Based in Hong Kong, the Chinese jeweler was on his way to TEFAF, the art, antiques and design fair in Maastricht, Netherlands, where he will show 30 of his pieces this year.
Known for his three-dimensional gem-cutting techniques, the self-taught artist is widely recognized for his work with titanium.
Chan spoke with WWD about his views on technology’s effect on the art of jewelry making, and why no high-jewelry brand has yet emerged from China.
WWD: How does technology change the way you work?
Wallace Chan: When it comes to design or making jewelry or being creative, I continue to innovate and am always learning about the latest technology. Through the process, I continue to explore the relationship between men and substances, between substances and history, or even between now and the future.
All of this is highly relevant to creativity.
[At Sciences Po] I discussed emotion and the importance of music, as well as the sounds that we may not necessarily perceive. All of these interact and trigger my memories and experiences from the past. They lead to my creations.
If language is my soul, then my previous experiences actually make up my body.
WWD: How is technology affecting the jewelry making industry?
W.C.: We know technology is advancing on a daily basis, changing people’s lives, helping people live more comfortably and getting everything done in a faster manner. Society as a whole is also prospering, leading to a more advanced civilization.
However, in that process of transformation, there are people who focus too much on enjoying the technology and forgetting about using the saved time to do other things. If you only enjoy the technology, but forget to work hard, then you might be left behind. There are people who embrace technology and make use of it to create a new career or create a better future.
WWD: What are the latest technological developments you see in the future, or that you are working on right now?
W.C.: Mankind’s development is very much built on our previous knowledge and the philosophical system, cultural values and our religious beliefs. In the modern era when we embrace technology, we can see a lot of technologies are clearly making huge changes to our life.
The best examples are 3-D printing, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. These technologies can bring us huge benefits.
In the case of jewelry-making, for example, before we get to the final product, we are able to simulate or create models using 3-D technology. These models may not be wearable as the final product, but they allow us to improve our design so the final creation could be as perfect as we want it to be.
WWD: And how about the future?
W.C.: It’s important for us to live in this moment so we can continue to discover ourselves, discover all things around us. We need to look at things from a new perspective every day.
I’m always in this status of dreaming about different worlds. I believe the world can be infinitely big or infinitely small.
Every night, I reflect on what has happened today and think about tomorrow. Tomorrow is obviously the accumulation of every single moment that we have now. If you take this moment and the next moment together, you have several moments — then you end up with a line of time, followed by a larger chunk of time or even space. From there, you come up with the one-dimensional world, two dimensions or three dimensions or even more.
There are clearly gaps in time and gaps in space that require further exploration. I continue to think about how I can explore and find new possibilities of creation.
I’m constantly looking for these gaps so that I can really extend my creativity.
WWD: Can you give an example of how some of the pieces you are showing reflect what you just described?
W.C.: One of the pieces is a crab. Next to the crab is a piece of rock crystal, below there are some gemstones. The rock crystal is carved like rippled water surface. When you look through that rock crystal you can see the gemstones underneath, but because the rock crystal is carved, your vision gets slightly twisted. It’s a bit like looking into the stones at the bottom of the river through the ripples on the water surface. This piece reflects twisted time and twisted space. While the crab is a real three-dimensional piece, it’s flat, but generates a three-dimensional view for you.
WWD: Why has there not been a high-end jewelry brand to emerge from China?
W.C.: My understanding is that some high-end luxury brands from the West have been around for a long time. We’re talking about maybe over a hundred years. If you investigate further, you see that the founders of some of those brands actually did not start to operate as a business, a commercial brand. Those founders started out as artists themselves. Their early creations were full of life, full of ideals and full of energy. They reflected the spirit of the era, the time, or the spirit of the craftsmanship.
Some cannot be surpassed or replaced by what we have now.
The Chinese have only started to understand and appreciate jewelry in the last few decades. The jewelry-making industry might have 20 or 30 years of experience, but it’s still too early for Chinese artists to emerge. At the moment, they do not have enough of a foundation for craftsmanship or jewelry or metallurgy to develop.
When it comes to Chinese design talent or Chinese jewelry talent, it’s actually not very easy to find people, because to be a very good jewelry designer, you need to know not just about gemstones but also understand metallurgy, craftsmanship, ergonomics, colors and materials. There is, in fact, a great shortage of talent in that area. For jewelry artists to operate like commercial brands, you actually need a lot of investment as well.