Thom Sirivattha’s journey in jewelry-making began in 1988, when his mother decided to open a stall at the local Aloha Stadium Swap Meet selling jewelry, watches, and gift items as KS Jewelry Design. As her business grew, so did the demand for custom-made Hawaiian jewelry. At that time, all of her custom orders were sent out to third-party engravers. After several years of being in business, Thom realized that they had no control over quality, cost or design with outside sources. Often, orders would be returned with mistakes in spelling, in the wrong size, or the wrong design. Hence, Thom became interested in creating his own Hawaiian jewelry designs - designs that would be unique and of the highest quality.
Without any background in jewelry-making, Thom enrolled in classes at the Alan Revere Academy in San Francisco where he studied the basics of jewelry-making, such as casting, stone-setting, wax designing and mold-making. He then flew to Kansas where he learned knife and gun engraving at GRS Glendale Corporation. With his new-found knowledge, Thom set up a small workshop with only the basic engraving tools and began practicing his engraving skills in a tiny storage room in the back of his garage, spending many long hours nurturing and refining his skills.
Thom has come a long way since those humble beginnings almost 20 years ago and has since created and designed Hawaiian jewelry for many satisfied customers from all over the world. He has designed and created two unique lines of Hawaiian heirloom jewelry – the Silhouette Collection and Expression. Thom is an official sponsor of the Mrs. Hawaii-USA, Mrs. Hawaii International, Mrs. Hawaii – Petite and Ms. Teen Hawaii pageants, and has adorned the winners of each of these pageants with their very own title bangle from his Expression line since 2007. He also sponsored the Hula ‘Oni E competition in 2003 and 2004, held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, presenting the winner of this competition also with an exclusive Expression title bangle. From traditional scrolling and floral designs, to the contemporary bold designs of his Expression line, Thom continues to re-invent and expand his repertoire of engraving designs, skills and projects. His engraving projects have expanded from traditional Hawaiian jewelry to Zippo lighters, money clips, belt buckles, dog tags, wood and silver pendants, and stainless steel, to name a few. He has also had some unique requests from his clients to engrave pearls, shells and glass beads. But of all the projects he has had the privilege of working on, his pride and joy is his Silhouette Collection. The designs from this collection are his all-time favorite because with these designs, “I am able to incorporate my skills and techniques from gun and knife engraving into local Hawaiian designs, which adds an entirely new dimension and appearance to traditional designs.”
Thom’s expansive approach to jewelry engraving is what sets him apart from other designers and engravers. Thom views himself not just as an engraver, but as an artist who is constantly evolving, changing, and open to new influences and sources of inspiration. His goal is to go beyond just the traditional Hawaiian designs and incorporate disciplines and influences from other cultures and various artistic styles. This multi-dimensional and multi-cultural approach to his work is strongly influenced by his Lao-Chinese heritage. Born and raised in the country of Laos until the age of 8, Thom has traveled back to his birth - country to learn the traditional Lao engraving technique of repose’. This type of engraving involves creating a raised surface to portions of the artwork, giving a two -dimensional appearance to the artwork, making the engraved images “pop”. But his latest artistic inspiration is from the Maori, the indigenous people of Autearoa, or more popularly known as New Zealand, and the traditional tapa designs of old Hawaii. With distinct patterns of geometric shapes and intricate swirls, Thom incorporates these designs into the traditional Hawaiian heirloom patterns, giving traditional Hawaiian jewelry a bold, new look using traditional Polynesian influences.
The popularity and demand for Thom’s custom and handmade jewelry pieces, both locally and overseas, has grown by such great measure that an exclusive platform for his custom-made jewelry was needed. And hence, the birth of Lahana, a company devoted exclusively to Thom's craftsmanship and designs. As a master engraver and artist, Thom’s desire is to share his love of jewelry-making with all of his customers and to showcase the beauty of Hawaii in a fresh and exciting way. His goal is to always be creating unique and beautiful jewelry pieces that people will treasure for a lifetime and beyond, while making his customers feel like family. “Whenever I finish a piece, the greatest joy is watching my customers put on that custom made piece for the very first time. Coming up with an original design requires working very closely with my customers to be sure that the design is exactly what they envisioned. And when they finally see the finished product, it’s like no other feeling in the world, knowing that I helped make someone’s vision a reality. And in the process, I made a friend. This makes all the tedious and countless hours in the workshop all worthwhile; this is what makes it a labor of love.”
