There’s no doubt how beautiful bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings and furniture made of buffalo and cow horns are. Seeing people wearing pieces of jewelry that are made from horns is not too rare, but looking for these treasures’ makers may be a little too difficult to do.
It’s not at all common to know jewelry makers who use animal horns as their products, but Try Sokchan has been in the industry for almost 20 years now. And he is religiously keeping the industry alive.
Mr Sokchan makes handmade jewelry and furniture using horns of buffalos and cows. He shared that there was little to no interest in such kind when he started out. There was no market, so there was no income from it.
“Nobody made these things before. When I started, I was earning barely enough for my needs. But I did not want to give this up. I tried to do as many products as I could and sold them. I just really wanted to continue doing it,” recalled Mr Sokchan.
He got his training at Bassac for three months where he also worked for the non-government organisation within three years. He said that during the training, he found it very hard to make the products as machines were not available. They made all things with their bare hands, using only knife and axe to carve and cut the materials.
“It wasn’t as easy as the present process of making jewelry and furniture. There was no machine before to help me do my work.. After I trained and worked there for years, I decided to temporarily stop. For around four to five years, I got a different job because there was no market for my jewelry. I had to find something stable for me to survive. But when I heard that there were certain shops looking for products made of horns, I immediately went back to the business,” Mr Sokchan shared.
When he went back to his first career, Mr Sokchan started with animal statues and images that were exported to other countries through orders. However, it held another set of problem – the products were so big so it was hard to package them overseas. It was then we decided to focus on jewelry-making.
He said that he buys the buffalo and cow horns from abattoirs or slaughterhouses.
Jewelry-making involves many complicated processes. He added that he first has to decide on the shape of the jewelry. After, he bends, brushes, rubs and smoothens the horns before he carves out specific designs.
Mr Sokchan shared that he has done trainings to some young people in the previous years. However, most of his students had given up even before they mastered the craft. He said that doing such products takes patience, effort, talent and time, but his students didn’t try hard enough to learn jewelry-making.
“Some of my students stopped, maybe they thought that this skill is not important for them as they cannot earn much money like the other jobs so they decided to stay away from it. But now, I have few students to help me. I gave them salary for their hard work.”
“We also make products from silver and platinum, steel and bronze. It has become a little popular now because people are now interested to wear unique stuff such as these.”
Mr Sokchan’s mother-in-law said, “I told him to stop making those jewelry because at that time no one came to buy them. He was earning too little to support his family. But in the recent years, we have been selling more and more and people are starting to know us and our products. Now, we earn enough money to support our needs. I honestly think that it would not work before he has been doing it for almost 20 years. But now, I proved myself wrong.”
Mr Sokchan’s workshop is located near Choeung Ek, while his shop is in Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh. Mr Sokchan spends the entire day making the jewelry and his wife manages the shop.
Kourn Chenda, his wife, mans the Somorna Horn Handicrafts at Wat Phnom. They also used to have a shop at Sorya Center Point for six months before they decided to focus on their original location. Their products are priced from 50 cents to USD20, depending on the kind and size. People can also have customised designs – their names, perhaps – and get their jewelry after a week.
Since the products are made of animal horns, they can be used and kept for as long as 70 years. They will not easily break, though their natural colours may fade as time passes, shared Mr Sokchan.
For now, Mr Sokchan is also busy exporting his products to Asian and western countries.