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Vietnamese artisans bedazzle the world

Update: January, 09/2012 - 22:36


Silver service: A hundred-year-old Sac (a shellfish) from Phu Quoc Island has been polished and inlaid with silver for use as plates.
Neckwear: Necklaces made from a variety of materials and in a multitude of designs are particularly popular with women.
Quality control: Tran Thanh Nga checks ornaments for imperfections before delivering them to customers.
by Vu Lan Dung

Imagine you are in Paris and want to buy some jewellery for your family and friends. Chances are high that the lovely things could come from Viet Nam. Vietnamese arts and crafts today have lured international shoppers with their uniqueness and diversity.

Main production lines are jewellery, decorative and culinary items made by materials such as cattle horn, wood, bamboo, stone, oyster and seashell. They are designed with traditional and modern patterns. Bracelets for adolescent girls could have lovely animals on them. From soft to sophisticated and luxurious jewellery, there is something to suit all tastes.

Hairpins are composed of shells and horns in shapes such as butterflies, lizards, parrots and fish. Meanwhile, earrings come in squares, rectangles, calabash and water drops.

Pendants of necklaces are carved with images of Vietnamese places and animals, such as Ngoc Son temple, a Ha Noi spot of tourism, and dragons, one of four national spiritual creatures.

Customers are also interested in culinary items like spoons in yellow seashell, bowls and plates in white horn or sets in black horn.

Pham Xuan Cuong's handicrafts have appeared in France, Spain and Italy since 2000. Cuong began his company at the end of 2009. For more than ten years he worked at various European companies that imported spare parts to produce their products in Viet Nam then exported them to international markets. These working years brought him the necessary knowledge and practical experience to start his own business.

"During these times, I learned about management, European standards and design, as well as the tastes of foreign customers. Although gold and silver products and modern techniques have been developing for a long time, people are still interested in natural materials made by hand."

"My designs are based on analysis of psychology, colours, age and culture. Learning is an ongoing process," Cuong said.

In his first few years, he earned VND100 million (US$4,750) from hundreds of different products. Cuong continued improving, producing designs that increased his annual revenue by 20-30 per cent. The owner was eventually presented the title of "National Artisan" by Viet Nam Jewellery Association in 2009.


Hornrail: Pham Xuan Cuong shows off a vase and handrail made from animal horn.— VNS Photos Truong Vi
To make his products, the artisan first has to draw his designs on paper and cut them out. He then puts these pieces on the various materials and outlines them. After this, cutting along the lines is in order. The final phase requires polishing and checking the quality before packing and transporting to customers.

"The most important thing is the idea." This is Cuong's philosophy. It can take him one minute or long hours to have a good idea. He cannot remember how many designs he has drawn, some are quickly accepted by customers but some aren't.

Pointing to a plate on the table, he says: "It is a shell of 100-year-old sac (a kind of shellfish) which was taken from Phu Quoc Island. It used to be difficult to catch such a big one. Now it's easier, but their quality is not always good. There is only one intact one among hundreds that have not been eaten by ha (Teredo navalis). I just need to grind and polish them now. Smaller shells, which go grey because of dust, should be wiped often to stay shiny."

Other beautiful things on the table also drew attention: tea and toothpick boxes made by horns. According to Cuong, tea will not lose its flavour for six months to one year if placed inside a box. "If you accidentally drop it to the ground, it will not break," he adds.

The 40-year-old owner has trained local people to make products and offered them stable jobs.

Dao Van Cuong, who has worked at Cuong's company for three years, started making earrings after two months of studying there. At first, it took him nearly one hour, but now just 15 minutes are enough. He also creates his own products. The Ha Dong-based worker buys materials and has made moon and star shaped necklace for his girlfriend.

The work of Tran Thanh Nga is to check products and correct their faults. She says that polished products with no scratch marks is the standard. Nga has worked there for five years and will continue her job as it suits her patience and meticulousness.

Although modern machines could do what they do, western markets prefer hand-made things. Just like Cuong says, the machines create a series of the same product, while each artisan makes a one-of-a-kind thing. — VNS

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