Bao bao Wan was born in Beijing, China. Granddaughter of the legendary Wan Li, former Chairman of the National People’s Congress, Bao Bao spent the early years of her life within the confines of the city’s Presidential compound. At the tender age of 15, Wan’s thirst for adventure took her abroad to finish her schooling. After graduating from the Master’s School in Westchester, N.Y., Wan was accepted at the prestigious liberal arts college Sarah Lawrence outside of Manhattan.
At University Bao bao flourished in her studies, particularly in photography, earning her an apprenticeship with the world-renowned Joel Sternfeld. Her final year of study culminated in Paris, where she delved into the existentialist texts of Jean Paul Sartre, and absorbed the rich visual history of the city. Though she had arrived in Paris a scholar, Bao Bao quickly became a fixture on the social scene, celebrated by the European set as China’s first socialite. The first Chinese debutante ever to be invited to attend the famed Bal des Débutantes at the Hotel Crillon, Wan graciously accepted her status as the embodiment of the modern Chinese woman.
In 2006, Bao Bao obtained a GIA Graduate Gemologist degree at the Gemological Institute of America in Hong Kong, channeling her love of fashion and art into creating opulent fine jewelry. One year later, on November 27, Bao Bao Wan Fine Jewelry was formally launched. Her homeland and her culture were major inspirations for the collection: “Every piece of my jewelry represents myself and a generation of Chinese women who are fragile yet very bold and crazy,” Bao bao declared to Time Magazine, exemplifying the duality apparent in her person and her work. The jewelry, described by its creator as ‘feminine, impossible and loud’ soon graced the covers of international titles such as W and Vogue.
Effortlessly balancing her life as an artist and a socialite in Beijing, Hong Kong and abroad, Bao Bao has become known for more than her family’s rich history. Securing her status as a sought after fine jewelry designer, 2009 saw Forever Mark inviting Wan to collaborate on a special project. Along with Allen Chan, Limi Yamamoto and Theo Fennel, Bao bao Wan produced Precious Collection, which was shown internationally in Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. Also in 2009, Bao bao designed the ‘Dragon d’Eau’ consisting of a necklace, bracelet and earrings for DIVENUS series. They premiered at the Shining Moments Jewelry Show, a joint venture organized by Chow Tai Fook and Centre Cultural de Chine a Paris.
Most recently, alongside the likes of Zaha Hadid, Stephen Webster and Patrick Mauboussin, Bao bao’s talent was sought after for EnlightenedTM, Swarovski’s new brand featuring precision cut genuine and created gemstones. The artist’s whimsical cuff resulting from this prestigious invitation is showcased in the exclusive trend and design book, Gemvisions 2010, the publication widely regarded in the industry as the ultimate fine jewelry resource.
Her inspirations, like her experiences, are diverse. Finding beauty in “the lit windows of an old building at night in New York, the allies in Beijing, the sadness in the air in Paris”, Bao Bao continues to create exquisite, one-of-kind works of wearable art for a select clientele, including a recent gift of cufflinks for Karl Lagerfeld.
As an artist and an individual, Bao Bao is intrigued by paradox, contradiction and duality, as suggested by her personal motto, ‘beauty always walks on the edge of the opposite’. Her aesthetic is one that acknowledges and finds beauty her tradition, while still being ultimately outspoken and modern in sensibility. When asked, Bao bao prefers to contextualize herself within the genre of her work. She identifies with the stone Alexandrite: “it is the color of a ruby until light shines upon it, when it turns green…I am Alexandrite, ruby by day, emerald by night. I switch from independent to dependant, fragile to invincible, man to woman…often many times a day.” Like her jewelry, Bao bao Wan exists within the fragile tension of a contradiction.