- Certificate of Sponsorship Mrs. Hawaii
- Mold Making and Setting 4: Comprehensive: Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts
- Setting 5: Channel and Casting1: Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts
- Advanced Tools for Jewelers & Engravers and Wax Modeling: GRS Glendale Corporation, Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts
Thom Sirivattha – A Personal Journey
The Early Years
Thom Sirivattha’s story begins in Southeast Asia, in the country of Laos, where he was born in the capital city of Vientiane. By the time he was eight years old, the communist regime had overthrown the Lao government and taken over the country. They ruled with cruelty and heartlessness. They closed all the borders to Laos, eliminating all trade routes in and out of the country, making food and other necessities scarce and practically non-existent. Every day, in the early morning hours, one member of every family was forced to do labor for the communist government without compensation. The communist government took land and homes by force, without any compensation or remuneration to the owners. They took what they wanted, when they wanted, without any thought or consideration. Thom’s own grandfather lost his home and land to the communist regime; not wanting the Communist to have the home he built himself, Thom’s grandfather tore down his own house before the communist soldiers came to take his land.
Without any hope of relief from the cruelty and oppression of the communist regime, and facing starvation, Thom’s parents made the solemn decision to leave Laos for the prospect of a better life in America. His parents secretly planned their escape and made arrangements to pay a boat captain to take them across the Mekong River to the shores of Thailand. When the time came, Thom, his three younger siblings, his dad, and mom who was 8 months pregnant at the time, boarded the boat in the black of night and waited. While they were on the boat waiting to depart, the captain of the boat gave Thom’s dad sleeping pills to give to Thom and his siblings to keep them quiet. However, his parents refused and promised the captain that the children would stay silent. At one point, Thom’s dad gave him a knife and told him that he was going up to check on the boat captain, and that if he did not return, Thom was responsible for the safety of his siblings and expectant mother. It is at this moment that Thom was forced to leave his childhood behind and face the harsh and cruel reality of survival. These were desperate times -- you could trust no one.
In the early morning hours, the time came to depart. In the darkness, their boat left the shores of Laos and headed towards Thailand. This short but treacherous journey was dangerous and risky, as their discovery would have meant imprisonment or instant death for the entire family. Other relatives that had tried to escape were shot to death. The boat that had gone ahead of them had already been captured. With nothing short of a miracle, their boat was allowed to pass, and Thom and his family made it safely to Thailand. Looking back, Thom recalls the nights he would go with his dad to the shores of Laos and how he would longingly look across the river at the lights of Thailand, wondering what it would be like to one day see those lights in person. That night, he had reached those lights across the river, but that was only the beginning of their long and hard journey to the United States of America; a journey that would take them three years before they even touched American soil.
Once in Thailand, the long wait began. Thom and his family were forced to live in a refugee camp in Nongkhai as they waited for their turn to come to the United States. The conditions were cramped and crowded, with only the bare essentials for survival. Adult refugees were not allowed to exit the camp without permission and only for good reason. Food was rationed out to each family twice a week, which was not nearly enough to feed a growing family of five young children. Forced to find other sources of income and food, Thom’s mother, a businesswoman by trade, paid to have fresh eggs and other grocery items brought into the camp, where she sold and traded them for food and other necessities. His mom’s entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity is what Thom credits as most influential in his career as a jewelry entrepreneur and artist. Although he was only eight years old, Thom was given the responsibility of leaving the camp to purchase and pick up the merchandise and bringing it back to the camp. This was a very risky venture for a young boy to undertake on the streets of Thailand where kidnapping and crimes against children were common.
After three long years, Thom and his family were moved from the refugee camp in Thailand and flown to the Philippines to a city called Bataan, where they stayed in another refugee camp for six more months. Finally, three years after they had fled their home country of Laos, it was time for Thom and his family to come to the United States. A memory that Thom recalls vividly about their trip to Hawaii was during a stopover they made in Guam. While waiting in the airport for their connecting flight to Hawaii, Thom asked his mother for an ice cream cone. With only $5.00 in her pocket and five children in tow, Thom’s mother could afford to buy only one ice cream cone. So, with one cone in hand and five hungry children, Thom and his siblings happily took turns licking the deliciously cold dessert. They finally arrived in Hawaii in 1981. By this time, Thom was almost twelve years old.
