Svelte and soft-spoken, Coco Cai appears rather reserved when we first meet at her house. But as we sit down to chat, the conversation soon reveals there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.
The Prestige team is in Coco’s beautiful bungalow for an exclusive first photo shoot with the 30-year-old and her newly acquired pieces from Bvlgari’s Barocko high jewellery collection. Every year, the Roman jeweller unveils a collection of spectacular, one-of-a-kind jewels at a grand international launch event complete with a star-studded guest list. This is followed by a slew of regional galas and events for the luxury giant’s top clients. In 2018, the Wild Pop high jewellery collection debuted in Rome, while the Cinemagia high jewellery range last year was launched at a party in Capri.
This year, however, the pandemic has thwarted any grand plans for large-scale physical events and forced Bvlgari to switch its strategy. The house launched a by-invitation-only app for its clients to view the collection digitally and try on using an augmented reality feature. Selected pieces can be delivered to one’s doorstep for a physical try-on.
Just a day prior to our photo shoot, Bvlgari held an exclusive private viewing for Coco in her home. As a valued client, she was presented a curated selection of Barocko pieces flown in specially for her. “I miss attending the big parties and seeing all my friends there,” says Coco, “It’s so thoughtful and kind of Bvlgari to create such an intimate and special experience for me in my own house.” She fell in love with four stunning pieces from the collection, which she purchased and are photographed here in these pages.
As its name suggests, the Barocko collection pays homage to Rome’s magnificent Baroque style of the 17th and 18th centuries. Influences from the Eternal City’s rich artistic and architectural heritage meld with Bvlgari’s bold spirit for show-stopping jewellery with vibrant colours, striking shapes and exquisite details. In these difficult times, it is Bvlgari’s way of bringing joy and sending a message of hope and optimism. The Barocko jewels offer a little escape; transporting us back to a period of joie de vivre and grandeur.
Coco is enchanted. The Fujian native, who moved to Singapore as a 14-year-old in 2004 with her mother, has loved and bought jewellery since she was a young girl. “Back then, I could only afford fashion jewellery,” she adds. “But when I got older and started looking at fine jewels, I realised that the pieces I chose still had a similar style and design as what I liked when I was younger. My taste and preferences have remained the same throughout the years.”
For one, she has always had a penchant for green jewels. While she does wear other precious stones like diamonds and rubies, the bulk of her collection comprises green gems like emeralds, tsavorites and jade. “Green has always been my favourite colour, because I feel it represents vitality and good energy,” Coco explains. “Whenever I see jewellery with green gemstones, I feel overwhelmed by its beauty and I can’t help but want to buy it!”
Unsurprisingly, all four of her new Barocko pieces – two necklaces and two rings – bear green precious stones. The first that caught her eye was the Cupola necklace, an extraordinary piece featuring a central 32.88-carat sugarloaf cabochon Colombian emerald framed by a mosaic of platinum, diamonds and more emeralds. Its design was inspired by the famous St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, where massive columns in front of the iconic basilica encircle the plaza in an oval, channelling visitors to the church. In the same way that the cupola, also known as a dome, of the Basilica is elevated above the plaza, the sugarloaf emerald on the necklace, too, takes centre stage.
“I chose the Cupola necklace because it’s just so stunning with its huge and beautifully cut green stone. I love how the design takes inspiration from St Peter’s Square and its Baroque architecture,” says Coco. “I have also never owned a sugarloaf-cut emerald before this so I had to have it.”
As for how she plans to style her new Barocko pieces, Coco believes high jewellery should and can be worn anytime and not just for special occasions. “I wear my jewellery regularly,” she says. “Because the Barocko pieces are so elegant, even if I’m just dressed in a casual T-shirt for lunch with my friends, I’ll throw on a necklace.”
Joie de vivre
Coco’s candour and enthusiasm continue to build as we dive deeper into her passion for high jewellery and preference for more dramatic designs. “I don’t think small, understated pieces suit me,” she elaborates. “I’m a very carefree and lively person, and I like my jewellery to reflect that. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always gravitated towards the big, statement pieces.”
Her effervescence is in tune with Bvlgari’s 2020 campaign slogan, “Mai Troppo”, which translates to “never too much”. Rooted in the colourful Roman spirit and zest, it is an ode to life and celebration of all its moments. This is reflected in the maison’s exuberant style and bold jewellery designs, which Coco is a big fan of.
In fact, it was one of Bvlgari’s most iconic motifs that drew Coco to the Roman jeweller early on. According to the Chinese zodiac, she is born in the Year of the Snake. Coincidentally, the reptile is synonymous with the maison and its famous Serpenti motif. In her younger days, Coco owned a fashion jewellery necklace with a snake motif but never realised its design inspiration until she was older. When she did learn of Bvlgari’s spirit animal, she was absolutely enamoured and set on acquiring Serpenti jewellery.
Coco recalls fondly one of her most memorable first experiences with Bvlgari. In the period leading up to her wedding, she had her eyes set on a Serpenti necklace in white gold with diamonds for her big day. While waiting for the piece to arrive in Singapore, she decided to go on a serendipitous shopping trip that led her to drop by Bvlgari’s ION Orchard boutique. “I was just trying my luck but they really brought the necklace out and I bought it immediately!” she recounts. “It was destined.”
As someone who believes in fate and fortune, Coco is reminded of what matters most in these challenging times. “In the past, travelling and going out was indispensable, particularly in Singapore where we often need these to relieve the pressures from life or work. Now I’m spending more time with my family. It has really strengthened our bonds.”
Coco welcomed her first child earlier this year, a baby boy whom she says is her biggest blessing. “He has brought us infinite joy and made me want to enrich myself and become a better person,” she adds. A few months ago in August, Coco started taking cello lessons. “I’m the kind of person who lives to learn but I’m also doing it to be a good role model for my children. I want my child to be proud of me.”
Health has also become a larger priority for her. “I felt the fragility of life and am so grateful for the safety and health of my family during this time.” She started going on morning walks with her friends at the Botanic Gardens for exercise, and also practises yoga. “The pandemic has taught me a very valuable lesson – we have become accustomed to a comfortable life. Even a small change can cause a big blow. It’s good to stop and enjoy the little things in life, and pay attention to our own health.”
As we transition into a new year, Coco shares her wishes. “I hope Singapore can prosper again, that people live and work in peace, and everyone stays healthy,” she says. On a more personal note, she is planning to have another child in 2021. “I would love to give my baby boy a little sister.”
Main and featured image: Coco wears Divas’ Dream High Jewellery earrings in white gold with emeralds and diamonds, Barocko High Jewellery necklace in platinum with emeralds and diamonds, and Barocko High Jewellery ring in white gold with jade, rubellite and diamonds, all Bvlgari. Bustier top and skirt, both Fendi
Fashion direction: Johnny Khoo
Photography: Joel Low
Fashion styling: Jacquie Ang
Hair and make-up: Keith Bryant Lee, using Kevin.Murphy and Shiseido
Photography assistance: Alfie Pan
Fashion assistance: Boo