Located 15 minutes away from popular Ben Thanh market are a collection of streets dedicated to selling one of the widest ranges of jewellery you can find in Ho Chi Minh City. Set within urban District 5, well known for its Chinese community, this area is teaming with street food sellers, bike vendors and local people going about their normal day.
Look closer at the stores that line this street and you will see square signs with a gold-coloured diamond shape, imprinted on a black background. These signs are placed outside over 40 stores on Nhieu Tam Street, with a small extension into Nghia Thuc and Bui Huu Nghia streets. The signs signify that you have arrived at the recently inaugurated ‘Jewellery Street’, a designation agreed to by the People’s Committee of District 5 in late April this year.
Each retailer offers a certain type of metal, some more specialised than others. Diem owns and operates Kim Ngan II (3C and 4C Nhieu Tam, Q5). The store holds the only supply of white gold in the entire street, imported from Laos and Korea. Her most expensive piece is a 40g white gold necklace which costs approximately US$2,000 (VND46 million). “Beautiful and heavy,” says Diem.
Her most popular items are more understated: “I sell many small pieces, earrings and small necklaces that are maybe US$100.” She opened her first store with her parents in 1998. Business was good and she now has a second store that supplies her product to wholesale customers. All four members of her family work seven days a week.
From morning until night, she sits behind a glass-encased counter that wraps around in a square, horseshoe shape. There are over a hundred pieces of jewellery on show from 7.30am to 6pm.
“I like my job and this is a good life,” says Diem. “I know everyone,” she says about other retailers in the same business. Other shops stock a wide selection of local gold, priced between US$15 for a pair of baby earrings to US$500 for a heavy-set necklace, all of which are designed to impress.
Husband and wife, Minh and Nguyet, own the store Minh-Duc (14 Nhieu Tam, Q5). Originally from Hue, they have been exclusively selling silver for 15 years and customers come from all over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to pick up their orders. This is a wholesale store but if a customer likes a piece, it’s no problem to sell it individually. A small bracelet is approximately US$5 (VND114,000) and larger orders are priced at around VND50,000 per gram.
“I see some foreign customers but they just come to look,” Nguyet says. The jewellery is made at a factory, but in the future, she will have someone at the store to demonstrate. The silver is imported from Italy and China. Ten employees can be seen packaging and labelling the hundreds of bangles, rings and necklaces that are on display. If a piece does not sell, it is taken away to be re-made into another product.
This small section of the city gives you the opportunity to see and smell District 5 the way the locals do. The energy created by the closely situated Hoa Binh Market means you can experience a perspective away from the usual tourist-heavy attractions, with a side of sparkle. It is conveniently located between Thien Hau and Quan Am Temples and is worth a stop if you are in need of any bling or local produce.
Kim Ngan II is located at 3C and 4C Nhieu Tam, Q5 and is open every day from 7.30am to 6pm. Minh-Duc is located at 14 Nhieu Tam, Q5 and is open Monday to Saturday from 7am to 8pm, and Sunday 7am to 4pm
Photos by Bao Zoan