Antique bowl kintsugi (+ vintage ceramic lamp)
Updated: Jun 7, 2020
After coming across the beautiful concept of kintsugi, where broken pottery pieces are mended with gold, I was hoping to try it one day. It didn’t quite make sense to break something to do it. And on one serendipitous day, when my friend was showing me around his family’s antique and vintage store, East Inspirations, he told me he had a broken antique bowl ❤
The magic of this project is that the piece comes with a story (or at least bits of interesting facts) – this was what my friend shared with me:
The bowl was sourced from Vietnam likely from the late 1800s, and the type of porcelain is called bleu de chine (blue porcelain)
It was designed in Vietnam (based on the design of the phoenix, which is a different style from those designed in China), but made in China (because China was known for porcelain-ware), for export to Vietnam
The bowl was likely used in an official household / residence in Vietnam (it has the words “内府” at the base of the bowl, which likely refers to the government)
I found a couple of similar bowls on some auction sites, with descriptions that match that of my bowl:
Closed auction listing on Barnebys
Description on Barnebys’ listing: “Hue Blue porcelain in perfect condition with Phoenix pain and Buddhist scrolling. Crafted for the imperial court of Vietnam in the Nguyen dynasty – 19th century. \n\nSold without the stand. Asian Antiques—“
Sold listing on Invaluable.com listing
Description on Invaluable.com listing: “Vietnamese 19th C. Bleu de Hue Porcelain Rice Bowl W/Fenghuang, Buddhist Scroll & Nei Fu Mark (From a Vietnamese Royal Family) – This stunning porcelain rice bowl is elaborately decorated in underglazed blue with a delightful flying fenghuang (phoenix) to the front and a pair of Buddhist scrolls bound with ribbon to the back. It is believed that the Fenghuang only appears in areas or places that are blessed with utmost peace and prosperity or happiness. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace, and is said to represent power sent from the heavens to the Empress. The interior is left undecorated, and the bottom of the base bears the two character Nei Fu mark meaning “Inner Court”. This very high quality porcelain was ordered from China for the court use. Although Chinese artisans executed the painting, Vietnamese rulers dictated the designs. Each ruler ordered ceramics of his own liking for use in his court, as well as presentation pieces to give to members of royal families and mandarin officials. This is an absolutely stunning investment piece that truly belongs in a museum. This piece comes from the estate of a Vietnamese Royal Family (the family now lives in the United States, and wishes to remain private as they still have relatives living in Vietnam).
Feels really special to have a piece at home that comes with a history!
Now back to the bowl I bought – it was in three pieces, and the breaks were extremely clean:
In fact, the breaks were so clean, that when I held the pieces together, there was practically no gap, and you couldn’t really see the lines of breakage! This is amazing, but also posed a challenge later.
I ordered a kintsugi repair kit on Etsy, which was super simple to use – basically mixing the adhesive epoxy with gold dust, and applying the mixture to the joints:
The tricky bit about this is that the mixture basically dries within 5 minutes, so I needed to work relatively quickly. I had originally intended to do it piece by piece (holding one in place first), but realized that 5 minutes wasn’t enough to cover both pieces (actually I could have done it in 2 steps, cos there was a lot of raw material to mix the paste again, but I didn’t feel like wasting any…)
Before I knew it, I had to put everything in place or risk it drying out! Remember I mentioned the extremely clean break made it tricky? This was because there was practically no gap in between the pieces when placed together, so the layer of gold adhesive had to be quite thin, for the pieces to come together. I only realized this as I was trying to piece them together, so I tried my best!
Not so pretty on the inside, cos i forgot to check the insides in my rush to push and hold the pieces together
“内府” at the bottom of the bowl, indicating it was used in an official household / residence
Here’s the final product – with the broken pieces imperfectly held together with the gold adhesive. But I suppose that’s what kintsugi is about, to embrace imperfection (similar to wabi-sabi!) ❤
Duration: 5-10 minutes
Price: antique bowl SGD 60 from East Inspirations, kintsugi repair kit on Etsy ~SGD 40
Level of fun: 2/5
This was quite a simple activity that took only about 5 minutes (before the adhesive dried up!), so I think the concept and anticipation of it made up most of the fun 😀
Level of difficulty: 2/5
The mixing of the adhesive was super simple! Really a very easy to use kit. However, to ensure the joinery is beautiful takes a lot more skill. It’s not difficult to put them together (I think difficulty increases if you have more broken pieces, and if they are smaller in size), but it is difficult to achieve a more perfect finish, which mine probably isn’t!
Bonus floor lamp – made by East Inspirations, using vintage ceramic window grill pieces from 1950s – 1980s Singapore homes
I was looking for a piece of history to add to my home, and my friend suggested a lamp. They had some green bamboo design ceramic window / fence grills, which were for ventilation in old Singapore houses in the 1950s-1980s that have since been torn down. These pieces could be made into a floor lamp (how exciting!).
This was the only image I could find of a ceramic window vent, but the pieces used for my lamp were bamboo shaped
The ceramic pieces were made in Shiwan, and the green glaze is quite typical of daily ware made there – they also make roof tiles with the similar green glaze as well
Image from wikipedia
Here’s what the lamp looked like when it was still work-in-progress – they had to connect 4 of the pieces together:
He showed me a few different lampshade options, and I chose this one:
The lamp is now sitting in a corner at my place, and like he explained to me, the way the light shines both upwards and downwards (vs ceiling lights), does add a different sort of mood to make the space place feel cosier 🙂
Took this other photo during Christmas – I thought the juxtaposition of an Asian-style lamp vs a Christmas tree in two corners of the space was quite interesting 😀
The idea of owning something old, that comes with a history, and was possibly well made (to last for so long) has been growing on me over the years. From vintage bags, a watch, to pieces of clothing, I’m excited to own other pieces to fill my home.
Also, isn’t it just wonderful to buy something that already exists, which doesn’t waste resources or have as much environmental impact compared to buying something new?
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