Is it Jewellery or Art? Either Way, It’s Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen

Discover three talented jewellers — all masters in their own right — who let their creativity run wild.

Is it Jewellery or Art? Either Way, It’s Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen
Garden of Dreams broochImage: Wallace Chan

Wallace Chan is known for infusing his creations with Oriental spiritualism. Ilgiz Fazulzyanov’s enamel skill breathes new life into art nouveau. Sevan Bıçakçi redefines Byzantine and Ottoman magnificence. All three jewellers are known for taking their imagination to dizzying heights, from where they create dazzling bejewelled fantasies. 

Of the three, only Turkish-born Bıçakçi started his professional career in the jewellery world. He received early training in jewellery making, after leaving school at the age of 12 to serve as an apprentice under master goldsmith Hovsep Çatak at the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. Chan, on the other hand, used to create monumental sculptures for Buddhist monasteries, while Fazulzyanov worked with stained glass windows and silk prints. 

“These are three distinctively different artists,” notes François Curiel, jewellery specialist and chairman of Christie’s Europe. “While they have their own aesthetics and technical styles, they also share a desire to reinvent themselves.” Curiel also points out that “their ethnicity and early training show through in all of their creations”.

Wallace ChanImage: Wallace Chan

The Philosopher

Comparing his work to a gardener nurturing plants, Wallace Chan says: “To create is not to water a single plant, but to sow many different seeds in a garden or even a forest. Some flowers will bloom, some flowers will have to wait, and sometimes they all bloom together.” The Hong Kong–based jeweller tends to his creations patiently in his atelier, sometimes for years, and when they “bloom”, they are always mesmerising, one-of-a-kind creations. 

“I never received a formal education [in jewellery making] and the advantage of that is that I learn on the go and am never confined by any schools of thought. My thoughts are free and that’s very important when it comes to the creative process,” Chan says. 

Over the years, this freedom has led him to develop new cutting techniques, such as the Wallace Cut — a carving technique combining medieval cameo and intaglio into 3D engraving — and a patented jadeite thinning technique that enhances the luminosity of stones. He has also created new gemstone-setting techniques, like an architectural jointing method (inspired by Ming-style furniture) to replace the usual protruding claws that hold a precious stone in place. 

“I sometimes think of myself as the translator of the universe’s messages,” he says. “There are times where I feel the incredible urge to create a piece; the idea may be something that appears out of thin air. There are also moments when it is the stone that intrigues me, inspires me and motivates me to create for it. There is more than one approach to creation. The only certainty is, possibly, to create no matter what.” 

Chan thinks humans are born to be storytellers, and each of his creations tells a different story. And his biggest inspirations? “The love for life,” he shares, “and for all things in the universe.” 

Ilgiz FazulzyanovImage: Ilgiz F.

The Enamel Master

When Ilgiz Fazulzyanov exhibited 150 of his enamelled jewellery pieces at the Moscow Kremlin Museums in 2016, many people told him he had hit his peak. The remarks prompted the Russian jeweller to seek contemplation in the world’s mountainous peaks, where he drew inspiration for his series of stunning rings. 

“The five peaks characterise the moments of my life: Vesuvius, for when I was rising from the ashes after my workshop was robbed; Kilimanjaro, for when I worked in the heat; Ararat, which has two peaks, for when I was at a crossroads and did not know what to choose; the Himalayas, because they represent difficulties in life; and Fujiyama, because my favourite destination in the East is Japan,” he explains. 

The self-taught jeweller, who studied painting and operates under the brand Ilgiz F., is a master of grand-feu enamelling who’s equally at ease using enamelling on gold as any artist using paint on a canvas. He describes his creative process as “mostly spontaneous!” 

“I am an emotional person when I see beauty, and this is the moment that is always decisive in the appearance of a new product.” 

He notes that beauty, its emotional pull and inspiration, can be found anywhere. “Rain and swallows in the rain, koi carp in the lake, clouds, flowers in the morning with dew, trees at sunset, and even the music and the people around me! My wife’s smile, children’s laughter, my garden!”

Sevan BıçakçiImage: Sevan Bıçakçi

The Fantasy Storyteller

Using negative sculpting on his gemstones, Sevan Bıçakçi creates detailed miniature 3D worlds that appear to be floating inside the gemstones. 

“Each piece is unique, very much like the individual who will eventually wear it,” he says, describing his approach to jewellery design as “Byzantine Emperor meets Alice in Wonderland”. 

When creating, he notes it is “the feeling that a certain piece needs to evoke that takes priority,” before adding, “anything else, such as its structure or colours, finds its place holistically.” 

Each jewel tells a different story and can be brought to life through micro-mosaics or the use of the intaglio technique. Whatever the art form, it helps him create a fantasy world imbued with his rich Turkish cultural heritage. 

His creations can be so intricate that he finds it hard to know when to stop. 

“I could go on adding more and more details and very often, will eventually need to be stopped by somebody.” As a result, some of his creations can take over a year to perfect. “Ideas keep occurring during the crafting process and sometimes they are even better [than the initial plan],” he says.

This story first appeared in the November 2020 issue of A Magazine.

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