Silversmithing is an ancient art that spans centuries and cultures. In Cambodia – where silver has long been the country’s most precious metal – it is about 1,000 years old, peaking in the 11th century during the Angkor empire, and then plunging into decline during the brutal Pol Pot regime in the 1970s. Fortunately, in more recent decades, as the country has continued to rebuild itself, Khmer silversmithing has made a comeback, with local artisans and jewellers revitalising artistic traditions.
Garden of Desire’s jewellery pieces are all created at its Siem Reap-based atelier by founder-designer Ly Pisith and his team of highly-skilled artisans. In choosing silver as the primary medium for his artistic language, Pisith has selected not only a historic material, but one with unique transformative qualities.
Some pieces, brightly polished to a high sheen, give off a hard, metallic blaze. Others have a soft, subtle patina reminiscent of antique Khmer silverware. Traditional techniques such as hand hammering and punching lend pieces a timeless, handmade quality; the addition of semi-precious stones and unusual materials such as grey sandstone, introduce new attributes. Intricate filigree work makes reference to Khmer silversmithery’s little-known Muslim heritage; a more contemporary treatment turns out modern, sculptural pieces.
At Garden of Desire’s workshop, Pisith and his artisans hand-work each piece. They make items in limited quantities – from sketch to prototype to finished product. Simple tools, techniques and materials are used, but the objects created are compelling and meaningful works of wearable art.