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What is it about silver that draws us?
Across many cultures exist legends about the magical qualities of silver… its supernatural ability to ward off evil (as well as vampires and werewolves), its purported healing properties in ancient alchemy, its rumoured ability to detect poison, its folkloric incorruptibility, its mystical connection to the moon…
Then there’s its sheer beauty… its pure, bright sheen unmatched by any other metal, its powerfully sensual, tactile allure. Worn against the skin, silver feels cool. Yet it gradually warms to the touch, alive and responsive, becoming as if one with the wearer.
These qualities, both material and mythical, render silver timeless, destined to be forever desired. The fact is: silver fascinates mankind and always will.
Silversmithing is an ancient art that spans centuries and cultures. In Cambodia – where silver has long been the country’s most precious metal – the art of silversmithing is more than 1,000 years old. It peaked in the 11th century during the Angkor empire and, eight centuries later, plunged into decline during the brutal Pol Pot regime in the 1970s and the economic crisis that followed.
Fortunately, in recent decades, as the country has continued to rebuild itself, Khmer silversmithing has made a comeback, with local artisans and jewellers revitalising age-old artistic traditions in the crafting of silverware and silver jewellery. Garden of Desire is one such jeweller.
In choosing silver as his primary medium of expression, the brand’s founder-designer Ly Pisith has selected not only a historic material, but one with unique transformative qualities. Some of his pieces, brightly polished to a high sheen, give off a hard, metallic blaze. Others have a soft, subtle patina reminiscent of antique Khmer silverware. All of them are created at Garden of Desire’s Siem Reap-based atelier by Pisith and his team of highly-skilled artisans.
The team uses methods that treat their regionally-sourced materials – 955 fine silver, 925 sterling silver, 24K gold, local sandstone and semi-precious stones – with respect. For the best possible results, modern-day or regional silversmithing processes are sometimes utilised to complement traditional, local techniques.
Mostly, Pisith and his team use a combination of methods such as carving, casting, assemblage, hammering and polishing. Some pieces are created using the ancient and widespread lost-wax casting method in which a design is first hand-carved in wax, then imprinted by the setting of a mould around the wax carving which melts away, culminating in molten silver being poured into the mould and allowed to set.
Local, traditional hand-working techniques such as hammering and punching further shape and texture the silver items individually. Each piece’s various components are often also soldered into shape, then assembled by hand, filed to finetune their form, and then polished. Lastly, selected items are additionally set with semi-precious stones and grey sandstone pieces hand-carved by a specialist sandstone carver.
Throughout the processes of making, as Pisith and his artisans hand-work each piece, they take care to shape each one to the human body. A good, comfortable fit that feels snug yet light to the touch is important to the team. 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 ultimately compelling and meaningful works of wearable, desirable art.