The wisdom of silver prakuam production in Surin province in Thailand has been passed on from generation to generation for hundreds of years. Prakuam is a Khmer term referring to rounded silver engraved beads, threaded together to make beautiful body ornaments. It is unique in its look, pattern, and the production process -- which utilizes 100% silver. Although this cultural heritage should be preserved, it should also be adapted to the contemporary world which will ensure that the silver prakuam production will not become just another cultural artifact.

Mr. Jitsing Somboon, former head designer of Playground by Greyhound, was invited by The Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand or GIT to be the mentor in the Gems Treasures project, which aimed to help local artisans develop Surin silver jewelry to become more modern and unique.

"…The skills of the silversmiths in Surin are exceptional. They have created fine silver jewelry pieces", Mr. Somboon said. "However, I wondered why many people wear silver jewelry only when they go to cultural functions, not use it in daily life. Why can't it be worn at parties rather than paired with a traditional Thai costume? Or why can't it be worn with a simple black t-shirt without following tradition?"

With these questions, Mr. Somboon along with local entrepreneurs participating in the project worked together to seek local unique identities to be used in jewelry design. The rule-breaking designer came up with five pieces of jewelry, while other local entrepreneurs made two modern pieces of their own.

"I asked them how silver accessories in Surin differ from those in Chiang Mai. They said the prakuam (silver beads) is unique to the local area. But to the eyes of an outsider, there's not much difference between what they do and what the hilltribe people do. Therefore, I advised them to find unique characteristics of Surin silver jewelry," he said. "I also designed five pieces of jewelry using the technique of weaving because I like that the word "weaving" in Thai (jak sarn) rhymes with Isan, which refers to the Northeastern region of Thailand. It also showed the link between Thai and Khmer culture."

Inspired by Khmer alphabets and belief in the power of amulets, Mr.Somboon created the silver jewelry collection under the concept "Stunning Surin".

"…I like street art and I thought it will help me present Surin's local jewelry in a new modern design. I used several techniques in this collection, for example, placing the silver engraved beads together into the word Sawasdee [in Thai alphabet] in the typography of ancient Thai text," Mr. Somboon explained. "For another piece, I mixed Khmer alphabet design with silver lines and made it looked like the wickerwork. Another one was like people wearing amulets."

He added that the Gems Treasure project is a good initiative which allowed him to help Surin local artisans to improve their jewelry designs. Although his participation in the project could not change the design and production of Surin's silver jewelry completely overnight, but it has already inspired local artisans to take on a different perspective in creating contemporary jewelry and also urged them to pass on their outstanding craftmanship skills to the next generation.