The Buyers Guide to Genuine Vietnamese Lacquerware

A problem those keen on collecting lacquerware items face is: How can you tell if it’s real?

Whilst we at Silkwood Traders know our items are all genuine because we have built personal relationships with the designers and makers in Vietnam, that doesn’t mean each and every piece outside of the lacquer selling community is bound to be.

Experienced enthusiasts say that good lacquer can be identified with a scrupulous and attentive eye. They say that synthetic lacquer is both more opaque and less shiny when it is compared to sơn ta (vegetable lacquer). 

However, sometimes the immediately obvious differences are both subtle, and deliberately disguised by artists who use multiple types of resin on the same object. The final outcome is of course that one of the final layers of lacquer used is from the cây sơn tree, which on the surface, makes it appear real! 

These deliberate disguises make it almost impossible to instantly identify the real from the not so real. The only thing that will reveal the true nature of the products is unfortunately the test of time. 

Over time the colour of synthetic lacquer will fade, and it will begin to blister on poorly dried objects like lacquerware pieces made from bamboo wood. 

In the meantime though we’ve compiled three quick tips that should help eager buyers wishing to buy genuine lacquerware in Vietnam. 

Read More: About Our Products

What’s the Material Made From?

Lacquerware can be made from a whole host of different materials including metals, plastics, wood and even stone! On the surface, this makes it difficult to narrow down just what would be a genuine lacquer product or not. 

So, instead of using our eyes: We can use our touch. How does the material feel to your hand? Is it smooth or jagged? Does it feel easily breakable or bendable, or does it feel solid?

Lacquerware possesses qualities like durability and firmness, making it able to withstand all of life’s little knocks and scrapes. These qualities only become apparent if the correct material is used as a base, however. 

One way to get a clue as to whether the correct type of material matches how the item feels is to check any accompanying leaflet or label. A genuine Vietnamese lacquer product will predominantly be made of wood, either rose, cherry, jackfruit or walnut. Alternatively wood fibre board and also bamboo wood can be used. 

If the item feels solid in your hand, and its recorded material seems to match up to the touch of it, it’s likely to be genuine. 

Is the Lacquer the Real Deal?

Traditionally Vietnamese lacquerware will be coated with layers and layers of lacquer. These are added over a three month period where the layers are allowed to dry, before being sanded and then reapplied. 

Eventually this process is what gives the lacquerware its depth of colour and glossy look and feel, as well as its ability to look brand new even years later. 

Lacquerware coated with synthetic forms of varnish is considered to be easier to maintain as of course the synthetic varnish all but protects the piece for a period of time. On this point we leave it up to buyer preference. Some buyers may not mind synthetic materials as of course there is less care involved, whereas some buyers will want to buy lacquer and nothing less.

Remember that genuine Vietnamese lacquerware will be made from repeated layers of lacquer sourced from the cây sơn tree and will withhold its original quality, depth of colour and robustness, whereas synthetic lacquerware will eventually fade over time but will be easier to maintain in the meantime. 

Read More: Caring for Your Vietnamese Lacquerware

What’s The Price?

If it’s not possible to establish whether a piece is genuine or not just by looking at it, or feeling it, a final way to be able to distinguish is by price. 

The price of lacquerware entirely depends on the average price for each manufacturing area within Vietnam. The production process of lacquerware entirely varies depending on the area, which consequently impacts the prices for manufacture. Whilst one lacquerware bowl might be priced at around 10,000 Vietnamese dong due to the three months of work that has gone into creating it, another bowl may be priced at 5,000 because it is smaller or has used less materials, yet is still of high quality and striking beauty.

In order to weigh this up, research market prices in each area by conducting your research. You could even try asking local trusted experts. Alternatively if the option is available to you, pay a visit to shops who actively promote relationships with genuine suppliers when you can. 

Armed with that information you will begin to know which prices look too good to be true, and you won’t mind paying that little bit more for the items that look and feel high quality. 

Finally, if you are unable to ascertain what the average cost is for each  manufacturing area, you could check to see if the product you’re buying has a traditional seal or artists mark on it. Some artists will leave a tiny, signature like mark or other traditional technique so that buyers can identify the piece was handmade with love, time and care!

If you’re about to embark in your lacquerware buying journey in Vietnam  we hope you found our tips useful! 

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