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Jewelry: Natural Wonders

Jill Newman

As the daughter of a sculptor and the granddaughter of an architect, jewelry designer Cindy Chao developed an awareness of the arts at a young age. As she grew older, Chao knew she would pursue an artistic career, but she was uncertain about the medium she would employ to express her creativity. She ultimately chose jewelry because, she says, "It gives me the ability to truly capture the spirit of a woman with my craft."

In 2004, after studying jewelry design and gemology, she established Cindy Chao: The Art Jewel, which produces one-of-a-kind, nature-influenced pieces that are sold at her salon in Taipei, Taiwan, and, starting this fall, at Bergdorf Goodman. The 35-year-old designer approaches jewelry with an unconventional eye. Her designs begin with the study of nature, particularly flowers. "I find the cycle of life, the different stages of blossom, and the full bloom inspiring," she says. "My art is my personal interpretation of life as it unfolds for the flower."

Chao begins the painstaking process of producing a new piece by making a finely detailed sketch of her design. Then, employing an age-old technique now used mainly by high-jewelry houses, she carves by hand a wax model to ensure that each undulation and small detail is expressed faithfully. The carving is sent to a gold-caster and a stone-setter for completion.

Her concepts are both technically and visually stunning. For a recently unveiled butterfly brooch, she layered four rough-diamond slices over rubies, sapphires, and diamonds to represent wings, achieving an unusual texture and depth of color. She also set gemstones on the back of the brooch to realize a 360-degree visual effect. Most jewelers would hesitate to invest the time required to fabricate this complicated piece of art and engineering, but Chao, who in the past has spent more than two years on a single piece, was undeterred by the daunting logistics.

Among the pieces in her Black Label Masterpieces collection (sold only in the Taipei salon) is a large floral bracelet with curvaceous pavé diamond petals that appear to be swaying in a breeze. The jewelry designs in Chao’s new White Label collection, priced from $15,000 to $85,000, are being introduced at Bergdorf Goodman in New York in September. "Nature has always captured my imagination," says Chao of the collection’s impetus. "I find that although artists and designers draw from similar themes in nature, each interpretation remains unique."

Cindy Chao: The Art Jewel, www.cindychao.com; also available this fall at Bergdorf Goodman, 800.558.1855, www.bergdorfgoodman.com

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