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From bomb to bracelet, Lao artisans turn shrapnel into jewelry

Somehow, beauty and hope for the future are found amid the wreckage of war.

It’s been seven years since TreeHugger first wrote about Peace Bomb jewelry — beautiful bracelets, earrings, and necklaces fashioned from war shrapnel in Laos. At the time, Article22, the company making the jewelry, was still in its infancy, fundraising for a film about the project and planning to attend the first-ever Cluster Munitions Conference in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos.

In the years since then, Article22 has grown and gained more attention. British actress Emma Watson wore its earrings on The Ellen Show recently. The bomb-to-bracelet story is a remarkable one that resonates deeply with people, many of whom are unaware of the circumstances that led Laos to be the most heavily bombed country in the world.

Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military dropped the equivalent of one B-52 bomb load on Laos every eight minutes, twenty-four hours a day. Some 250 million tons of ordnance were dispersed over that nine-year period, and one in three bombs did not detonate, leaving a landscape riddled with danger. It’s called the ‘Secret War’ because so few people knew about it — or even do today.

When an American woman named Elizabeth Suda first visited Laos in 2008, she discovered villagers fashioning shrapnel into spoons. While the spoons were lovely, Suda came up with the idea to make jewelry, which would appeal to the international market and generate greater income for the artisans. Article22 was born, with a mission to create sustainable fashion from a waste product and provide jobs in a country where it’s difficult to raise oneself out of poverty, precisely because of the prevalence of unexploded ordnance (UXO) everywhere.

© Article22 (via Facebook)

As John McFarland, a bomb clearance expert for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), explains in a video, UXO has a number of awful lasting consequences for the Lao people. Not only does it inhibit the reduction of poverty, but it restricts food security by limiting the places in which food can be grown. Then there’s the constant threat of maiming, which in turn affects income generation and the ability to feed one’s family.

Article22 offers another solution. Its artisans use aluminum bomb scrap metal that was either detonated during war time explosions or more recent controlled detonations from bomb removal professionals. The company, together with MAG and a Swiss NGO called Helvetas, has educated the artisans and foundries about different kinds of metals and insisted that they not accept anything considered dangerous, thus “dis-incentivizing collectors to touch unexploded ordnance.”

The jewelry pieces are made by hand, using only aluminum scrap metal, rather than iron (of which there is also plenty), since aluminum has a lower melting point and can be liquified in the artisans’ homemade earthen kilns.

There are some interesting short videos on the Article22 website where you can learn more about the Secret War history and the creation of peace-bomb jewelry. Check out the company’s stunning lookbook, as well. You can purchase items online. International shipping rates are reasonable. With the sale of each item, funds are donated to clear 3 square meters of land (21.5 square feet).

Article22 men's bracelet© Article22

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