Hanoi’s skillful artisan preserves jewelry craft amid pandemic
Though no longer young, the Hanoi’s skillful artisan is still passionate about the jewelry craft which has been handed down for generations in his family.
The jewelry craft in Hanoi’s Dinh Cong Village has been famous for its long history. Braving the Covid-19 pandemic, artisan Quach Van Hieu is doing what it takes to preserve the traditional trade.
For the past two years, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on traditional craft villages in the capital city of Hanoi. Dinh Cong jewelry craft village is no exception.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic is a time for craftsmen to stake a step back to meditate about the trade and create new designs, something they did not have time to do before.
With enthusiasm, the jewelry craftsman's desire is to restore and develop the traditional job, Artisan Quach Van Hieu, based on his experience and knowledge, has been pursuing this enterprise for many years.
Currently, the owner of a ten-worker jewelry workshop, who devoted more than 60 years of his life to this traditional job, is the only one qualified to do the toughest part of the trade which is “đậu bạc” - the process of winding thin silver strings to configure shapes, patterns or fine details.
For many other jobs, learning to do and making a living from it may not take too long. However, it would take years for a jeweler to become a skilled craftsman.
Artisan Quach Van Hieu creates unique jewelry pieces with his skillful hands. Photo: Le Giang
Though no longer young, Hieu is still passionate about the jewelry craft which has been handed down for generations in his family.
“Dinh Cong jewelry village has 800-year history. I inherited the trade from my grandparents and parents. I am happy that my sons also follow the family tradition of making jewelry items. Everyone in my family is involved in the craft,” Hieu told The Hanoi Times.
“Jewelry making is a sophisticated job. Its products are favored for their sophistication. To sell these pieces of homemade jewelry, I have to do lots of research to meet market demand,” Hieu added.
The details on each product are meticulously carved by artisans. Each finished product must reach a standard level of quality, both in terms of form and long-term use value as well as precision as if they were machine-made.
“Jewelry craft is different from other jobs. It is extremely meticulous, requiring much patience to make a piece with hundreds of details. It is different from carving and casting because no machine could replace humans in this job,” artisan Hieu shared.
All the steps are done manually. It usually takes one to a few days to make a product, depending on its sophistication. Therefore, each product costs at least VND1 million (US$43.82), even tens of millions of Vietnam Dong.
Silver items made in the traditional way require a lot of time and diligence. It may take two or three days to make a ring, Hieu stressed.
With advances in technology, jewelry making has changed considerably, but artisan Hieu still prefers using traditional methods to give each piece of jewelry a soul.
The details on a jewelry product of Dinh Cong Village are meticulously carved by artisans. Photo: Nguyen Nhu
“Though modern machinery facilitates the craft a lot, I still resort to the traditional methods handed down in my family and make my silver items by hand. The pieces made with machines all look exactly the same, but those made manually are unique,” Hieu told The Hanoi Times.
“At first, every product looks the same. But, in fact, each has a tiny difference that is imbued with the soul of the craftsman. Products made today are different from those made tomorrow. Each handmade work is unique,” said Hieu.
Dinh Cong’s silver craft is different from that of Chau Khe Village in Hai Duong Province or Dong Xam Village in Thai Binh Province.
“Dong Xam Village focuses on carving and forging large silver items, while Dinh Cong primarily makes earrings, bracelets, and rings. We carve on gold, not on bronze or silver as craftsmen do in Dong Xam,” Hieu noted.
Nguyen Huy Tung, a customer who is waiting for his product to be completed, said: "I was impressed that an artisan at such advanced age was still practicing this job”.
Vice-Chairman of Dinh Cong Ward People's Committee Dang Xuan Chien said that Dinh Cong village practices the oldest, most quintessential craft in the ancient Thang Long capital.
"The intricate gold and silver products require workers to master three important stages: carving, smelting, and smoothing. Carving means sculpting shapes, patterns, textures on the surface of the jewelry, gold, or silver items. The motifs, patterns on the products evidenced the perseverance, ingenuity intelligence, and creativity of the Dinh Cong jewelers," Chien told The Hanoi Times.
In order to transfer the techniques to the younger generation, artisan Hieu provides free classes in jewelry making to 170 apprentices.
Artisan Quach Phan Tuan Anh (right) and young apprentices joining artisan Hieu’s classes in jewelry making want to preserve the traditional craft. Photo: Cao Tien
Thanks to Hieu’s efforts, the jewelry products of Dinh Cong Village are regaining their fame, especially in the young generation’s expectation of restoring the traditional craft.
“The manual work requires very meticulous workers. To become a good craftsman, you must have creativity and continually accumulate experience, draw lessons for yourself after finishing each product, creativity determines whether the craftsman is skilled or not. More importantly, each worker must have perseverance," said Quach Phan Tuan Anh, artisan Hieu's son and apprentice.
In the past, jewelry was mainly made for women, but now there is a rich diversity of jewelry items to cater to the needs of everyone such as boxes, bowls, chopsticks, wallets, among others.
“I create modern jewelry which is more suitable for the current needs based on the old patterns. Our products are sold not only in the country but also abroad. Dinh Cong jewelry has been displayed at exhibitions in France, Germany, and other countries in Eastern Europe and Asia,” Tuan Anh told The Hanoi Times.
“I wish to maintain and develop Dinh Cong jewelry craft village which has more than 1000 years of history, to introduce the village jewelry pieces to domestic and international friends,” he stressed.
In order to restore the traditional craft, the artisans of Dinh Cong village had to spend a lot of time and effort to produce extremely unique products. Hopefully, in the near future, the traditional craft will reach a new height, thereby regaining a foothold for the products of the once-thriving craft village on the market in Vietnam and abroad.
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