Creations of Wallace Chan – a spirit dressed in artistic form
– Which piece of jewellery would you never make?
– The pieces that I have already made
First time I met Wallace Chan at Tefaf 2017. When I entered his pavilion and saw the pieces, my eyes filled with tears. I felt like I was walking down his soul, and didn’t want to besmear it…
After our conversation I realized how tight people of art are besieged with myths and suppositions. We often imagine their lives as something fabulous and serene. But let’s look at it in the light of some biographical facts of one of the most significant jewellery artists of the present time, the man, who I personally consider a true creator – Wallace Chan.
About the art
If we take any article dedicated to art, we can notice that it is filled with a myriad of epithets and odes devoted to beauty, might, and divine providence of both the artist and his creations.
But what stands behind this?
In my view, a creator makes something from nothing, things that don’t resemble any other pieces of art. The master dresses his inner world together with all the feelings, joys, and doubts in material objects, and introduces them to us. The process of creating becomes a sense of true artists’ lives. It is the way to their genuine nature and their vocation.
And what about the jewellery market? We can divide it in two directions: commercial jewellery and true pieces of art. By commercial jewellery I understand everything that is dictated by market needs, meaning that the only criteria used for creating such pieces is the volume and turnover of sales. The main production expenditure of such jewellery is the cost of promotional campaign. That’s it, not gems, not metal, or not even the cost of labor, but the cost of advertisement and remunerations for spokespeople of campaigns – usually these are popular actresses and famous models.
By true art I understand jewels created as an artistic form of expressing the inner world of their creator. Art satisfies the needs of person’s mind and soul. It doesn’t have a tangible price – its value is purely cultural, and it fluctuates depending on fashion or mood that prevails in the art world at this specific moment. Some of these pieces are being created for years: the master is coming up with a design, determining techniques, and choosing stones. It takes a lot of time and energy. The main production expenditures of such jewellery is time and gems. Eventually, we get a piece of the artist’s soul dressed in artistic form.
For instance, six people have been working on Wallace Chan Gleams of waves brooch for eight months.
Well, in order to create a person has to be honored with the luxury of time and freedom to express his own thoughts and feelings.
Therefore, the artistic way of creators usually looks as follows: they either work hard the biggest part of their lives to gain financial freedom for creating something that they really want, or they wage an off-and-on fight for this luxury, or they were just very lucky to be born rich and talented.
Without going into long considerations of divine providence of destiny, I would like to reveal the creator’s value in this world, to explain you that creators, being made of flesh and blood, especially need our support. Buying their works of art, we give them the very chance to create, while recognition provides them with sense of life and inspires for future masterpieces.
To add some kind of fairness to this world, I would so much like the artists to be recognized in their lifetime, not after, which is so common for our world.
Wallece Chan – a creator and a master of jewellery art
It is said that the previous century is judged by its art, whether it will be inspirational for the next generation. Wallace Chan, a man of wisdom, a great jeweler, and a sculptor, has already left his heritage for the offspring.
All his jewels are pieces unique with an amazing combination of themes, materials, and sizes, which translate life in a sensitive and original form. “Piece unique” is a very important notion, meaning one-of-a-kind mixture of design and material that could happen only once. If such design exists in other color, this jewellery cannot be named as piece unique. It is interesting that Wallace Chan is almost the only well-known artist in the world, who has never been copied, which is so rare for modern jewellery world, where every piece is replicated. This means that technically his jewellery is impossible to repeat, or it’s better to say that the time and money spent on acquisition of techniques, necessary for duplicating Wallace Chan jewellery, won’t pay off. The main purpose of copying is to get an early profit from approved designs by cutting down the price as a result of reduced expenditures on the quality and idea development.
Wallace Chan is a pioneer in the jewellery world. He creates innovative pieces, combining elements of physics, chemistry, architecture, metallurgy, and mystery. They are truly unparalleled.
Listen to these marvelous creations. Do you hear? They live, they breathe. Only a short time ago they were just dreams, soaring somewhere in a parallel reality, but the moment they took a material shape, these dreams transformed into Wallace Chan jewellery.
– When I look at your jewellery, I feel like our changeable world has been captured so vividly and naturally in them.
– When I create, I am not trying to show the beginning of the idea or the end product. I am trying to capture the moment in the middle of this process.It’s like a mixture of reality and imagination. If you take a glass – it is the final product, but it might have started as the glass that went through the process of blowing, heating etc. So, in my jewellery I want to capture that process in the middle, not the very beginning, not the very end, but in the middle, where all these transformations take place, as well as energy inserted into that moves.
