This week Sotheby’s sold a brooch made by “Sex And The City” actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Taiwanese designer Cindy Chao.
“Ballerina Butterfly” fetched $1.2 million – more than $300,000 higher than initial estimates – at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Sale. The brooch sale, whose proceeds benefitted the New York City Ballet, was the result of three years of friendship between them, and two years’ work on Chao’s part.
Chao painted the design on black paper, then modeled the butterfly in wax. The jewel was handcrafted in titanium and gold from the model by artisans in Geneva. Parker had given her the idea of the butterfly after a trip backstage at the Opera Garnier ballet in Paris. The rehearsal room there had butterflies carved on the pillars, which act as reminders that each ballerina should be so light.
The two friends met me at Sotheby’s a few days before the sale.
Elliott: The pin is actually quite a bit bigger than I had expected, from seeing the photos.
Sarah Jessica Parker: You need to hold it. Because I would imagine you think it’s kind of heavy. But it kind of weighs two of these, maybe? [she takes a silver thimble ring and puts in my hand]. It weighs like, nothing. As loaded and complex and detailed the brooch is – it has 4,700 diamonds – it’s nothing.
But you have to turn it over and see the back, because the back you have to see [to understand] the story as much as you have to see the front. It’s like that great light reversible raincoat you had as a little girl.
Elliott: And the lightness is important because when you wear it, you don’t want it to pull your collar down.
Parker: Yeah, yeah. It’s like, it sits, really.
Elliott: So tell me the process between the two of you for designing this.
Parker: Well she can tell you the process for designing this, because you know the butterfly exists in her whole oeuvre. And her first one is in the Smithsonian.
Chao: Well yes, but I also knew how much it meant to [Parker], so I just kept it in my mind. One day I went to the ballet, I went back stage, and they told me that in 19th century the ladies tried to be butterflies.
Parker: Isn’t that crazy? That’s just so amazing, that the butterfly which is so significant to me would fit so well into this idea. It’s lovely.
Elliott: Why are so many people compelled by ballet, by the idea of lightness and beauty born out through dance?
Parker: Well, it’s true transport. It’s that thing of being transported outside the reality of life. I mean wish more people loved ballet. I spend a lot of time trying to cultivate that audience. But I think when they do experience it, like Cindy said to me last night, she said now I know why you love ballet so much. She had watched the New York company perform.
It just transports me, that people can tell stories without saying a word.
Also that we can all recognize a story in our own way. And it’s like runway shows – something from Carolina Herrera is going to be a completely different story than, say, what we see at McQueen, right? I have my story and you have yours. And they do it with their bodies in the most extraordinary ways. It’s just incredible.
Elliott: Without a word.
Chao: Last night was a beautiful evening.
Parker: I think a lot of people there for the first time last night were really gob-smacked.
Elliott: Cindy, how has working with Sarah influenced your own artistry?
Chao: She is so creative. In my own sense, I had to become her.
Parker: I contributed very little. In sincerity. I’d be like, ‘oh I love those pearls!’ and she’s like aha! But really the collaboration is primarily her.
Chao: Well, I would not have done this with any other.
Parker: It has been a thrill. And a whole new world opened up for me.