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A tête-à-tête with jeweller extraordinaire Wallace Chan

A tête-à-tête with jeweller extraordinaire Wallace Chan

  • Renowned jeweller Wallace Chan is revered for his designs that are nothing short of art pieces. Nagmani talks to the extraordinary jewellery designer on craftsmanship, nature and the famed ‘Wallace cut’

The art of jewellery making is always believed to be a highly individualistic journey. It reflects the unique vision of a person who finds absolute pleasure in creating nothing ordinary but only exquisite pieces of jewellery women love and often seek to own as per their sophisticated taste.

In that case, the designs created by a renowned Hong Kong-based artisan jewellery designer Wallace Chan really stand out for that exceptionally high attribute whenever connoisseurs of jewellery come across his work.

Chan’s love of jewellery became obvious when he started learning the craft of gemstone carving at the age of 16. The first stone that he found himself in contact with was a piece of malachite known for its healing wonders. From here on, his incredible journey with gemstones began rolling. “My curiosity increased through time, and I started to explore the properties of different kinds of gems. Nurtured in the generosity of Mother Nature, gemstones often tend to narrate stories of the universe’s past and present,” he says.

What makes Chan’s success story even more riveting is that he didn’t attend any prestigious design school because his family couldn’t afford a formal education. Even if he couldn’t and spent only a few years in school, he showed steely determination to change the challenging circumstances in his favor. “My study on Western sculptures began when I showed my courage and entered a bookshop one day,” he says. “The first book that came my way was a book on Michelangelo’s sculptures. I was overwhelmed by the dramatic expressions of light and shadows, the tensions of muscles and the compelling contours.” Moreover, what he discovered in them was way too different from the Chinese carvings he was familiar with. In order to find more about Western sculptures, he did the insanely impossible when he spent some nights sleeping in the cemetery just to observe the Western marble sculptures there.

By and large, he finds solace in the colours, crystal structures, textures and forms of gemstones as they reveal the invaluable relationship between humankind, nature and the universe. “Be it carving, sculpture or jewellery, gemstones are the best medium that I love to use to interpret life, express resonance and get in touch with the future. They inspire my creativity from ideas and forms to craftsmanship and inventions. I like to embrace the flow of constant changes in my path,” he says. “This entire thing is an exciting journey for me as it keeps motivating me to explore the various facets of the unknown.” 

‘Mind Puzzle’ Brooch

While there are so many established brands competing head-to-head to entice the consumers with their products, he doesn’t feel fazed by it. Rather he proudly supports the imminent competition and says gently, “I’m delighted that my designs happen to draw in a lot of people. That’s good to know. I find it really rewarding.” 

According to Chan’s clear-cut insight, people who collect jewellery art pieces are cultivated persons highly knowledgeable in the field of gemstones and jewellery. Artistic values and refined craftsmanship appeal to them immensely. They also prefer jewellery pieces that are unique. “The way I see it, they aren’t confined by the so-called hyped traditions and trends, but they do feel engaged with pieces that contain stories and have deeper meaning,” he says. “In essence, each piece of mine is what it’s here for.”

Today he holds such a big influence in the world of fine jewellery simply because of his one-of-a-kind technique “Wallace Cut” that is often talked about by the jewellery industry. It’s a carving technique which creates an illusion in transparent materials by combining medieval 360-degree intaglio into 3-dimension engraving. The resulting quintuple reflection unifies these features with precise calculation and angle casting and forms a 3-dimension and multi-line reflection. Chan achieved this milestone not in days or months. It took him eight years to master the technique constantly experimenting on titanium. “I invented a gemstone-setting technique. In order to minimize the appearance of metal claws, this technique uses gemstones to function as claws. In simple words: Function is beauty. Titanium is light, hard, colourful and bio-friendly, but it’s also stubborn. It takes a long time to communicate with titanium so as to have it tamed the right way,” he says. “To be able to use titanium the way I wanted to has solved a lot of obstacles in jewellery making, thus expanding the canvas for my creativity, and it also allows me to create jewellery pieces that are ergonomically correct.”

His creations are designed and adorned with utmost attention to detailing to make sure women wearing them feel on top of the world. This is when Chan tends to focus on visualising a woman’s figure. “A jewellery piece should not only be wearable, but it should also be comfortable. This conviction frequently leads me to study the human figure and understand how the bones, muscles and skin work in tandem,” he says. “It’s not intuition, but a lot of hard work involved. But through constant practice you start to believe it’s intuition. I try my best to make my pieces universal, so they aren’t confined by a particular body type, and they’re able to accommodate all happily.”

Always pushing the envelope to enhance a woman’s beauty, his muse can only be someone special — a cultivated and confident soul who is passionate about life and arts. Chan’s multiple works speak volumes about his engaging philosophy to be reckoned with at the international level and for that reason he is graciously invited by TEFAF (the world’s leading art fair) to show his collection there every year. “I feel absolutely honoured to be invited to participate at TEFAF. When art lovers of different cultural backgrounds gather at a high-profile event like this, it’s not just cultural exchanges that take place but also I get a chance to establish mind-to-mind connection with different individuals. I take this in my stride as a process of art practice,” he says.

The Snowflake Brooch

It comes as no surprise that all his pieces are inspired by his experiences from different periods of his life journey, including his reflection on the mysteries of life. While Asian jewellery especially from India and China is the most sought-after style in the world and it has had great influence on the West, inspiring jewellery creators who traveled far into the East and studied the history of the East, it would be wrong to say that there is one culture more unique than the other as he puts it, “Today, the world is so globalized that cultures inspire and borrow from one another, creating an environment where soon it may not even be necessary to distinguish jewellery pieces geographically anymore.”

However, Chan takes pride in ancient Asia jewellery as it tells us about the emotional functions of gemstones. All these materials have become a source of inspiration at present. “In the Middle Eastern culture jewellery commands a lot of respect and because of it I’m always fascinated by the colourful stories emanating from this region as a whole,” Chan says.

He has certainly blown everybody away with one of his creations titled “Fish’s Whisper” which is shaped in the form of a bangle. To bring it to life, he used intaglio to carve two pairs of fish on the inside of the crystal, following the curve of the bangle. One gets an illusion of the fishes as if they’re looking out at us from a bowl. “The world they see and the world we see are both twisted, and we tend to assume each of our versions of the twisted world as something close to reality. Nothing is real, and nothing is unreal. Everything is a matter of perception,” Chan says. “But I feel that it’s a bit heartrending for the fish to live in a bowl, so I created jewelled corals for them; where they’re entitled to feel contented in their own universe.”This time, Chan has gone one step further by doing the impossible. He has developed 20 jewellery pieces which are crafted in porcelain, a material five times harder than steel. As a patent to his pioneering invention, this method has been named “The Wallace Chan Porcelain.”

Although women lust after his remarkable jewellery sold at mind-boggling prices, many collectors of his great work are men too and they’ve been wearing his jewellery with fervour for quite some time. “Whenever they wear the designed pieces of mine, they appreciate the pieces’ sculptural, carving or other qualities,” he says. “Many of my collectors are not celebrities. I look for collectors who appreciate the spirit of my work. We need to share the same vision. Resonance is the key word in our friendship.” 

As the world gets hooked on his breathtaking jewels and art installations, Chan plans to have more exhibitions in years to come so that he can bring his creations to a wider audience and promote the spiritual values of jewellery art.It’s no wonder why his nighttime appears to be so enigmatic. “Every night when I go to bed, I imagine myself going through rebirth, and when morning comes, I’m a newborn person again, curious about everything I see or sense. I’m constantly inspired, and I absorb like a sponge,” he says. 

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