With a traditional wood fire spewing unbearable heat, Chin Sang gingerly warms the bulky casting mold. He then throws a trayful of bronze pieces into a pot on the fire, checking the liquefying metal again and again. In about 20 minutes, the color of the melted bronze tells him that it’s time to cast. Fast forward to about a half an hour later, when Sang pries open the cast and a beautiful, bronze gong comes tumbling out.
Over the course of the next few days, Sang will play with the instrument again and again. He’ll tap the gong lightly, then beat it strongly, going slow and then fast, from the center to the edge. Through the sounds, Sang can “see” where the instrument is too thin and where it is too thick, and he makes the necessary adjustments from there. The painstaking work isn’t finished until the gong finally produces the perfect, sweet sound.
Sang learned his craft from his father, who learned it from his father, and so on. In fact, the people of Phuoc Kieu village in Central Vietnam, where Sang lives, have casted bronze for over 400 years. They’re best known for their bronze gong, a highly-regarded instrument of the Central Highlands ethnic people, but they also make bells, statues, lampstands, incense burners and much more. Sadly, many of the village’s bronze makers have left their craft due to tough market competition and low buyer demand. To date, their numbers have dwindled to about 100.
At Metiseko, we strive to collaborate as closely as possible with local artisans, celebrating their culture and honoring their extraordinary techniques. We saw great potential in the artisans of Phuoc Kieu and felt a responsibility to keep their ancestral traditions alive. By creating a line of bronze jewelry, we were able to partner with village craftsmen, providing a means for the bronze makers to continue their artistry and preventing the bronze-making flame of Phuoc Kieu from extinguishing.
The process for making bronze jewelry diverges from Sang’s technique in a number of ways. Instead of melting and casting the bronze, they use large bronze sheets. They engrave the metal with a hammer and mail to replicate simple versions of our print designs. During this process, our craftsmen adjust their pressure with precision and skill to accomplish the desired texture and touch.
In order to “weave” the metal with silk, some of our jewelry will require cutouts. Once this is done, the bronze makers bend the bronze sheets into its final shape. They finish by sanding the jewelry to soften the harsh edges and polish the surface to get a smooth and shiny texture.
The resulting “textile jewelry” perpetuates the themes of our collections with silk inserts and our iconic prints.
If you plan to visit Hoi An, make Phuoc Kieu part of your itinerary. The village is located less than 10km east of Old Town, just off National Highway 1A. You’ll know you’re close when you see the row of bronze shops along the road. Once there, make sure to visit the Great Bell at old man Duong Nhi’s house. It was casted in 1820 and is engraved with words praising the great bronze-making talents of Phuoc Kieu.