KVT’s Southern Journals….Part Three

KVT’s Southern Journals….Part Three

Posted on

Has the locus of Vietnamese contemporary art shifted from Hanoi to HCMC?
KVT headed south to take a look for himself. The result is a series of articles about his encounters.

Read more articles here.


Frozen 2

KVT investigates jewellery as fine art


On my recent  art explorations in TPHCM I was pretty excited when Lisa Boulet at Galerie Quynh insisted that I should visit a fine art space that specialized in Jewellery.

image 11

My fascination with Jewellery as fine art started many years ago when a young couple and their three young sons became our neighbors. Chris Robertson was a designer of furniture and implements and his wife, Jenny, was a weaver of very fine wool. Initially I categorized their work as craft but, over the years, when I started seeing examples by them displayed in major art gallery collections I realized that there is a very fine line between excellent ‘craft’ work and ‘fine art’. One of the teapots and milk jug below were at displayed at the Australian National Gallery in Canberra last year.

image 3

image 4

Thus it was with alacrity and anticipation that I strode Dong Khoi Street towards the river and the grand hotels thereabouts in the fashionable part of downtown Saigon hoping to see some world class design and I wasn’t even remotely disappointed.

image 2 is a discreetly small but very welcoming place, tucked away down a few stairs at 35 Dong Khoi…and for anyone interested in exquisite jewellery, and that world class design, it’s essential visiting.

The quirky name comes from combining those of its two founders, Vivek Chaudray and the late Kevin Lane. It’s been up and running for three years.

It’s one of the exceptionally few commercial fine art galleries specializing in jewellery in The Asia Pacific region …outside Hong Kong and Singapore and it is a true gallery in that all of the pieces it displays are one offs and only TOP artists are invited to exhibit and be part of ongoing collections.

Vivek started his deign career with furniture, as did my neighbor, Chris, and then started to branch out into jewellery design. He was trained by Indian and Swedish silversmiths and works conceptually.

He points out that although there is a lot of good silversmith and goldsmith work done in Vietnam, there is precious little excellent jewellery design work available.

A look at the artists work in the gallery’s website indicates the incredible beauty and cleverness of the art work that can be seen on display and in roll out drawers. Click onto an artist’s name to view titillating examples.

Many of the artists exhibited at the gallery are from Japan and this, of course, reflects the strength of fine art jewellery design in that country and the education facilities dedicated to training artists in the skills involved.

Every exhibited artist has an excellent illustrated catalogue available about their work and the one I’m looking at now with an intelligent text by Sue Hajdu, is a real gem….as it should be seeing that the anodized aluminum pieces are soon off, again, to prestigious places in New York …check out Tomoyo Hirawa here .

The present exhibitor is Viet Kieu, German trained artist, Sam Tho Duong and at the end of my opinion piece is an abridged version of the publicity released by the gallery because it would be a bit silly of me to paraphrase the gallery’s informative text including more details about some of the art works .

Sam 1

Vivek’s exceptionally fine fine art gallery should be on the list of must see places for all artists and art lovers who visit TPHCM ….and these images of Sam Tho Duong’s jewellery from ‘Frozen’ could be temptation enough



image 5

image 6

image 7

…………………………………………………………the family finally came to Germany and ended up in Pforzheim, without any knowledge of German. At this point, Sam Tho Duong had no idea that this place was to pave the way for his later career. Thirteen years old by then, he first had to go through a very difficult time. Due to his age, they put him in the seventh grade of a basic-level general education school. “My first year at school in Germany was a tremendous challenge for me,” he says looking back. “I hardly knew any German and understood only part of what they were teaching.” So it was no wonder that he didn’t make the grade. He was supposed to be put into a special education program. But the boy from Vietnam insisted on repeating the grade to maintain the chance of graduating properly. This clearly revealed a character trait that still distinguishes him today, i.e. to consistently pursue an idea and ambitiously bring to an end whatever he starts.

Finally Sam Tho Duong graduated with success. Afterwards he attended the Technical College for Metalworking. His artistic and creative potential took a back seat for the time being and was not revived until 1989 when he was accepted into the Vocational College for Design, Jewelry and Utensils of Pforzheim’s Goldsmithing School. It was rather by accident that he had heard about this new form of vocational training back then and applied after he had not succeeded in obtaining a metalworking apprenticeship. “This type of training, aimed at closely uniting technology and design, perfectly matched my ideas and skills,” he says today.

Despite graduating with excellent grades as a “State-Certified Designer of Jewelry and Utensils” from the Vocational College, Duong did not consider studying design at a university at that point. Instead, he served a goldsmithing
apprenticeship at the Pforzheim-based Wellendorff jewelry manufactory and continued working there for another five years. Today he regards his gaining insight into their operational procedures as an important experience. It was not before 1998, when he was already 29 years old, that he applied at the School of Design of Pforzheim’s University. Presenting a superb portfolio, he was admitted to the qualifying test for particularly gifted applicants which he passed with the highest possible score. After eight semesters he earned his degree as a graduate designer with distinction. The patient consistency with which he pursues an idea and allows it to grow, as it were, is also apparent in his jewelry. On the occasion of the international Choice jewelry exhibition, art historian Barbara Maas wrote the following: “Within the kernel lies the source of growth. And just as a plant develops from the kernel – the seed – so does the jewellery of Sam Tho Duong develop: incessantly, branching out, and with great variety.” In the process, it also reveals Duong’s most important source of inspiration. Those who visit the artist in his apartment can’t fail to notice large and luscious plants. And if visitors step out onto the terrace in the summer, they are surrounded by an almost tropical opulence. It is obvious that plants are part of Duong’s life.

Duong already created his Cherry Pit rings and necklaces while still studying. In 2002 he crafted the first pieces based on ginger roots. The bizarre shape of this root can be found in a number of very different pieces of his jewelry. By means of the electroforming technique, the root is transformed into silver and then can be reproduced. Arranging the sculptural basic shapes in rows, Duong creates necklaces held together, as if tied, by strands of onyx beads, for example. Also, he further developed this archetypal necklace with its silky-matte silver surfaces by altering the latter, i.e. by oxidizing the individual elements so as to display hues ranging from anthracite gray to black. An even more sophisticated development of this idea has been implemented in a necklace whose individual elements are studded with hundreds of rice grain-shaped pearls. Due to their flexibility as a result of being fixed to their bases by nylon strings, they are reminiscent of underwater organisms set in motion by a gentle current and make for fascinating visual and haptic sensations.

Some of his brooches are based on the same form which, cut open, reveals a cavity filled with pearls or small colored stone beads and reminds us of a gemstone druse disclosing its precious inside. But Duong even takes things a step further. He places the hollow bodies with their delicate walls under a heavypress and compresses them until they are as flat as a pancake. As a result of this mechanical process, he obtains entirely new creations with appealing surface textures – or the faces of panda bears. Are these, we might ask ourselves, a reference to his Chinese descent like the ginger root?

Frozen is the name Sam Tho Duong chose for his most wellknown jewelry line which, in terms of its sensuous surface texture, is even more subtle than all his previous works. If so far, this artist has been inspired by natural shapes, it is natural phenomena that intrigue him now. “My necklaces remind me of nature. If the temperature is well below zero degrees Celsius, the bark and skin of branches, twigs and fruits are covered with beautiful ice crystals. I try to translate this inspiration into my jewelry,” he comments. The beholder is Irresistibly tempted to carefully touch this jewelry so as to feel and comprehend its seductive charm. These pieces are the epitome of jewelry, unusual yet not foreign, never seen before but familiar nonetheless – simply jewelry that wants to be worn.



Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.

Similar Articles



Leave a Reply