The Art of Shell Inlay at Hoi An’s Kim Bong Village

The single-craft carpentry village of Kim Bong, just outside of Hoi An, has a long history having been established towards the late 15th century when Hoi An was a bustling trading port. Its strategic location on the Thu Bon River made it ideal for transporting large pieces of lumber cheaply and easily.

Today, visitors to this quaint village are still welcomed by the sound of hammers and saws and can watch as artisans and craftsmen engage in all sorts of woodworking, creating everything from simple furniture to ornate carvings.

One of the most labor- and time-intensive crafts, though, is the inlay of shells, creating beautiful, luminous works of art in wood.

It’s said that the art of shell inlay has been practiced in Vietnam for centuries, taking advantage of one of the gifts of the sea along its thousands of kilometers of coastline. The craft is said to have originated in Northern Vietnam with the earliest written references to shell inlay dating back from the third to fifth centuries.

At the Kim Bong Village, not much has changed in the centuries-old techniques used to make these beautiful decorations.

The first step is securing the shells which are often from pearl oysters and other mollusks and prized for their strength, gorgeous iridescent colors and resilience. The shells used in Kim Bong Village are said to come from the seaside town of Nha Trang, further north up the coast.

Next, the shells are soaked in water to make them pliable, and then flattened.

The artist next outlines shapes to cut out.

Because of their fragility, each piece must be cut by hand using a jigsaw, requiring extreme patience, a steady hand and great attention to detail.

Just imagine the incredible precision needed to craft all these delicate and complicated pieces!

From there, the pieces are roughly assembled onto the wood surface.

Once everything is in place, their positions are marked…

… providing a clearer picture of what the finished product will look like.

The Vietnamese use two types of shell inlay. The first is where the shells are placed on top of the wood, producing an almost 3-D effect. However, the more beautiful and highly prized type requires hollowing out a shallow design in the wood and inlaying the shells resulting in a perfectly smooth surface.

This, of course, adds more time and complexity to the process, but the final result is stunning.

Now comes time to dab a bit of glue on each piece…

… before carefully arranging it in the correct location.

The work is slow-going and methodical, not unlike working on a very pretty jigsaw puzzle!

Afterwards, the whole surface is sanded down and coats of lacquer are added…

… to give the final product a lovely gloss, a beautiful souvenir of Hoi An with a thousand-year-old story.

One of the joys of exploring Hoi An is the incredible diversity of arts and crafts, history, countryside, riverside and beach, truly something for everyone!

Why not let Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa arrange a visit to the amazing Kim Bong Carpentry Village on one of our river excursions that leave right from our own jetty? Ideally situated with the Cua Dai Beach on one side and the Thu Bon River on the other, and just 10 minutes via complimentary shuttle from the Ancient Town of Hoi An, Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa makes the ideal base from which to explore everything this UNESCO-listed town has to offer!

Read more about the village of Kim Bong and all our other posts from Hoi An!

The Art of Shell Inlay at Hoi An’s Kim Bong Village
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Comments (2)

    Hung Pham

    Thank you so much for such an informational article on the art of Vietnamese shell inlay. These are seen everywhere in Vietnam but not too many of us realize how much work went into the beautiful products. As a lover of Vietnam travel, I truly appreciate all the articles you have written here. Please keep up the good work!

    Reply
      James Pham

      Thanks so much, Hung! It’s fascinating how much work goes into the crafts of Vietnam. Thanks for reading our blog!

      Reply