The story of Madame Nguyễn Cao Kỳ

Mr. C.K. Chu, the father of one of the founders of ILIA, has been collecting fine jadeites since 1960s.  He always has many fascinating stories about jadeite to share with his descendants. In 1978, one of his friends who lived in Los Angeles called him and told him there was a lady who had collected multiple pieces of jadeite jewellery and wanted to sell some of them, only his friend didn’t disclose the name of the lady.  Mr. Chu had some instinct and special feeling that this might be a good opportunity, and he decided to make a trip to the United States from Hong Kong to meet this lady and learn about her treasures.

A week later, Mr. Chu arrived at his friend’s jewellery store in Los Angeles Chinatown and waited to meet this mysterious lady.  Later on, an elegant lady at about forty years old appeared.  Mr. Chu quickly recognized her as Dang Tuyet Mai, the wife of Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky of South Vietnam during 1960s. Madame Nguyen was often reported by the media in the 60s and 70s as the most beautiful first lady (or wife of Vice President to be exact).

During the Vietnam War, the vice president fled to the United States with his family after their defeat at the war. Prior to their defeat, South Vietnam was supported by America to fight against the communist forces in North Vietnam. After the United States withdrew their forces from Vietnam, South Vietnam was quickly conquered by North Vietnam. Before that, the US government had already arranged for Vice President Nguyen and his wife to be sent to the United States.

Madame Nguyen took out a few jadeite beauties to show Mr. Chu. Each one was top quality, imperial green jadeite piece with fine texture and high translucency.  Madame Nguyen said, “When my husband and I were in Vietnam before the war, we had lots of real estate properties and cash.  However, in the later period of the war, everything could not be taken with us. The only high value items that were compact enough to be packed in the escape were jewellery.” And when she arrived in the United States, she relied on this batch of jewellery to provide her with money in cash.  She bought homes and properties in Los Angeles and lived a comfortable new life there.  On that day, Mr. Chu bought a jadeite pendant and two jadeite rings from Madame Nguyen for around USD 400,000 which in the 70s was an astronomical figure (note: in the 70s, a small residential flat in Hong Kong was worth USD 10,000 only).

This story brings out a truth that when there is social unrest or war, other assets cannot be easily taken away except for jewellery.  Madame Nguyen’s wise investment on fine jewellery had changed the path of her life.


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