Ly Sang and the Art of Porcelain by Minh Long

shopping - Saigon/HCMC: June 23, 2017

How did Minh Long I Co, your porcelain company, start?

My family has a long history in the porcelain and tableware business. I’m not sure how many generations, because we emigrated from China. My great-great grandparents came from China to Vietnam to continue their business, and then my father continued it, and then me.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

It’s like our blood is running with the porcelain.

Where did porcelain originate?

Many thousands of years ago it came from China. That’s why it’s colloquially called fine china.

However, today in China, in general, the mass production is still on the low end. They have some good companies, and they have some high-quality porcelain as well, but they don’t produce top quality porcelain. You’ll find the top quality today in Japan. In the past, it was Germany, France. But now it’s definitely Japan.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

Why did Japan rise to the top?

I think it just has to do with the many characteristics that make up quality. The most important part is the material. Secondly, the equipment. And then the formulation of the kaolin as well. If you don’t have the correct formulation, it never goes anywhere. So, in Japan these days, I think the breakthrough is the formulation and materials that they find. It’s pushed the quality of their products up quite a bit.

Where do you source the material that you use for your porcelain?

From all around the world. To have good quality kaolin, we have to balance all sides of the product. The strength, the elasticity, how scratch resistant it is, the translucency... There’s many characteristics, and one mine can’t fulfill all of these qualities. Maybe one has the wetness and one has the elasticity. One has the strength.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

So we have to select the best mines for each quality and mix them. So that’s why our formula becomes very complex.

How does Minh Long make a piece of porcelain?

We have a few processes. Before anything, we have to boil down the raw material, because Minh Long doesn’t buy any processed materials: we buy the raw material straight from the mine. We purify, grind and mix the materials ourselves. After we’ve finished making the porcelain mix, we put it into the machine. The traditional method people used in the past is they melt the clay into a liquid and they fill this liquid clay into water and into a plaster mould made of gypsum. And then they dump all of the water out, and the deposit of the clay left onto the mold forms the shape of the product. And the more contemporary way, they use the machine. The machine is forming, it’s spinning fast. You see in some video that they have a spinning table, and the people use your hand to form it. So it’s the same method, but with the machine. And the most advanced today is what we call high-pressure casting, which also uses liquid, but we use pressure to push the water out. It results in a more even deposit onto the product, and a more complex design for the tableware and the artform, especially for a symmetrical design. But this technology is very complex.

What’s important to customers in high-end porcelain?

First of all it’s the price. Because there’s no doubt about the quality – the quality they can see and feel. Normally the price is not so sensitive to certain levels of quality, but because our product is made in Vietnam, the reputation cannot compare with Japan, Germany or France. In branding we cannot compete despite our high level of quality, which people can see.

minh longImage source: Ly Sang - Minh Long

What should a customer look for when assessing the quality of a porcelain product?

When you buy a piece of porcelain, you can’t know how strong the product is until it breaks. The only visual difference you can see is the glossiness and the whiteness. But there are many ways to cheat the glossiness. They can put lead inside. It’s very glossy, but it’s very soft on the glazed surface. So the end consumer cannot tell. Is it glossy from lead, or is it lead-free?

Our products are lead-free. It’s important to trust the quality of a company.

Banner image source: Ly Sang - Minh Long