– Do you believe in fate?
– I believe in causes and results. What you did yesterday becomes something that you have today. When I was interested in painting or carving before, I did it just because I was curious about it. But today I combine all techniques that I know in my creations, which is the result of what I did before.
– So you think that your present can change your future, don’t you?
– I don’t think about changing the future. It’s like I’m talking to you now. I’m just giving you all my sincerest answers, and it’s up to you to promote them or share with others. You are the one who can change the future in this case.
– You say, “When I want to express myself through an art piece, I feel a kind of pressure to break through resistance. Once I experience a breakthrough – I regain freedom.” Do you think people can be absolutely free in a real life?
– Human beings do not have perfect souls. We are always in pursuit of perfection. In this sense, we are not free. When I create, I try to pursue perfection of expressing feelings in my creations, and then by achieving that I feel like I have obtained freedom in myself.
I see my creations as myself!
– I read that you didn’t enjoy selling your pieces, and could even cry.
– It was long time ago before I met the right collectors, who are true connoisseurs of my art, and share my philosophy. They know how difficult it is to create such jewellery.
Now I think that if you miss yesterday, you will not have future.
– Do you remember the time when you first saw this magic light in gems? As far as I understand, it was the reason why you actually dedicated your life to faceting and carving.
– When I was only carving, light wasn’t very special for me. But when I first learnt about gem cutting and faceting, then I discovered that light could be really magical. It became a very inspiring and provoking instrument of entering the world of gemstones.
Wallace Chan, being not only an artist, but a jeweler as well, is famous for developing unique jewellery techniques and tools. With the help of his innovative techniques, he transfers movement, liquidity, complicated textures, and multilayers in jewellery, keeping them highly ergonomic.
In 1987, Wallace Chan invented his famous Wallace Cut. This was a tough time for him, but neither financial struggles, nor other life obstacles could stop him, so after 13 years of painstaking work and continuous experiments he achieved desired results. Look at the video below: On the front you can see five faces, but, actually, only one face was carved at the back of the stone, and the four more faces are the result of reflections that were created by precise calculations and faceting.
In 2002, investigation of certain properties of metals motivated Wallace Chan to create a special technique of carving slight and luminous jadeite pieces.
In 2007, after years-long study of chemical reactions of different metals, Wallace Chan patented his original Titanium Jewelry technique that lies in dying titanium in various hues. Moreover, he is famous for cutting exclusive big rare stones, “Claw setting method”, which allows gems to function as claws, holding other stones in place. And, of course, his renowned titanium jewellery structures.
– Are you open to share your knowledge and secrets of jewellery techniques with others?
– I have been studying various techniques for fourteen years, and it would be a shame if this knowledge isn’t passed on or shared out. I always try to convey certain messages through my pieces. And you know, I would like to use augmented reality to show the process of making jewellery, as every single piece has a secret – a technical one.
Recently I have given a talk at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, the V&A (Victoria and Albert museum), and the Central Saint Martins in London. I am also going to give a speech at Harvard. So, these are just some examples of how I’m sharing my experience at the moment.
– Are you planning to exhibit your works in any of museums?
– Every artist or a designer would be more than happy to show all his works in a museum, because museum is the best place to display your art pieces. It is a dream to be there, but it hasn’t happened yet.
– Is it important for you that your customer really understands and loves your art, instead of only seeing its potential value?
– For me it’s important to find someone who appreciates my work. I want my jewels to be remembered in history. Jewellery pieces are carriers of the past memories and representations of the moment we are living in there. They will inspire people in the future.
Some brands make jewellery, demanded by the market. I also support that, because we need a lively market. It means that there should be people who focus on satisfying that type of needs, but not only masters, who create something very spiritual.
– Certainly, your jewellery are already in history. To your mind, what makes people to be inspired by jewellery through centuries?
– I believe, for jewellery to have a place in the art history it’s important that the jeweler does something that transcends now. It’s not just a design of the moment – it has to transcend the time in order to break new grounds. It could be a new technique, or materials, which will penetrate through the time and remain in history.
Wallace Chan – just a man
Wallace Chan was born in 1956 in Fuzhou, China. Now he is 61. Before I met him, I thought that he and his creations are something unreal. I worried that he wouldn’t like to answer some of my questions, or wouldn’t have enough time. Well, he spent four hours with me without distraction, and answered my questions with pleasure.
Some of my observations: he has soft-boiled egg for breakfast, opens the door for a woman, helps her to put on the coat, and solves his day-to-day tasks.
It was one of the most touching meetings for me…I have lived it through for seven months – the time I spent on writing this article and making videos.
