Greg Hitz, co-founder of the made-in-Saigon jewellery company Armory, didn’t even wear a piece until he was 25 and backpacking through India, where male jewellery is part of everyday life. And most pieces had a story attached.
“It was either a symbol for affection: `My wife’s father gave this to me on our wedding day’; `I bought this for myself when I returned from the army’. Or jewellery served as an extension of identity: `I’m Sikh and I wear this to remind me to do God’s work’.”
“I thought this was really cool,” Greg saidl. “For men and women, jewellery seemed to be a part of them. Like a tattoo you could take off.”
Greg bought himself a few bracelets but wasn’t happy with the way they slid up and down his wrist. When he returned to Vietnam he tried — and failed — to find something more comfortable.
That’s when Greg and his girlfriend Oanh, who grew up running between the stalls of her family’s business at Ben Thanh Market, decided to create a range of comfortable and stylish unisex bracelets and dog-tag necklaces.
Every day Greg and Oanh travel to metal street, Ha Ton Quyen in District 5, to ensure they get the best metals. Silver comes from northern Vietnam. Brass and Copper from Italy or Japan.
Then the couple go back to their workshop and begin cutting and hammering.
“The hammer hardens and shapes the bracelet,” Greg said. “You need around 300 hammer strikes per bracelet. The heaviest strikes come on the ends to create a flared look. We intermittently heat up the bracelet to soften the metal and make it more pliable.”
The bracelets are then filed and twisted into shape. “This is done by hand and takes some real strength,” he said. “We take the metal bend it around an oval shaped tool we cut from a tree stump. This creates the oval shape that our customers have come to love and expect from Armory. A shape that hugs the wrist and makes it easy to take on and off.”
Any engraving is done with a laser, and the final step is branding the piece with the Armory logo, the ancient Vietnamese character for hammer or hard work.
“A tremendous amount of hammer and hard work goes into each bracelet,” Greg said. “We hope when our customers wear them, they can summon some of that resolve into their own lives. That they’re reminded of their own personal power — their `Armory’.”