We concluded our excursion on the Mekong with visits to many hard-working families that use local materials to produce a variety of handicrafts and home essentials. Echoing Nina’s combination of focus and creativity, these often women-led businesses demonstrated a relaxed spirit of entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
In fact, I later learned why it was common to see so much self-starting industriousness throughout my travels in Vietnam—95% of Vietnamese support capitalism, by far more than any other country (including the USA) surveyed by the Pew Research Center. With careful planning by our guide, we took to the canals and paths of Tân Phong island and nearby areas to meet as many of these women as we could.
Rice noodles before the strips
Starting by sampan (flat bottomed small wooden boat), we cut through a lush section of Tân Phong to see the first shops before switching to bikes to complete our tour. Among the reed hat makers, tapioca-derived lacework artisans, hanging basket weavers, and others, my favorite was the ease with which a woman could carry on a casual conversation with Nina while also swiftly thatching a roof panel from nipa palm and the comradery among those selling beautiful baskets made from water hyacinth. While I didn’t bring home any thatch roofing, my daughters do now delight in having a sampan-shaped hyacinth basket to display geodes and other little travel treasures.
We also passed by many of the larger businesses along the main tributary of the Mekong. Sunday morning activity was light, but the size and number of the operations displayed the productivity of the region. The most notable buildings to any river traveler are the beehive-shaped earthen kilns rising dozens of feet above the banks of the river. Fed by massive baskets of rice hulls, these ovens typically dry bricks but also the pottery commonly seen throughout Saigon and further afield.
As our guide directs our boat to Vinh Long for the shuttle back to Saigon, we take with us an increased appreciation for the favors, sights, and people of the Mekong Delta. Seeing Nina’s team produce her stunning vision of the Mekong collection reminds me that Saigon is reflection of its place in the Mekong Delta.
Gems must be on my mind because the colorful fruits along the Mekong provide subtle reminders of the multi-colored sapphires and diamonds embedded in gold bangles back at the studio.
In this instance, I’m admiring a woven basket holding bright red dragon fruit and yellow mango aboard our boat rounding Tân Phong island. Nina breaks open the scaly, layered folds of the dragon fruit to reveal a delicate white flesh studded with black seeds. The texture and flavor is much less dramatic than its appearance, reminiscent of a kiwi fruit. This contrasts with the meaty flavor of yesterday’s jack fruit. Meaty, really? Surprisingly, jack fruit is a hearty carnitas substitute for the vegan taco-lover.
Of course, the Mekong Delta offers much more than just tropical fruit. An early morning walk to the market at Hoà Ninh reveals the raw bounty of the region, especially the seafood or I should say riverfood. Bags of dried shrimp sit alongside buckets of live fish, eels, snakes, and frogs at the waterfront. Avoiding a catfish leaping from a bucket, I move to wander through the less animated stalls of produce, baked goods, and household items.
Heading back to our homestay, we watch a busy couple deliver blocks of ice by boat, reminding me of ca phe sua da back at the homestay. A day on the Mekong (really, any day in Vietnam) is not complete until a delicious iced coffee with milk is at hand. Vietnamese coffee is very dark, strong, and bitter so the condensed milk and ice create the perfect balance.
Packed up and back on the river, we enjoy snacks of coconut-sweetened tapioca with sticky rice wrapped in green banana leaves and jasmine green tea as we head to the homes of artisans scattered throughout the region.
In the next post, I’ll share more about how the women we meet create both practical and beautiful items with local materials like water hyacinth and nipa palm.
Pantone Spring 2017 – Lapis Blue
Pantone has selected their colors for Spring 2017 and I’m thrilled about the color palate, especially as one of them is named Lapis Blue. I’m crazy about Lapis and I’ve been incorporating it into my line for quite some time. I even tried some different shapes of this mesmerizing blue in my new fine jewelry Heritage Collection.
Nina Nguyen Designs, Spirit Earrings, 14k yellow gold, lapis
Lapis lazuli has long been regarded as the stone of wisdom and truth. It is associated with the Greek Goddess Athena who was notorious for her keen intellect and strategic planning.
Lapis – The Stone of Wisdom
The history between humans and lapis dates back to 6,500 B.C. when enthusiasts would travel over treacherous mountain terrain to secure some of this deep dark blue. Back in the day Lapis was prized as much as turquoise and sapphire. Not only was it used in jewelry, but it was also crushed up and used for medicinal purposes. Additionally, it’s been known to be used as a cosmetic!
Nina Nguyen Designs, Heritage Necklette, 14k yellow gold, lapis
Folklore also tells us that lapis lazuli was a powerful talisman that purified the soul. The Egyptians were rumored to crush up lapis and gold to make a mask placed on the forehead said to remove demons as it dried. I find it so fascinating that gemstones had such significant meaning in ancient times.
