Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by jfdadmin No Comments

We’ve all seen lacquer.  We think it’s beautiful. It’s interesting.  But what is it exactly? How is it made? And why is it so labor intensive?

Arabesque Collection in Blue/Silver


Vietnamese lacquer dates back to  the 11th century when it was used to decorate palaces, temples, pagodas and shrines. The handicraft was kept secret and passed down through lengthy apprenticeships from generation to generation. Outstanding master hands were awarded and even received titles by the King. Today, in Hanoi and other neighboring areas in Vietnam, many streets, quarters and villages remain, still preserving this coveted traditional lacquer production.

The process is extremely labor-intensive,  time-consuming and costly.   Every item, whether it is a small wooden bowl or a large piece of furniture, usually goes through 20 stages, spread across approximately two months.

Butterfly collection in Espresso/Coffee with Mother of Pearl inlay

After a suitable piece of jack fruit, bamboo or MDF wood is selected, the lacquer is applied by hand, one day for drying, one day for wet sanding. This two day process is repeated many times  – often between 15 to 20 layers of lacquer may be applied – until the surface of the lacquerware achieves a glass-like smoothness.

Then, to achieve a glossy finish, the craftsmen will literally use the palm of their hand, together with abrasives to polish the lacquerware to gleaming perfection.

 Eggshells ready for crushing and inlay

Mother of Pearl are inlaid by hand to create designs.

Harvested from the sea, mother-of-pearl is carefully cut into different shapes. The artist begins by drawing the design on the surface of the mother-of-pearl and uses a coping saw to cut them into small pieces. These pieces are then glued on the trays.

Lacquerware is remarkably resistant to water, acid, and heat. In fact, it is so lasting and watertight, that lacquered objects discovered recently in the sunken boats belonging to the Nguyen Lords in southern Vietnam were found intact despite the fact that they had been immersed in salt water for more than 100 years!

Handpainted Frogs in Espresso/Green

Each handmade piece is an everlasting example of enormous hard work, talent and patience.   We hope you enjoy our lacquerware as much as we do.

Life and Lacquer,

J. Fleet Designs

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