ten years, Chao says she created more than 20 designs in the initial wax carving model stage, resulting in this piece. She chose a peony because when in full bloom, it symbolizes prosperity of life, and ever-lasting love of family and friendship.
A craftsman begins working on the titanium petals of the Cindy Chao Peony Brooch
Using an age-old wax carving technique that is her signature, Chao sculpted the piece by hand completing every line, arch and curve before her craftsmen cast the piece in titanium, which allowed them to expertly trace the idealized physical shape she had created. Expert craftsmen heated the titanium to a softening point of over 1000°C in order 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.
In order for the large scale brooch to remain lightweight, each of 3,153 rubies and diamonds was mounted in a petal-like “honeycomb” structure created in titanium. Every individual mounting site had to be shaped with a fine line and sawed gradually, a process that she says took ten times longer than it would have in white gold due to the strength of the titanium. The color of the titanium was then transformed, through anodization, into purple hues designed to perfectly complement the vivid depths of the red rubies. Finally, Chao, after extensively researching the length and angle of each pistil, used her expertise in jewelry lacquer techniques to imbue each of the peony’s pistils with a powdered and gradient yellow hue.
“This is a truly humbling achievement and a testament to the past 15 years of commitment to our craft. The V&A is one of the world’s greatest museums and a tribute to artistry and design of all practices. To know that one of my creations will be housed among this extraordinary collection will remain a career highlight,” Chao said. “For the past 15 years, we have strived to create pieces that stand the test of time, with a museum-caliber level of design and craft. With this honor, the V&A is publicly affirming our belief that art jewelry has a well-deserved position in world class institutions.”


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