Nina Nguyen Designs, Spirit Ring, sterling silver, lapis
This stunning stone is roughly associated with the astrological sign Sagittarius, but any sign can rock this stone. I’m not sure I believe the hype, so instead of crushing them for medicine or make-up I will wrap my harmony lapis necklette around my wrist on days I need a pick me up! Gemstones have a mystery and power all their own that we may never truly understand.
Nina Nguyen Designs, Heirloom Bracelet, 22k vermeil, lapis
October brings sweater weather, fall foliage and most importantly tourmaline, one of my favorite gemstones. October’s birthstone claims my attention because of its vibrant hues, its variety and its powerful metaphysical properties.
Nina Nguyen Designs, Adorn Bangle, 14k yellow gold, pink tourmaline
This stunning beauty was first discovered in the 1500s. The first one found had a deep green hue and was originally claimed as emerald. It’s no surprise that the word tourmaline actually means ‘mixed gems’ in Sinhalese (native tongue of Sri Lanka). Its striking colors often had miners confuse this beauty with a variety of gemstones before it was determined that this gorgeous gem belongs in a class all its own. I don’t think tourmaline gets enough credit for its beauty and versatility. I love using it in my work!
Legend has it that tourmaline traveled to earth through the rainbow, hence the reason it comes in every hue imaginable. Tourmaline is attributed the powerful metaphysical properties of deep enlightenment, power over spiritual affairs and can quell opposition. According to alchemist folklore, this ‘philosopher’s stone’ is also said to have the power to turn base metal into gold! Do you believe the hype? Pink tourmaline, which you’ll find featured in my new Heritage collection, is believed to be the stone of love and communication.
Nina Nguyen Designs, Adorn Ring, 14k yellow gold, pink tourmaline
Even if we can’t confirm the myths and magic around this stone, there is no denying its beauty. The metaphysical properties of gemstones used to be perceived as fact, just as it was accepted that the earth was flat. Perhaps we put more value on science than the spirits these days, but these properties were so widely accepted that they carried over to modern day. Birthstones are still given as gifts. This tradition has been passed along from ancient times when a birthstone was given to a baby’s parents to keep the child safe and sound. I like to believe they still bring a lot of that love and positive energy to any recipient. It’s my favorite gift to give.
Nina Nguyen Designs, Heritage Necklette, 14k yellow gold, tourmaline
We’re celebrating Spring, 2015 here at Nina Nguyen Designs, and are excited to announce “Harmony,” a beautiful addition to the Nina Nguyen Wisteria Collection.
Harmony embraces the best of the 2015 jewelry trends, including layering, the beauty of natural stones and beaded jewelry, which unite to create THE fashion statement piece your jewelry wardrobe can’t live without!
Available in a variety of gemstone choices including Garnet, Amethyst, Aquamarine, White Topaz, Emerald, Moonstone, Ruby, Peridot, Sapphire, Pink Topaz, Citrine and Blue Topaz, Harmony features the exclusive “Necklette” design, a favorite of Nina Nguyen jewelry fans. A fabulous hybrid between a beautiful, bold necklace and a bracelet, the Necklette easily allows for fashion forward versatility which is a huge plus for fans of the Nina Nguyen brand.
Harmony features an ombre mix of 4mm Rondel gemstone beads in a variety of colors that lend themselves to mixing, matching and layering. Want to go for a bolder effect? Stack or entwine several of your Harmony favorites together to create a dazzling gemstone “Collar.”
And don’t forget the arm candy! The exclusive Necklette design makes every Harmony necklace instantly able to convert into a delicious rainbow of fun for your eyes and your wrist.
“Most of us returned from our last vacation with a suitcase crammed with souvenirs of questionable quality; Nina Nguyen, on the other hand, brought back inspiration for her latest collection. Her travels to Bali were the seed of the Zen collection. It consists of colorful Druzy and turquoise stones cut into geometric shapes and set in sterling silver with a 22K gold overlay.”
– INSTORE Magazine
Nina’s Fall 2014 ‘Zen Collection’, inspired by her recent vacation in Bali, merges Zen with the Art of Geometric thinking.
More than just jewelry, the “Zen Collection,” is a lifestyle statement, created to reflect the belief that keeping it simple is key to a happier life. The “Zen Collection” combines curves, angles and gemstones in a visually stunning presentation which embraces Zen ideals of doing more with less, and elevates jewelry from a physical object to a spiritual experience.
Complementing the minimalist design, Nina chose amethyst, sand, black and snowy white druzy along with turquoise as the stone for this collection. Drawing from her love of nature and travel, Nina continues to design fashion-forward collections using all-natural stones.
All pieces of Nina Nguyen Designs ‘Zen Collection’ is now available for purchase from retail partners in the United States and abroad.