A diamond-encrusted butterfly brooch designed by Taiwanese jeweler Cindy Chao (趙心綺) has become part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the US.
A ceremony was scheduled to be held on Tuesday at the museum in Washington to mark the occasion, which marks the first work by a Taiwanese artist to be part of the 167-year-old museum’s collection.
“It’s the biggest honor for and recognition of an artist,” Chao said at a press briefing on Monday hosted by Tina Chou (周慧婷), wife of Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰).
Chao said it meant a lot to see her work displayed at such a notable venue, because it was a recognition of Taiwanese culture and art.
The brooch, titled Royal Butterfly, created with sapphires, rubies, diamonds and garnets, was selected by the Smithsonian Institution in 2009 as a candidate for its gem collection, which includes the Hope Diamond, the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, the Inquisition Necklace and some of Marie Antoinette’s earrings.
Its fame began after Women’s Wear Daily — a fashion trade journal — ran a cover story titled “The Butterfly Effect” about Chao on Aug. 31, 2009.
Chao completed the piece in 2009 after working on it for two years.
The butterfly, whose wings are adorned with four large rough diamond slices, symbolizes the metamorphosis she underwent from a jewelry designer to a jewelry artist, she said two years ago after deciding to donate it to the museum.
“The life of butterflies is fragile and short, but brilliant,” she said.
The 39-year-old New York-trained artist said that living in a foreign country gave her the chance to meet people from different races and cultures.
The experience helped broaden her perspective and prevented her from being trapped in a local mindset that would have made her designs suitable only to Taiwanese, she said.
In 2007, Chao became the first Taiwanese jeweler to be included in a Christie’s auction — an honor that gained her fame worldwide. Her colored-diamond and diamond ring, named Majesty Beauty Fan, was sold for US$37,500 at a Christie’s sale in Dubai in 2009.
Chao’s fame further expanded when Hollywood star Salma Hayek attended the 85th Academy Awards wearing Cindy Chao jewelry.
Chao runs a workshop in Taiwan, with 35 employees tasked to do the design and wax molding before the rough creations are sent to the US and Europe for final production work. She is the founder of Cindy Chao The Art Jewel, a brand founded in 2004 that specializes in customized, hand-sculpted jewelry.
Chao encouraged young Taiwanese to learn crafts that would disappear if no one carries on the trade.
“These days, it’s difficult to find young people willing to do this,” she said.