Northern Vietnam has three longestablished jewellery-making hubs: Dong Xam Village in Thai Binh province, and Hang Bac Street and Dinh Cong Village in Hanoi. each boasts its own distinctive style and secret techniques. Over the years, jewellers from these three hubs moved all over the country and established gold or silversmithing workshops.
The history of Dong Xam Village stretches back to the second century BC and is associated with accounts of deities and the breathtaking Trieu Vu Temple, which stands near the Vong River. Local accounts claim that silversmithing took root in Dong Xam more than 500 years ago, introduced by a man named Nguyen Kim Lau. Over the centuries, through thick and thin, the village’s silverwares have remained a source of pride.
Here, children learned how to sharpen an axe before they mastered the alphabet. Youngsters learned carving skills they would use for their entire working lives.
Vietnam’s silversmithing villages are associated with three skills: carving, enamelling and polishing. Dong Xam is known for its carving. This village produced elaborately carved tea sets, vases and jewellery boxes, all adorned with refined decorative patterns.
Today, the most notable silversmith in the village is Mr. Dinh Quang Thang. although his home lies deep inside a narrow alley with no shop frontage, it draws many customers, who come to admire works that embody the village’s ancient traditions.
During the subsidised era and its aftermath, Dong Xam’s artisans faced tough times. People were poor and jewellery was priced according to weight, which meant that skill and beauty did not raise a piece’s final selling price. Youngsters left the village for cities and co-ops disintegrated.
Over the past 20 years, many villagers turned to copper crafting, focusing mainly on producing ceremonial items. Pots, urns, vases, plaques and signs are sold throughout the village. Because silversmithing is very labor intensive and market demand was low, artisans focused on bronzeswares that required less time and creativity to produce. Many feared that the village’s ancient silversmithing skills would vanish.
Even during the hard times, artisan Dinh Quang Thang remained devoted to the traditional skills of his ancestors. Most steps are done by hand, ranging from sketching to moulding, carving, shaping and polishing. His skilful hands produce pots and urns that are true works of art. along with silver, Mr. Thang works with copper, embellishing his creations with elaborate decorative patterns of dragons, phoenixes, clouds, flames, etc. Over 10 years ago, when researcher Trinh Bach set out to replicate the costumes of Nguyen Dynasty kings and mandarins, he turned to Mr. Thang to fashion the aristocrats’ bronze accessories. The reproductions of Hue’s royal costumes were displayed both domestically and abroad, amazing viewers with their beauty. To reproduce the ancient aristocrats’ swords, caps and boots required painstaking research. Mr. Thang fashioned the pieces after studying French colonialera photographs.
Today, Mr. Thang gets many custom orders. People request everything from reproductions of antique european watches to reproductions of ancient religious items and gold or silver books. Long ago, feudal mandarins received these gold or silver books from rulers as rewards for their service at court. While reproducing antiques is challenging, Mr. Thang approaches each project with passion, perseverance and skill.
In his modest house in the village, Mr. Thang sketches decorative patterns and details unique to Vietnamese culture. These will be carved upon precious metals. His work helps to ensure that these motifs will be remembered. For decades, this artisan has fanned the flames of his passion, determined to rekindle the traditions of Dong Xam Silversmithing Village.