The Hong Kong designer’s pieces are often described as miniature sculptures, so it’s no surprise that Chan got his start carving ivory. “When I was young, ivory sculpting was a flourishing business in the city,” he says. After learning to work with semiprecious stones like jade, coral and malachite, Chan, 54, shifted his skills to jewelry making. “I grew up studying Michelangelo and learned to pay attention to the geometry of human skeletons and muscle lines, and also how to appreciate light,” he says. “So I began to apply the same principles to the flowers, birds and other animals depicted in my pieces.”
Chan is most best known for his signature Wallace Cut—a special carving method that blends intaglio and cameo techniques, giving his creations an exquisitely sculpted look. One might even call Chan the JAR of Hong Kong; so masterfully executed are his pieces (like this opal and diamond cicada brooch with crystal wings), he is a similar fixture in the world of jewelry collecting. (His Burmese ruby and diamond earrings sold at Christie’s Hong Kong last year for $468,432.) “His creations are not only considered pieces of jewelry but works of avant-garde art,” says Terri Ottaway, curator of the GIA Museum in Carlsbad, California, which, until the end of this month, has more than 30 of Chan’s pieces on display by appointment only. Come September 2012, Chan will be the first Chinese jeweler ever to show at the Biennale des Antiquaires at Paris’s Grand Palais, with an anticipated collection of more than 30 pieces. His year-old second line, Chan and Zen, is available in the States at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.
Wallace Chan carved opal, diamond, sapphire and amethyst cicada brooch, $176,000; bergdorfgoodman.com.