Situated about 15 kilometers from Hanoi, Kieu Ky village boasts a history of more than 400 years during which it has been known around the country for producing top-quality gold and silver leaves widely used in gilding.
Despite the vagaries of time, the village's craft of gold-beating is still thriving. Around 50 families are now active in the business with hundreds of workers though many other crafts have been dying out in Vietnam.
Senior villagers said they used to have to go through 40 stages to produce gold leaves, but now the amount of work has been reduced by half. Despite the simplification, giay quy -- a kind of paper parchment used to protect gold leaves during the process of beating -- still plays the most important part and decides the leaves' quality, they said.
Kieu Ky people make the parchment from traditional do paper and a special homemade ink. To make the ink, villagers first knead pine resin with sawdust to make balls as big as an adult’s toe. The best sawdust is said to be from longan wood.
They burn the balls to make soot. Every 10 kilograms of pine resin produce only 100 grams of soot.
Artisans knead the soot with hide glue, and then filter the mixture until no residue or lump is left. Later they put the mixture on to boil. When it cools down the mixture thickens, and it is then mixed with hide glue again to produce a kind of thick, black "ink". Finally, the ink is spread on do paper to make giay quy, but the parchment is not ready for use until it gets hammered.
Artisans arrange strips or square pieces of giay quy layer by layer and hammer them for a while, and then take them apart to apply the ink again. When the ink is dry, they beat and ink the parchment once more.
They melt a mace, or 3.75 grams, of gold, and mold it into a 10-centimeter long bar which is later hammered until it is as long as two meters. They then cut the stretched gold sheet into pieces of one square centimeter each.
The gold pieces are laid between layers of parchment. The stacks are then tied and dried overnight. After that artisans wrap the stacks tightly in fabric and hammer them until the gold leaf covers the entire parchment without being broken.
Artisans cut each gold leaf into 16 smaller pieces and hammer them again. Each stage of hammering can take them nearly an hour to achieve the desired thinness.
Once the hammering work is done, artisans remove the gold leaves from their parchment and place them between papers measuring 5 square centimeters.
Each stack has 500 gold leaves, and Kieu Ky artisans can produce 22 stacks, or 11,000 leaves, from a mace of gold. The leaves, when laid out on a surface, can cover an area of nearly one square meter.
Hanoi's Son Dong Village, which is famous for the craft of gilding, is the biggest consumer of Kieu Ky gold leaves. Gilders do their job indoors and behind curtains, or the wind could blow away the thin, light gold or silver leaves.
Original Vietnamese story can be found here