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Buying Gems in Thailand

Bangkok is one of the world's prime markets for gems and jewelry; from diamonds to emeralds and all in between. Gems are sent from all over the world for cutting and dealers from around the globe buy at the markets in Chantaburi and Maesai. Maehasak (between Silom and Suriwong) is the hub of wholesale and manufacturing. If you want gems and colored gemstone jewelry, Bangkok may be the best place in the world to buy it. Colored gems, especially ruby, spinel, sapphire, jadeite, and peridot, are a bargain in Thailand. If you are astute and prepared to haggle you can probably buy a gem for a quarter or a fifth of what you would pay in the west. Buy them for your own use or as a gift only; the retail price of gemstones is somewhere between 3 to 5 times the wholesale price, so its hard to see how you could sell them at a profit.

Buying gem stones is more complex than buying gold. Each stone is different and it is difficult to assess the value. What is a stone worth? It is worth what someone is willing to pay for it and there is no easy way to find that out other than trying to sell it. It is unlikely that you will find any bargains.

According to traditional Thai beliefs it is lucky to wear certain gemstones according to the day on which you were born.
Your date of birth:
You were born on a
Your lucky gemstone is
Your lucky color is

Bangkok has developed as a world center for the gemstone trade for 2 reasons. Firstly the Thais are brilliant when it comes to cutting the stones from the rough rock. They know how to cut the rough so that the stone has maximum sparkle and beauty. Although India and parts of South America also have large gemstone industries, their artisans are way behind the Thais when it comes to producing a quality stone. The skill of the Thais may be connected to their apprenticeship system. Cutters start working in the factory at the age of about 15. They live in the factory helping to clean it and learning their craft initially by polishing stones. Older cutters teach the boys the secrets of the business.

Secondly Thailand is one of the world leaders in the heat treatment of gem stones. Most ruby and sapphire are heat treated. Monghsu is heated to remove the characteristic blue core.This is an extraordinarily expensive art to learn, and the secrets are generally kept within the family sometimes to a single member. To understand why it is so expensive imagine you are treating a stone worth say $100,000 and you get the temperature wrong: you have rendered the stone worthless.

Semi Precious Stones

Songwad Road, in Samphantawong, sometimes called Wat Koh, near Chinatown is a good place to buy these stones cheaply.

Precious stones

The Jewelry Trade Center is a good starting place. It is the largest centre for selling, sourcing and distributing jewelry in Bangkok and one of the largest such centres in Asia. The building houses an International Gem and Diamond Bourse (one of the largest in Asia) with a fully computerised trading area that provide 'real-time' information of the gems inventory. There is also a fully equiped gem testing labouratory operated by the Asian Instituted of Gemological Sciences (AIGS). It is located at 919/1 Silom Road and is the fourth tallest building in Bangkok so you shouldn't miss it. You can buy and sell gems online at the Silom Galleria which is located on the 6th Floor.

The whole area at the bottom end of Silom near the river around and in the Jewelry Trade Center and Mahaesak Road, between Silom and Suriwong in Bangrak,are good places to find legitimate gem shops. There are more than 1000 companies dealing with gems and jewelry. It should be noted that although these shops will not rip you off in terms of selling you the wrong product, but they will try to sell you gems at a price many times higher than they are actually worth so be careful.

For retail jewelers go to Old Siam Plaza. Try to establish a good relationship with a jeweler and then do all your shopping at same shop.

Beauty Gems and Premier Gems are probably Thailand's biggest gem dealers.

Silom

In terms of comfort and convenience Silom is probably the best place to go, especially for the novice gem buyer. Its a great place to learn about gemstones.

Many gem cutting factories once were located in Silom. The factories have moved out of Bangkok but the retailers have remained. The owners buy their gems from wholesalers in Mae Sai, Mae Sot and Chanthaburi.

Many gem shops offer on site certification hosting their own Gemological Institute of America (GIA) trained and licensed gemlogoists. Certification can also be done at the GIA offfice in Bangkok by a European gemologist although this can be expensive.

Gem shops dealers in Silom have a considerable investment in their location and they will not risk losing their reputation by selling fakes. On the other they will try to get the best price they can, as in any business, and the gem, although real, may not be worth what you paid for it.

