Maestro plumbs depths of failure to make the cut

City Talk | Juliana Chen 17 Apr 2019

Albert Einstein once said: "Failure is success in progress."

Henry Ford also opined that "failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again."

Even though we have by and large accepted that "failure is the mother of success," it takes a lot of courage and resilience to admit a mistake and start anew.

It was therefore a very precious opportunity last week when world-renowned artist and jewelry creator, Wallace Chan, shared his personal experience of a string of failures that eventually led to international acclaim.

His lecture, entitled "Too Much, Too Fast, Too Late - Art and Craftsmanship in the Age of Information Explosion," was delivered at the University of Hong Kong's Wang Gungwu lecture hall, which was packed with art and fine jewelry connoisseurs and alumni.

Born in Fuzhou in 1956, Chan came here at the age of five and started working when he was 13 to support his family. He became a carving apprentice three years later and set up his own workshop in 1974.

Chan recounted how he toiled for two years from 1985 to perfect the "Wallace Cut" - a technique that uses cameos and intaglios to carve a lifelike image which is then reflected within the crystal to create the effect of a 3-D multiple illusion.

The idea was inspired by a photography exhibition on double exposures.

He finally discovered that the dental drill was the answer after spending six months at a tool-making factory.

However, even with technique and the right instrument, he met with failure because the fast rotation of the high-power drill at 36,000 times per minute created heat and tension that cracked the gems.

It then dawned on him that carving the stones under water, and taking them out after each stroke to check its precision was a viable method.

"I left my inner soul in outer space. There were no nights and no days. As my soul found my way back into this world, the Wallace Cut was born."

Now a globally-celebrated guru in the multiverse of creativity, Chan took us on a journey through time and space that culminated in his latest innovation - porcelain that is five times tougher than steel.

The magical connection between past, present and future was complete as he recalled how his admiration for the elegance of porcelain took root at early childhood. Poverty entailed that only adults could use porcelain spoons to eat while children had to use plastic then.

Retired senior civil servant Juliana Chen is a passionate crystal collector who shares the good things in life

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