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Former refugee plants garden of jewels

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Garden of Desire’s Harvest Collection is linked to designer Pisith’s Cambodian roots and celebrates the built, natural and cultural heritage of the Kingdom. SUPPLIED

Former refugee plants garden of jewels

With unique shapes and designs made from a wide range of materials from handcrafted fine silver to natural stones, Garden of Desire is a gallery of creative jewelry exuding an impeccably elegant style that the wearer will treasure as it inspires other’s curiosity.

For instance, one of the best designs is their rattan vine silver ring. Handmade from polished sterling silver, it is formed as a whirl which wraps around the finger.

French-Cambodian co-founder Ly Pisith explains that throughout Cambodian homes and villages the age-old art of weaving is still being practiced, whether of silk textiles, patterned ikat fabrics, woven cotton garments, bamboo baskets, reed mats or rattan furniture.

Part of the shop’s Nature Collection, the rattan vine silver ring pays tribute to this local artistic tradition and to the shape of the rattan vine itself. Rattan is one of the most essential forest products in the greater Mekong region, helping to preserve local livelihoods as export products and material for making furniture or homes.

“I create pieces that are innately linked to my Cambodian roots that celebrate our built, natural and cultural heritage. My interests also pan out across art and design, architecture, music and nature and they inform how I create. Our everyday surroundings are a source of context as well,” Pisith tells The Post.

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Agnes Lim – a Singaporean art curator and jeweler – and designer Ly Pisith are co-founders of Garden of Desire Jewelry. SUPPLIED

After losing much of his family during the war period, Pisith says that Garden of Desire is about creating beautiful things and about the evolution of his relationship to his homeland.

“The roots of Garden of Desire go back almost five decades to the violent reign of the Khmer Rouge, to when as a young Cambodian boy, I was separated from my family and forced to flee to Thailand and, subsequently, France.

“Years later, in my 20s and living in Paris, I found solace working with my hands, making things. And I discovered my vocation in design. I studied at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie in Bordeaux and took courses in graphic art and decoration at the Beaux Art de Paris.

“Afterwards, for years, I worked as a product designer for Alain Mikli, Starck and other international brands in Paris,” Ly Pisith says.

Then his career took him to Singapore where he met Agnes Lim, a local independent art curator and jeweler.

In their conversations together, they found a common passion: jewelry. In 2008, Agnes and Pisith co-founded the Garden of Desire jewelry gallery based in Cambodia.

Garden of Desire showcased contemporary jewelry designed by Pisith and handmade in silver by him and his team of craftsmen.

Silver has been his primary medium of expression and he mainly uses high quality sterling silver 925, fine silver 955, semi-precious stones and grey sandstone from Cambodia and regionally. More recently, he has been experimenting with 24K gold with silver in his creations.

“At Garden of Desire’s workshop, we hand-work each piece from sketch to prototype to finished product,” he says.

Garden of Desire has grown to include two galleries in Siem Reap and one in Phnom Penh. Each of his designs comes as a set that includes ring, necklace, bracelets and earrings, to be purchased together or individually.

He continues talking about the goal of creating the shop that “isn’t just about jewelry. My wish is to also help the next generation of young artisans and sales assistants we’re training,” he says.

He says that people from varied backgrounds view his designs differently and they create their own interpretations and connections, seeing what he doesn’t see and thus creating their own garden of desire.

Pisith refuses to say that his designs are more special than others in any way because he thinks all jewelry makers are unique in their own creations. Jewelry design and making is a very meticulous process and he respects other creators and their efforts.

“As for me, I would see my jewelry as sculptural works that are timeless creations that are compelling and meaningful works of wearable art that resonate with people,” Pisith says.

Their international customer base is a discerning crowd who has a keen eye for art, design and workmanship.

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Their galleries showcase contemporary jewelry designed by Pisith and handmade in silver by him and his team of craftsmen. NATALY LEE

“There is no top or most popular design per say. Garden of Desire is like a treasure trove and my clients tend to know what they want and pick pieces that best suit them,” he says.

At the moment, they are still waiting to reopen the shop in Phnom Penh, but they are hoping to eventually open more locations in the capital. For now, they are selling their jewelry at the Rosewood Hotel Spa and the Trunkh Concept store.

He says it has been an extremely challenging period for them from the start of the pandemic in 2020 through to today and that it has been heartbreaking to see the closure of shops, restaurants, hotels and many other businesses, which in turn has greatly affected the livelihoods of many Cambodians and expatriates who have made Cambodia their home.

“In my 13 years in business, this has been the lowest point of my career. My business saw a steep drop in sales and it has not recovered since without incoming tourists. My dedicated teams of sales assistants and artisans – who are like family and have been with me for more than a decade – need me, and it is just impossible to give up.”

“It has always been my intention to provide enduring long-term employment for them. So, we’ve kept the business afloat with our savings but I am not sure how much longer we can depend on that,” Pisith says.

However, even amid this economic crisis, they have continued designing and creating new pieces in their workshop. During the lockdown he began working on a new collection titled Memories of Landscapes which will be launched very soon. It celebrates nature’s innate resilience and its incredible endurance in the face of myriad challenges.

“We’re working towards creating opportunities beyond Cambodia to allow more people to know about our work – such as establishing partnerships with museum boutiques in San Francisco and Singapore and enhancing our online presence,” says Pisith.

For more information, Garden of Desire Jewelry can be contacted via their Facebook page: @gardenofdesire


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