EX-SHELL-ENT STUFF: A seashell painted and turned into a necklace by HCM City-based artist La Nhu Long.

After earning a degree from the HCM City University of Fine Arts in 2000, he worked as a designer for local jewellery companies but began to notice a limitation facing the industry.

“The materials used to make jewellery are fairly limited in number, so I can’t just use them whenever I choose,” he said.

To break away from conventional materials such as gold and silver, Long is now creating his own line of jewellery, using discarded seashells and turning them into miniature works of art.

“I select common seashells that restaurants simply throw away,” the trained artist said.

“I apply ideas, techniques and images as well as different materials to create a line of contemporary jewellery.”

A lot of work goes into making his adornments.

“The seashells must be cleaned after we collect them, because any organic matter leaves an odour,” Long said. “Then, depending on the condition of the shell’s surface, I apply a layer of paint or lacquer.”

“When deciding what to paint I often choose famous images of certain places, like Phan Rang, which has nice sandy beaches and plenty of sunshine. Islands, oil rigs, or illustrations of current events can also be used.”

“The final step is to apply a coat of varnish to protect the shell and attach a chain or something similar to create necklaces or bracelets.”

His small shop in HCM City’s Phu Nhuan District employs a handful of young people who take part in the essential stages of the jewellery-making process.

MENTORING: La Nhu Long shows his staff how to make a seashell bracelet

“Each step in the process presents its own problems, but to me the hardest thing is finding ideas and suitable images to draw,” said Dao Nguyen Ngoc Diep, one of Long’s staff.

“I usually paint landscapes, animals, nature, and traditional patterns. The work here helps me better understand the techniques used in traditional crafts and I can learn how to be creative with discarded objects.”

Through images hand-drawn on each piece of jewellery, Long hopes his art will win favour with Vietnam’s international friends.

“I aim to create a specific product from Vietnam that has both cultural and artistic values,” he explained. “Some artists want to create paintings that are not for everyone but can sell for a lot of money. My art may not be hung in the home but can be worn and shown to all.

“I hope my products will have cultural value for foreigners in Vietnam. From a decorated seashell they can know more about the country, how long its coastline is, where they are at that time, or what landscapes are nearby. And they will appreciate it more as they wear it.”

SPE-SHELL ACCESSORIES: La Nhu Long's collection of seashell jewellery. VNS Photos Diep Nguyen

Long’s creations are selling at his shop for VND100,000-170,000 (US$4.3-7.3) each, depending on the size and material used.

They are still relatively new in the market but he hopes more people will get to know about them as time goes by.

“I have only been doing this for a year or so,” he explained. “We have established a production line already and I’m trying to find ways to bring our products to customers.”

“I’m looking at where we can sell them, and I have also had discussions with some fashion outlets to mix our products with their clothes, so they can see how valuable and practical our jewellery is.” VNS

Bao Hoa & Diep Nguyen

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