Turn­ing de­struc­tive items into beauty

The Phnom Penh Post - - LIFESTYLE - Hong Raksmey

LOTUSES, the Tree of Life, leafs, doves – these have been pop­u­lar de­signs for jew­ellery from time im­memo­rial. At Angkor Bul­let Jew­ellery they prove to be big sell­ers as well. How­ever, the ma­te­rial used may turn some heads.

Thoeun Chan­tha, who founded Angkor Bul­let Jew­ellery, lost loved ones, in­clud­ing his par­ents, through the rav­ages of war in the days of the Kh­mer Rouge. Af­ter their pass­ing, he had to learn at a very young age to care for him­self.

To cope with his loss, he used the very ob­jects that took his loved ones away to cre­ate beau­ti­ful pieces of jew­ellery and or­na­ments.

Chan­tha re­alises that us­ing dif­fused bomb­shells and spent bul­lets in his cre­ations may make some peo­ple un­easy.

“It does not mean I want to see a lot of shoot­ing in or­der to col­lect the bul­let shells to make jew­ellery. I know that guns killed my fa­ther and sep­a­rated my fam­ily,” Chan­tha says.

Re­call­ing the death of his fa­ther, who died on the bat­tle­field fight­ing for the fledg­ling gov­ern­ment army fight­ing off the rem­nants of the Kh­mer Rouge, Chan­tha says: “At that time I was too young, I did not know the mean­ing of death. When some­one told me that my fa­ther had died, I still did not un­der­stand.”

With no par­ent to look af­ter him – his mother had died a few years ear­lier of mal­nu­tri­tion in the Kh­mer Rouge hotspot of Pur­sat prov­ince – he went to live with his grand­fa­ther un­til he was old enough in the early 1990s to be­come a jew­ellery-mak­ing ap­pren­tice for an NGO, SKIP.

Af­ter four years, he left SKIP to be­come a jew­eller for an­other or­gan­i­sa­tion.

As the price of sil­ver in­creased in the early 2000s, the or­gan­i­sa­tion strug­gled to keep it­self afloat. So when he re­mem­bered the time a cus­tomer brought in a bomb­shell as a dec­o­ra­tive item, he felt he had found a great so­lu­tion.

“At that time, I dif­fused shells and showed them to the man­age­ment, ex­plain­ing that they can be used in­stead of sil­ver,” Chan­tha says.

The fa­ther of two says: “I used bul­let shells from a gun and large bomb­shells to show to for­eign­ers to help them un­der­stand the dif­fi­cul­ties the Cam­bo­dian peo­ple have faced.

“I be­lieve the prod­ucts are re­minders of the un­for­tu­nate ex­pe­ri­ences of my coun­try and peo­ple, and what we can achieve now.

“I take am­mu­ni­tion that has killed mil­lions of Cam­bo­di­ans and trans­form them into ob­jects that rep­re­sent beauty, hope, en­ergy and strength.”

Af­ter sav­ing up money, in 2011, Chan­tha left the or­gan­i­sa­tion to start his own busi­ness.

With a small bud­get to buy some ma­te­ri­als and help from friends to buy some im­por­tant items, his small team of crafts­men and ap­pren­tices can now pro­duce 100 to 300 items a day.

For some cus­tomers, Chan­tha ad­mits, look­ing at the jew­ellery could take them aback.

“At first, Ja­panese tourists were con­cerned when we showed them the bul­let-made jew­ellery, be­cause Ja­pan also deals with the af­ter­math of war.

“But when we ex­plained the rea­sons we used such items in our cre­ations, they ap­pre­ci­ated the fact and bought some pieces as sou­venirs to take back to their home coun­try,” he says.


Thoeun Chan­tha shows off some of the ma­te­rial he uses to make jew­ellery.


An ar­ti­san works on a bracelet made from spent bul­let shells.

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