– What time do you usually wake up?
– At five o’clock.
– And what time do you go to bed?
– About one o’clock.
– You need so little time to sleep, don’t you?
– In the afternoon I usually sleep for an hour.
– At the age of 17, you started your own gem-carving workshop. You were so young… Which challenges did you have to face?
– It was time full of worries. I was concerned about everything: there was nothing to eat, or what if I couldn’t sell a piece, how I would buy new materials afterwards. I had no idea how my future will look like.
– Where did you find money for your first piece?
– At the very beginning, I only took 1000 Hong Kong dollars ($128) from my parents. I spent 620 on buying machinery, 350 on buying 2 pieces of malachite. And then I started.
– And how did you sell your first piece?
– When I finished the piece, I went all the shops around, but nobody wanted it. It lasted for three months. Then I went to the shop upstairs. The staff of the shop told me to go away, but the owner heard the knock and asked me to come in. I showed him the piece. “Oh, I don’t need this thing, but my friend will buy it”. That’s how I sold it.
– It was difficult time for you.
– It was more difficult before.
– My parents moved to Hong Kong when I was 5 years old. We didn’t speak Cantonese, so my parents couldn’t find a job, and I couldn’t go to school, because I couldn’t speak Cantonese until 9 years old. I have two brothers and a sister. When we gathered for lunch, we had only one stool for everybody. We always dreamt to have a good house, food and clothes. So, every day before we went to the school or after it, we had to do some hard jobs. At the age of 13, I left school to work and help my parents. I became a deliveryman and did something I didn’t want to. It wasn’t my future! When I was 16, I became an apprentice of a Buddhist sculptor and started to learn carving.
– I hope you have a house now, don’t you?
– My dreams have already changed. If I had a nice house, I would just enjoy life instead of doing what I did.
– Do you have a family?
– I was married and I have a son. He’s 28.
– What is the most challenging part of your carrier?
– Stupa for Buddha.
– Was it your first piece?
– Not the first one, but the first major piece. It was in 1999. I had to learn metallurgy to create it, how to combine and to treat different metals. I also studied how I can put gemstones and metal together, but I did not want to use very large claws, because that would look so ugly. So I drew inspiration from the furniture of the Ming dynasty. I discovered that old masters put wooden parts of the furniture together by means of perfect adjustment, without using additional fixing materials. So, that was something I had to learn at that time. I started encrusting stones by carving mortise and tenon joint. There was also a crystal ball inside the stupa and, when I drilled a hole in this ball, every morning I found it cracked. Eventually, I discovered that when I was drilling the hole in the crystal ball, it created sound waves, which remained in the ball, and the energy just kept building up. It had nowhere to go, so at the end, this energy had to be released, and the crack was formed. I spent 2 years and 7 months to create this stupa.
In 2001, Wallace Chan met Yih Shun Lin, a Taiwanese collector, who commissioned him to create a golden meter Stupa for Buddha, embellished with gems. Currently, it is exhibited in Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center.
– What advice would you give yourself when you were 18?
– I would advise myself to work and learn harder.
– But why? You are so successful now! Some of your pieces cost millions.
– Maybe God is punishing me, making me do more.
– Do you really think that God can punish?
– I think so, otherwise why everyone thinks I’m a very successful person. I’m still working very hard, trying to do as much as possible.
– If you could have a choice to invite anyone, who had ever lived, to have dinner, who would it be?
– Alberto Giacometti. I would listen to him. Because any single sentence that he would say, could change my life completely.
People are always in need of such dedicated enthusiasts as Wallace Chan! Inspiration that they draw from his works helps them to overcome their key life problems. Every time a person loses his way, this inspiration forces him to stand up and continue going. In this case, “beauty will save the world” gains a deeper sense: beauty as artistic inspiration and enthusiasm for creating.
As we talked today about creator’s life, which includes a material part as well, I decided to find out how Wallace Chan jewellery are sold at auctions. I can say that prices for his pieces are growing constantly. Here are some examples:
In 2010, a flower-like ring with fancy yellow diamond, pink diamond, and emerald was sold at Christie’s in Hong Kong for € 73 950, and in 2014 it was bought at Sotheby’s already for € 95 796.
In November 2013, a necklace with diamonds, cultured pearl, and blue topaz with a woman's face skillfully carved inside, was sold at Christie’s for approximately € 62 530.
In May 2016, the Eternal Joy jadeite necklace was sold at Christie’s for about € 810 353.
The Great Wall necklace with an imperial jadeite central stone was estimated and said to be sold at the Biennale 2012 for € 56m.