Front view of the Cindy Chao Black Label Masterpiece Royal Butterfly Brooch, fluorescing in the dark. Created by Chao in 2009, the brooch will be the first Taiwanese-designed piece in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's collection. Donated by the artist, it will be on display to the public for the first time March 6, 2013 in the museum's Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals in Washington, D.C.
The Royal Butterfly, composed of 2,328 gems, totals 77 carats. The brooch is set with fancy-colored and color-changing sapphires and diamonds, rubies and tsavorite garnets. The centerpieces of the butterfly’s wings are four large-faceted diamond slices stacked atop a pave layer of faceted diamonds, creating a pattern resembling the microstructure and scale of a living butterfly’s wings.
The brooch sparkles in daylight, but it evokes a surreal quality when viewed under ultraviolet light in the dark—it glows. Many of the gem stones Chao used fluoresce, which means they emit visible light when viewed under ultraviolet light. Under ultraviolet light, the Royal Butterfly comes to life with a dazzling array of neon colors and light.While some gems may appear colorless in daylight, under ultraviolet light they turn a bright blue and green. Others burn a fiery orange or red. It will not be possible to show off this hidden beauty in the brightly lit exhibit case, but images of the Royal Butterfly under ultraviolet light will be featured on the museum’s website.