Beijing Sparkles Through the Eyes of Cindy Chao
With a sculptor father and a renowned architect for a grandfather, it was predestined that Cindy Chao would follow in their artistic footsteps. When she turned this legacy to the crafting of fine jewelry, she found her joy – creating miniature works of art prized by connoisseurs, collectors and museum curators, and featured at fine jewelry auctions and elite exhibitions in capitals worldwide.
CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel pieces – with their organic and sculptural designs, intangible energy, and exquisite gems—have placed Ms. Chao at the forefront of the world’s most renowned jewelry designers. But more than artistry, “I truly believe it is part of my soul which goes into each work that brings it to life,” she says.“Her pieces are an absolute delight …for their unique designs, uncompromising craftsmanship, quality gems and, above all, the joy and emotional bond they are able to create with the wearer,” says Francois Curiel, the international head of Christie’s jewelry department. In 2014, Ms. Chao’s “Ballerina Butterfly” brooch was sold at auction for USD1.21 million to benefit the New York Ballet and in 2010, the “Royal Butterfly” was inducted into the gem collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.Ms. Chao travels the world constantly but Beijing remains a source of inspiration for her—“With its diversity, its energy, its history, here you witness a whole parade of the grandeur of the past, charm in the present, and dreams of the future,” she says.Cindy Chao is a global citizen whose work represents a convergence of heritage and art, contemporary perspective and technological ambition, passion and craftsmanship—much like the city of Beijing itself—and here she presents Beijing from her eyes.
Where do you advise people to go to see and experience cutting-edge Beijing – where can people go to appreciate the capital’s vibrancy and dynamism, that’s on a par with other world cities?
Beijing is filled with people all the time. It is such a vast city that its liveliness can be felt in the air. I do think that the Olympic Park and its state-of-the-art building and facilities really puts Beijing on the map with all other modern, international cities.
What are your favorite classic Beijing dishes and where do you go to find them? Are there other Chinese cuisines served up in the capital that make your mouth water?
Peking duck is my favorite Beijing delicacy – the crispy skin and juicy meat in combination with thin and soft, freshly steamed pancakes are delicious. My go-to place for Peking duck is 1949 The Hidden City.
For an interesting experience for anyone looking for authentic dishes passed down from the Qing dynasty, I would recommend NaJiaXiaoGuan (那家小館.) The dishes were originally created for emperors and empresses, and really evoke one’s imagination. Our royal ancestors truly knew how to enjoy life!
How do you enjoy night life in Beijing? What are your current favorite places after dark?
I always like a place that has character and attitude– sleek and elegant interior design, vibrant and dynamic atmosphere, and great music and chic people. It is difficult to have all these qualities rolled into one, but I think MEI Bar has just the right amount of everything. I fell in love with it as soon as I entered the door!
Where would you go if you took a day trip outside Beijing?
The part of the Great Wall that is off the beaten track – the Wild Great Wall (野長城.) I have only been there once but it left an unforgettable impression. Looking at the wall that was built over 2,300 years ago, it was as if I was having a conversation with history, and with humanity. It has such grandeur that is greater than life.
Are there any really fascinating examples of historic jewelry and adornments on display at Beijing museums that you like to re-visit?
Usually when people think of Chinese historic jewelry or adornments, jadeite immediately comes to mind. It is a little less known than what’s so trendy in fine jewelry and jewelry watches right now. And kingfisher feather art (點翠), was for a long time used in royal family adornments, headpieces and attire.
Back in 2010 when I first visited the Palace Museum, an incredible empress’ crown (后冠) from the Qing dynasty was on display. The rich hues and gradients of blue were mesmerizing, and the craftsmanship so delicate. It left me wondering how long, and what amount of feathers were needed, for such a substantial work of art. Definitely worth another visit, or 10.
If you were to plan an exhibition or showcase of your jewelry pieces in the China capital, and there were no restrictions or limitations on where you could so, where would you choose and why?
The Forbidden City! My works are considered very contemporary, structural yet organic. It would be intriguing to see the contrast by juxtaposing my works and a 500-year-old Chinese palace. I think it is every artist’s dream to have an exhibition at one of the most iconic and historical places in the world.
Your designs are greatly influenced by architecture. What is your idea of the perfect itinerary for an architectural tour of Beijing? Any must-see’s on your list?
What I truly love about Beijing is its diversity, and its capacity of embracing its vast history together with the latest trends and technology. Modern high-rises next to 100-year old courtyards, bicycles and tricycles riding alongside Rolls Royces, street vendors outside mega-luxury malls… it is as if two worlds of different periods overlay one another, and I find it absolutely inspirational.
My Beijing architectural tour would start in the CBD area of which I am most familiar given the location of my Art Jewel Gallery. The CCTV headquarters is an eye-opener and an engineering marvel. Going west along ChangAn Street, a visit to the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City is a must. If you are lucky enough to be able to take a peek inside any of the courtyards along Nanchizi Dajie (南池子大街), you will be amazed by their modern and luxurious re-modeling and restoration.
For a more traditional taste, one can continue the exploration to Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and Prince Gong Mansion. I would however, try to pass by the very bauhaus north building of the National Library, Zaha Hadid’s Galaxy Soho, and the Bird’s Nest.
There is so much to see in Beijing. One day is hardly enough!
Art is one of the inspirations for your designs. What are some of your favorite Beijing art galleries and artists?
Zeng Fan-Zhi is a highly respected master whom I’m fortunate enough to call my friend. It was because of him that I started to understand Chinese contemporary art. If I’m in Beijing and in need of a shot of artistic vision, I go to the 798 Art Zone. UCCA, Pace Gallery and Long March Gallery are amongst my favorite galleries.
Is there a place in Beijing that particularly moves you? Why does it?
Forbidden City really holds a special place in my heart. I once spent the entire day in there just to immerse myself in the history, culture and artifacts it embodies. It witnessed the rise and fall of two dynasties and the lives of tens of thousands of members of royalty, nobles and palace servers. Imagine all we’ve read in history happening right in each of the 8,000-plus rooms!
Is there a spot that offers your favorite view of Beijing?
My favorite view of Beijing is the skyline. It’s a view to behold whether you see it during the day as a massive urban jungle or as an array of twinkling lights at night. And it changes quite often so it never gets boring!
For down time in this busy city, where do you go or what do you do for some much-needed deep relaxation? Do you indulge in any traditional well-being treatments? Where?
With all my traveling, I’ve gotten really good at working out at the hotel gym and pampering myself with the hotel spa. Both are superb at Rosewood Beijing. I was so surprised when I first walked into the gym – all the weight machines were designed to have the same color scheme to match the hotel interior décor. I could spent hours in the gym and still feel trendy and chic! The Sense Spa is tranquil yet luxurious and the masseuses who have a Chinese medicine background are the cherry on top.
What else do you like to do in Beijing that you would like to share with travelers? What are your inside tips for travelers who like to go off the beaten track or simply want to get a sense of the soul of the destination? Most of all, what is simply fun to do there?
I had a lot of fun walking down Nanluoguxiang and Houhai with my dear friend, haute couture designer Stephane Rolland. It is a bit commercial and touristy, but it provides an interesting and quick taste for any traveler who doesn’t have a lot of time to experience the city in full.
I’ve also been told that there are cooking lessons available in hidden hutongs or old alleyways. Buying ingredients from local markets and learning traditional Chinese cuisine from scratch sounds like the best way to get into the heart of the culture.