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Author, collector devotes time to restoring imperial crowns

Update: February, 12/2018 - 09:00
A crown worn by an emperor during Heaven-and-Earth worship ceremonies. — Photo courtesy of Vũ Kim Lộc
Viet Nam News

HCM CITY — In the heart of HCM City, a 60-year-old man is focusing his time and energy on a rather obscure job: restoring imperial crowns from the Nguyễn dynasty (1802-1945).

Vũ Kim Lộc is a jeweler, researcher and collector of ancient Champa and Vietnamese artefacts.

A respected historian, Lộc is the co-author of several books, including Rehabilitation, which details his restoration of four Nguyễn dynasty imperial crowns, and the Artefacts of Champa.

In 2008, Lộc was asked by the National Museum of Vietnamese History to restore four emperor crowns from the Nguyễn which were excavated around 1945.

Because Việt Nam had recently gained independence and was facing financial difficulties, many people wanted to use or sell the treasures at that time.

However, President Hồ Chí Minh wanted to preserve them for their historical value, so they were sealed and kept in the State treasury.   

At first, parts of the crowns were jumbled together into piles of gold and fabric pieces that Lộc and his team of experts had to separate for categorisation.

His team had to work out which pieces belonged to which crown based on the intricate design of each piece and find a common motif among them.

After being cleaned and fixed, the jewellery and decorations were pinned on a sponge model for drafting to see how they all would fit on the crown.

The pieces were then stitched on the crown’s body which was made with a copper frame wrapped by black silk.

This was an extremely difficult task, requiring his team to conduct a great deal of research consulting ancient records and historians or visiting old shrines to have a better picture of the Nguyễn dynasty’s crown-making.

Lộc encountered many difficulties in conducting research and handling the delicate parts. 

However, he considered it an honourable task to restore the crowns and bring back a part of history. After nearly a year, the restoration of the crowns was completed.

The four crowns are now on display at the National Museum of Vietnamese History. After his great success, Lộc was entrusted with more crowns to restore. 

Passion for restoration

“Before, I only collected and studied artefacts as a hobby, but after having the privilege of studying and restoring the four emperor crowns, I became fascinated with the Nguyễn dynasty and their intricate crown-making,” Lộc said.

More records and research materials exist for the Nguyễn dynasty compared to other dynasties before it, he said.

Lộc is currently researching different crowns used in the Nguyễn. “There are many varieties of imperial crowns for different positions in the monarchy, and the decorations and design of the crowns reflect that,” he said.

For instance, an emperor crown is made with a copper frame wrapped in black silk and adorned with multiple pieces of jewellery and golden ornaments, shaped like dragons, fire, flowers or other objects.

Meanwhile, a crown for imperial officials is woven with the hair of horse tails and features fewer decorations than an emperor crown.

During special occasions such as Heaven-and-Earth worship ceremonies, emperors and officials would wear a special type of crown featuring a flat board on the top, decorated with strings of golden beads and pearls. 

Lộc plans to publish another book in 2018 detailing his findings about the Nguyễn dynasty crowns.

Crown restoration is a time-consuming, demanding skill and stressful task that requires a deep understanding of history.

Nonetheless, Lộc’s passion for the art of crown-making is so deep that he has accepted many requests, even though the commission price is often much lower than the cost of materials and research.

He said that restoring crowns was a good fit for him because of his deep understanding of history and his jewelry-making experience from his regular job, which helps him cover the expense of restoring crowns.

Lộc lamented that crown-making is a lost art and few people know about it.

“I wish the government would introduce more policies to educate and encourage more people to study the art, instead of letting it be forgotten,” he said.

He also expressed his desire to find a student who could pass on his craft and passion to others. — VNS


A crown worn by an emperor. — Photo courtesy of Vũ Kim Lộc
Vũ Kim Lộc (left) studies the pieces of crowns with his team in 2008. — Photo courtesy of Vũ Kim Lộc
A pile of pieces from three separate crowns. — Photo courtesy of Vũ Kim Lộc
A crown of a Nguyễn Dynasty general. — Photo courtesy of Vũ Kim Lộc

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