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The National Museum of Natural History’s famous gem collection has a new addition: the Cindy Chao Black Label Masterpiece Royal Butterfly Brooch. Created by Chao in 2009, the brooch will be the first Taiwanese-designed piece in the collection. It was donated to the museum by the artist, where it will be on display to the public for the first time March 6 in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals.
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.
“The awe-inspiring array of colorful and glistening gems and Cindy Chao’s masterful design combine to create a whimsically beautiful jeweled butterfly that we are delighted has fluttered from Taiwan into our National Gem Collection,” said Jeff Post, curator of the museum’s Gems and Minerals collection. “It is a wonderful gift that I am sure will be immensely popular with our visitors.”
Chao is a renowned contemporary jewelry artisan, known for her ability to create wearable works of art that are coveted across the globe. Her ancestral heritage has been influential in her work, as has her father, a noted Taiwanese architect and sculptor who instilled in her a relentless attention to detail and form. She founded her company, CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel, in 2004. In 2007 she became the first Taiwanese jewelry artist to take part in the Christie’s New York fine jewelry auction.
“I believe that a piece of jewelry can reflect the history of an era, and being included in a leading institution like the Smithsonian is a dream for any artist,” said Chao. “It is humbling to know that millions of visitors will be able to see the Black Label Masterpiece Royal Butterfly Brooch and be exposed to my jewelry craftsmanship.”
The celebrated brooch joins the Smithsonian’s gem and mineral collection, one of the largest of its kind. The collection supports museum exhibitions and behind-the-scenes geologic research. The Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals is located on the second floor of the museum and remains one of the museum’s most popular exhibition halls.
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