December 6, 2021—Butterflies have long been one of the most ubiquitous creatures in the animal jewelry kingdom. The sheer beauty and symbolism of the insects are the main reasons for their appeal. Another source of attraction for jewelry designers has been the butterfly’s bold, graphic form. Looking at butterfly jewels made over time provides an extraordinary lens through which to see jewelry styles, techniques as well as trends in gems change.
That’s the story I told in the Beautiful Creatures exhibition I curated at the American Museum of Natural History. One of the many butterfly brooches in the display made during the last 150 years was Wallace Chan’s ‘Forever Dancing – Bright Star.’ The jewel, which is part of a larger series of Forever Dancing butterflies, was one I often lingered over when giving tours.
There is a lot that goes into the craftsmanship of Wallace’s butterflies. ‘Forever Dancing – Bright Star,’ which was made in 2013, combines so many materials, including titanium and butterfly wing specimens, as well as the techniques to mount them. And then there is Wallace’s love of the creature that stretches back to when he saw The Butterfly Lovers at about eight or ten years old. In the film, which is regarded as a Romeo and Juliet of the East, when the lovers die they become a pair of butterflies.
In the new book Winged Beauty: The Butterfly Jewellery Art of Wallace Chan published by ACC Art Books, many more layers of detail about the jewels are reviewed.
A handful of heavy hitting jewelry experts each write an essay in the book covering Chan’s butterflies and often a bit more about his life and work. The writers are: Vanessa Cron, a jewelry historian; Melanie Grant, the luxury editor at The Economist; Ming Liu a lifestyle writer for the Financial Times; Emily Stoehrer, jewelry curator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; and Juliet Weir-de La Rochefoucauld a jewelry expert and author.
The book features 50 butterfly brooches by Wallace Chan in a way few designers would ever dare to do. Photographs are taken from every angle of the jewels. Close-up details on the front back and sides. You actually get a much closer look at the designs than you do with your naked eyes. It’s a sight to behold.
The reverse views of Wallace’s work took me back to the Spring of this year when we were installing the Beautiful Creatures exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History. The creative design team could not believe the detail on the back of Wallace’s jewels. Unfortunately, it was something the public couldn’t see in the mounting of the designs. Winged Beauty remedies the issue with all the many photos.