Life in America
Thom and his family settled in the city of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. For many years, they lived humbly in public housing and attended public school. They spoke no English and had to learn to survive in a foreign environment, learn a new language, how to get a job, and adapt to an entirely new way of life. During his teen years, Thom attended Farrington High School, where he excelled in academics and sports. During high school, he ran cross country and joined the school’s tennis team. He spent most of his afternoons at practice and many late nights studying hard to keep up his grades. He became one of the top-ranked high school tennis players in the state and also excelled at cross country tournaments. He also played table tennis outside of school and practiced on the weekends and some evenings at the local gyms with members of the Hawaii Table Tennis Association. He graduated from Farrington High School with honors in 1988 and received the very distinctive award of Student Athlete of the Year; a title that was awarded to only one deserving student every year at graduation. Thom went on to continue his education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he intended to major in Mechanical Engineering.
However, a year into his college studies, Thom’s goal of becoming a mechanical engineer was disrupted. Due to inadvertently incorrect advice from his counselor, Thom registered for the wrong classes. Without the pre-requisite classes needed to advance to Mechanical Engineering, Thom would have had to wait one whole year for those classes to be available again. This meant an additional year of tuition – tuition that neither he nor his family could afford. So, without the means to pay for another year of college, Thom had to change his major to an area of study to which he could transfer most of his credits -- Math. Thom also briefly played for the U.H. tennis team. However, with his mom needing his help on the weekends at the swap meet, Thom could not make it to weekend practices and tournaments and withdrew from the team after only one semester. Thom graduated with a B.A. in Math in 1993. With a degree in math, Thom’s career choices were practically limited to one field – teaching. With no other prospects on the horizon, Thom enrolled at the University of Phoenix to acquire his teaching certification. He completed the program in a year and a half and taught math at a public high school for about a year.
After only a year in the public schools, and with his mom’s jewelry business growing, Thom became interested in making Hawaiian heirloom jewelry. His interest in making Hawaiian heirloom jewelry was born more out of a desire to provide a better product to his mother’s customers at a better price rather than out of pure admiration for the art of engraving. At that time, all of her custom orders were sent out to third-party engravers. After several years of being in business, Thom realized that they had no control over quality, cost or design with outside sources. Often, orders would be returned with mistakes in spelling, in the wrong size, or the wrong design. Hence, Thom became interested in creating his own Hawaiian jewelry designs -- designs that would be unique and of the highest quality.
So, Thom left teaching and began taking courses on the mainland in jewelry making and engraving. He practiced his skills with only the basic of tools in a tiny room in the back of his garage, spending many long hours nurturing and refining his skills. During this time, Thom also stayed active in athletics. He returned to Farrington High School and coached their tennis team for several years and also taught tennis at night classes to adults to earn extra money. He continued with table tennis on the weekends and some evenings, and was an active member of the Hawaii Table Tennis Club.
Today, with the increasing demands of his jewelry business, Thom plays tennis and table tennis during his spare time for exercise and recreation. He is an active member of the Hawaii Table Tennis Club and serves as its President. In February 2014, Thom, with his assistant, and the kindness of many clients that he met in Hawaii, made a special road trip to Japan to demonstrate the making of his unique Hawaiian heirloom jewelry designs. This limited engagement included a rare and exclusive presentation to the students at Shirakawa-Dai Junior High (this event was by invitation only and closed to the public), and public demonstration appearances at Hapuna Café in Osaka, R Café in Shiga, and Uliuli Café in Kyoto. Customers were able to meet Thom in person, take photos with him and watch him demonstrate his jewelry-making skills first-hand. Despite the very cold weather and snow, he was very warmly received by the Japanese people and was so amazed at the strong interest in and connection Japanese people have to Hawaii and its culture. “I loved the people of Japan and the sights and experience were amazing. The food was awesome too!”, he said of his trip. Keeping with his philosophy of being an artist who is constantly evolving, changing, and open to new influences and sources of inspiration, Thom was inspired by the “sakura”, or cherry-blossom in Japan and upon his return, created a cherry blossom design for his Expression Line.
Professionally, Thom constantly strives to grow in his skills and abilities as an artist and as an engraver, always evolving, changing, and being open to new influences and sources of inspiration. His goal is to share his love of jewelry-making while showcasing the beauty of Hawaii in a fresh and exciting way!