What Is Vietnamese Lacquerware? 11 Unknown Lacquerware Facts

Vietnamese lacquerware

One of the more famous handicrafts in Vietnam is lacquerware. Lacquerware is an ancient Vietnamese handicraft that Vietnam has been producing for hundreds of years.

Vietnamese lacquerware is a painting process where lacquer paint is used to make lacquerware. This lacquer paint traditionally comes from the sap of the lacquer trees. The Vietnamese lacquerware has many layers; each layer must be carefully sanded, properly dried, and prepared. These layers help make Vietnamese lacquerware a unique art.

3 Vases with Mother of Pearl
3 Mother of Pearl Lacquerware Vases

What Is Vietnamese Lacquerware?

Vietnamese lacquerware is a lacquer painting technique that uses natural lacquer paint. Vietnamese lacquer requires many manufacturing steps in the lacquer production process, including making the base, then preparing the lacquer base, finally applying the lacquer paint onto the surface. 

Every lacquerware piece must be carefully sanded to give it a very smooth surface. In fact, properly sanding and drying between each step is one of the things that makes Vietnamese lacquerware so beautiful and unique.

Vietnamese lacquerware manufacturing is a handicraft skill that continues to be passed down from generation to generation; Vietnamese lacquerware is considered one of Vietnam’s traditional arts and crafts.

Here Are Our Top 11 Unknown Facts About Vietnamese Lacquerware

1 – Lacquerware Came From China

Vietnamese lacquerware originally came from China to Vietnam about 1,000 years ago; the Chinese ruled Vietnam for over 1,000 years. When the Chinese controlled Vietnam, they brought with them many of their handicrafts. Lacquerware is an example of one of the handicrafts the Chinese brought with them.

In ancient times, lacquerware was more functional than design-oriented. Lacquerware was used to coat furniture, pottery. and other household items to make them more durable; in time, Vietnamese lacquerware also began to take on an artistic quality

2- There Is A Lacquer Trees

In Vietnam, lacquer is a natural product extracted from a tree known as a lacquer tree. The lacquer trees grow in Asia; in Vietnam, the lacquer tree grows in the northern part of Vietnam.

Lacquer trees are small-sized trees; the lacquer trees are not more than 3 to 4 meters (about 13 feet) in height, with a trunk size that is not very large. The trees are planted at the end of August through September, about 2 to 3 m apart.

3 – Lacquer Is Extracted From The Trees

To produce traditional lacquer, the lacquer trees are tapped for their sap; this is similar to tapping a rubber tree for extracting the rubber. The extracted lacquer sap is used to make the lacquer for Vietnamese lacquerware.

The sap will only come out of the lacquer trees during June and July during the early morning hours. The lacquer sap is then treated to remove excess moisture and any impurities.

Making Vietnamese Lacquerware Eggshell

4 – Vietnamese Call Lacquer Sơn Mài.

Vietnamese call Vietnamese lacquer Sơn Mài. Sơn is the Vietnamese word for painting, and Mài is for sanding. This is because Vietnamese lacquerware is about sanding and painting.

Even today, when you go to a lacquer factory, you can see the handwork of Vietnamese lacquerware production. There is a lot of hand sanding between each coat of lacquerware.

5 – Lacquer Production Is Over 800 Years Old

Many of the lacquer villages outside Hanoi have been producing lacquerware continually for over 800 years. This means lacquerware is actually an ancient handicraft.

It also means that these villages have many skilled artisans who have grown up their entire lives learning how to refine their lacquerware skills.

6 – Families Pass Down The Lacquerware Skill

In the lacquer village, the families have passed down the lacquerware technique from generation to generation. This is because many families have been literally producing lacquerware for over 800 years.

It also means that the skills and the techniques of the lacquerware stay within the family.

7- Vietnamese Lacquerware Changed Under Colonial French

When Vietnam was a French colony, the way Vietnamese lacquerware was produced changed significantly. In the 1930s, the first Vietnamese painters study at Ecole des Beaux-Arts or Indochina School of Fine Arts; these artisans discovered other materials to use with lacquer such as eggshell, mother of pearl, bamboo, etc.

These artists also experimented with sanding techniques, gold and silver leafing, and eggshell to give their lacquer a new look and feel. This is why today the Vietnamese lacquerware is very different from lacquerware found in other parts of Asia.

8 – Real Lacquerware Has Many Layers

Vietnamese lacquerware has many layers, which are carefully hand-sanded between each layer. This is because lacquerware is truly a hand-made product.

Many of the lacquerware pieces have between 15 to 30 different finishing layers. Vietnamese lacquerware is a technique where a layer is built upon a layer. For example, just the base could have more than 15 layers before any color or paint is applied.

An eggshell table lamp
A Vietnamese Lacquerware Eggshell Lampbase

9 – Lacquerware Is A High-End Product

Lacquerware is a high-end home decor and home furnishing product. There are many reasons for this, but due to the many layers of the lacquer, we can achieve some very complicated and sophisticated finishes that we can not achieve any other way.

10 – Vietnam Produces Real Lacquerware

There is a lot of fake lacquerware on the market, but Vietnam produces real lacquerware. China factories may produce lacquer where they tried to imitate the Vietnamese lacquer by spraying paint and a high gloss finish, but this is not true lacquerware.

At Mondoro, all the lacquerware we produce is authentic Vietnamese lacquer. We believe in using authentic lacquerware to achieve the best look and feel possible.

11 – Handle Lacquerware With Care

Even though lacquerware is extremely durable, like any high-end product, you should handle it with care. To clean a lacquerware surface, you should use a mild soap and water and wipe it with a damp cloth; dishwashing soap is always an excellent mild soap.

Vietnamese lacquerware is really a beautiful finish and product. It is not only an ancient Vietnamese handicraft that highly skilled artisans produce, but it also has a wonderful look and feels you can only achieve through the lacquerware manufacturing process.

If you are interested in finding out more about Vietnamese lacquerware and how Mondoro can help you create, develop, and manufacture great home decor and home furniture products, including Vietnamese lacquerware, please contact me, Anita, at my email by clicking here or become a part of our community and join our newsletter by clicking here.

How to Manufacture Vietnamese Lacquerware?

Vietnamese lacquer requires many manufacturing steps in the lacquer production process, including making the base, then preparing the lacquer base to be applied, to finally applying the lacquer paint onto the surface. Every piece must be carefully sanded to give it a very smooth surface. Vietnamese lacquerware production requires a lot of skill and knowledge.

To learn more you can read How to Manufacture Vietnamese Lacquerware? An Insider’s Guide to Lacquer by clicking here.

Why Is It Called Mother Of Pearl?

The name mother used in Mother of Pearl is thought to come from a nearly obsolete meaning of mother, which means “scrum, drugs or leftover fifth.” This would be because the Mother of Pearl comes from the leftover shell of the oyster, clam, or mussel. The scientific name for Mother Of Pearl is nacre.

You can discover more about Why Is It Called Mother Of Pearl? Pearls and Mother of Pearls by clicking here.

Anita Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Hummel. I am the President of Mondoro. I am passionate about helping you CREATE, DEVELOP, and MANUFACTURE home decor and home furnishing products. I am also an avid blogger with a love of travel and riding my motorcycle around the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

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