Shops open at 10 am in the morning and close by 5 pm and generally have lunch around noon.

  • • all the dealers in Silom speak English.
  • • by walking into the shop expect an immediate 20% discount from the listed price. The posted price includes commission for tour guides or taxis.
  • • the way the dealers find out if you are a novice is by observing whether you can recognize cubic zirconium which they will mix with real gems.
  • • don't bargain unless you are prepared to buy

Chanthaburi

Chanthaburi is located about 250 kilometers south-west of Bangkok. It is the number one place in Thailand to get faceted gems at wholesale prices. The gem market grew alongside the historic ruby and sapphire mines, some of which are still in production today. However, the mines have been on the decline since the late '70s due to the depletion of corundum bearing sources. The use of modern technology and large mining operations quickly extracted the easily accessible, high quality gems. However, the use of heat treatment has allowed for the transformation of low quality corrundum into gem quality sapphires and new mines have been opened.

Over time Chanthaburi has developed into a large gem trading network. Gems from around the world found their way into the market. Unlike Silom the gem market of Chanthaburi is guided by an open market policy of bidding and asking prices making it the real wholesale market of Thailand. Most of the gems you see in Silom were bought in Chanthaburi.

Every kind of gem from around the world can be found in Chanthaburi. You can purchase faceted gems, cabochons, and uncut stones. There are always plenty of Thai sapphires and Burmese rubies. You can also find exotic stones such as African tanzanite, Columbian emerald, Australian opal and every shade of tourmaline.

There are several different ways to buy gems in Chanthaburi. You can:

  • • sit at a brokers table in the gem district
  • • walk into a speciality shop
  • • negotiate directly on the street

Brokers

The table brokers get a commission on all sales made at their table. In return:

  • • They will not let you buy a fake gem
  • • They know the dealers and couriers and where to find the gems
  • • They won't let anyone steal your money
  • • They speak English and will translate the deal for you.

You can rent your own table and make your own deals. However you would have to be able to read and speak Thai to do this. The average rental is about 500 baht a day but you would save the broker's commission.

Speciality Shops

Most of the closed door speciality shops are not open to the public. However some are and they will let you know when you walk in. These shops provide stones to the couriers and sell to larger dealers in quantities measured in grams not carats. You will get excellent deals if you are willing to purchase in grams and kilos. A sapphire sell for 200 baht a carat on Silom can be bought for 60 baht a carat if you are buying a 100 gram bag of them.

How to bargain for gemstones

There are set rules about bidding at a gem broker's table. The broker's job is to make certain the deal is settled between you and the dealer. The broker will make sure that each bid is accurate, the gem weight is verified and that you will receive the same stone you bid on. The gem broker will ask you what you want to buy and then post a sign above his table specifying what you are looking for. Couriers will see the sign and find a dealer with that gem. As time goes by you will be presented with a wide range of gems of different qualities.

  • • Allow at least a day before you start to bid on gems at the dealer's table. Serious buyers will spend 2 or 3 days to get the price and quality they want.
  • • Bring a friend if possible to take turns in having breaks.
  • • Gem dealers start by offering you the lowest quality stones at the highest prices. Make it clear that you will not be fooled by this game. If you see a lower quality stone that you are interested in then off a bid for the value you would be willing to pay. Don't haggle and be firm. Even if your offer is rejected everyone will know you are serious about your prices.
  • • Be polite. Let the broker know if a courier is bothering you.
  • • Sometimes a dealer will present you with something unique. Use this to your advantage to learn more about different gems and their prices.
  • • Never be desperate for a gem. If the dealer rejects your offer, don't offer more for that gem on the first day. Wait for more gems to come along and continue to bid your price. Don't raise your offer more than 5%.
  • • If the dealer accepts your offer you will be expected to pay there and then. If you are a novice then it is better to pay as you go, even if you intend to buy more stones, as it is easier to manage your budget.
  • • You will do much better as the day progresses. Spending 2 days is the best way to buy. You know the prices already and the dealers know you. They will not waste your time as much on the second day showing you low quality gems. The best transactions usually occur in the late afternoon. Leave your last day to buy exotic stones that you did not plan to buy. Offer a low price and don't be worried if the dealer says no.

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