I try to design a vector shape that will render good at different sizes.

I do have an artboard for each icon size: 16x16, 24x24, 32x32 and I do want to "clone" my shape so I will be copied in each of these artboards, but when I modify it the change will propagate to the others. It is like having multiple instances of the same object.

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Illustrator's symbol feature will do what you're looking for. Select the artwork you that you want to use as the 'master' and press 'F8' (the default shortcut) or open the Symbols palette (Window > Symbols) and click on the 'New symbol' button. Now you can duplicate that symbol and scale it to your needed sizes. When you edit the symbol (double click on it by default) the changes will be reflected in every instance.

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