Hang Bac is viewed as the “most expensive” among Hanoi’s 36 old streets. In the past, people living on this street relied on three major jobs, involving silver ingot and jewellery making, and money exchange.
Those three jobs originated from three craft villages famous for making gold and silver jewellery in the north of Chau Khe in Hung Yen province, Dong Xam in Thai Binh province and Dinh Cong in Hanoi.
In the 15th century, Minister of Interior Luu Xuan Tin, a native of Chau Khe village of Hung Yen, was assigned by a court of the later Le Dynasty (1428 – 1789) to set up a workshop making silver ingots in the Thang Long imperial city, which is currently Hanoi.
At that time, silver ingots and gold bars were used as money. Tin brought artisans from Chau Khe to the capital to establish the workshop. After a while, along with making ingots, artisans began making patterns for gold and silver jewellery.
In the early years of the 19th century, under the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945), the workshop was relocated to the central imperial city of Hue. Most of Chau Khe artisans remained in Thang Long and set up a community at the area which is now Hang Bac street.
From then on, artisans of Dinh Cong and Dong Xam craft villages came to settle down in the street. That marked the birth of Hang Bac street which specialises in crafting gold and silver jewellery in Hanoi.
Along with the manufacturing and trading of silver, shops in the street exchanged silver ingots for chips. Therefore, in the colonial rule of France, the street’s name in French was Rue de changeurs (silver-exchange street).
Various sophisticated gold and silver jewellery works were crafted by artisans in Hang Bac street. In technical terms, experts classify their products into two types, including those without patterns such as rings and women and children’s earrings and bracelets, and those with patterns.
Artisans in Hang Bac street usually make typical patterns in their gold and silver jewellery, with four mythical creatures of dragon, kylin, turtle and phoenix being the most popular. The image of dragon is crafted with the nimble hands of the artisans under a number of themes. Different styles such as eight creatures, eight valuables and eight types of fruits, among others, are also meticulously crafted in gold and silver plates and trays.
On gold and silver objects, artisans could also carve the images of human or plants symbolising people’s virtues in the eastern culture of truc (small bamboo), mai (ochna flower), orchid and chrysanthemum.
In all carved jewellery made of gold and silver, there are two prominent characteristics, which are artistic form and meticulous and lifelike patterns.
At present, the street stretches only about 0.5 km, but there are hundreds of ateliers of all sizes established by silversmiths and goldsmiths. Many of those shops are equipped with machines of modern technologies from foreign countries, yet there are still families who maintain the traditional method of manually crafting jewellery.
Not only keeping the job which is passed down to by ancestors, residents in Hang Bac street are also able to maintain the traditional lifestyle of the people in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Many households are good at doing business and become rich, but they still lead a humble life and value trust, and stand ready to support others in life as well as in doing business./.VNA
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