Jewellery artist and sculptor Wallace Chan is both the creator of arguably the world’s most expensive diamond necklace and inventor of the Wallace Cut trompe l’oeil gem carving technique. He tells Richard Lord how an encounter four decades ago with a book about Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo changed his life. I moved to Hong Kong from Fuzhou in China with my parents and three siblings when I was five years old, in 1961. We moved into my grandmother’s apartment in To Kwa Wan, where my uncles and aunts also lived. It was crammed. I slept in the bathroom. It was rather difficult for my parents to find me a proper school. I finally enrolled at a rooftop school at 11 years old. It was located right above a wet market so there was a lot of noise. I could not speak or understand much. The two years at that rooftop school were the only education I have received in my life. I was always drawn to books – I still am. I thought people who read must be so knowledgeable and intelligent. But I was also ashamed of my illiteracy. When I was in my 20s, the Swindon bookshop stood tall in Tsim Sha Tsui. To me, it was a sacred place, a temple almost. After passing through it and peeking through the windows many times, I finally summoned my courage and went in. At school, I had trouble differentiating “m” and “n”. I just could not remember which was which, and my teacher scolded me many times. So when I saw a book that had a big M on it, I was intrigued. I had been a gemstone carver for some years by then but my practice focused on traditional Chinese carvings, such as auspicious motifs and folklore. At that time, there was no internet and the exchange of information was extremely limited, so I had very little exposure to Western carvings and sculptures. Flipping through the pages of that book was a mind-boggling experience. I had no idea that there was a whole different world out there where carvings and sculptures were dramatic, full of tension, power, strength and movement. I was enchanted by the muscular, mannerist bodies, and the light and shadow captured by the imitation of skin folds. I was so excited and inspired by the genius of Michelangelo. The experience was quite emotional. I set out to learn about Western carvings and sculptures. I could not afford to travel overseas, so I just went to the cemeteries in Hong Kong to study the statues of angels and saints. ‘He’s just a kid’: how ‘The Last Emperor’ changed a Mexican beermaker’s life When I learned of Michelangelo, I also found a new direction for my creative practices. I started to learn about mythologies and other stories from the West, as well as (carving techniques) cameo and intaglio. The dramatic effects of Michelangelo’s works also led me to the exploration of light and paved the path for my invention of the Wallace Cut. Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, poet and architect. He is the perfect example to illustrate how artists should not be confined by a single story, label or identity. I don’t want to be confined either. I just want to create. I paint, I sculpt, I create jewellery pieces, I invent new techniques or innovate with old materials. I didn’t buy the book because it was simply not something I could afford at that time. I don’t remember when I bought my first book about Michelangelo. But I do have one that I acquired in recent years, the version published by Taschen. It is always on my desk and I love it dearly.