Bangkok is one of the largest and major markets for trading all types of color gemstones including but not restricted to rubies, sapphires, tourmaline, garnets, peridot, spinel, topaz and jade. Some stats – The Thai gems and jewelry industry in 2011 generated more than US$10 billion for the Thai economy. The industry is regarded as being the third largest foreign income earner for the country.
- Almost all color gemstone traders, wholesalers and jewelry store buyers have an office based here or have a local partner because it is in fact cheaper to buy color gemstones here then anywhere else in the world.
- Almost all color gemstones rough from around the world come to Thailand to get cut, treated and manufactured to jewelry because of their strong expertise. Thai craftsmen are consider the best cutters in the world and have learnt how to cut in pure precision due to their proximity to Burma, the major source of expensive color gemstones like rubies, sapphires, and jade. Many gemstone source countries like in Burma, Africa, South America, or Sri Lanka have gem cutters but lags years behind Thai cutters. Thai craftsmen are also considered the experts in heat treatment of very expensive rubies and sapphires, which is a very difficult skill to acquire.
- Again, the most important fact is Thailand is the major source for trading color gemstones. From my experience, it is actually even cheaper to buy gemstones in Thailand then from source countries. At first this point might sound counter intuitive. Why will it be more cheaper to buy a gemstone in Thailand when it doesn’t source most of these stones? Large demand combine with competition has always proven that the cheapest places to buy anything is where the item is traded the most. You can ask anyone in the color gemstone business about Thailand and they will agree the fact that Thailand is one of the largest and major market for color gemstones around the world.
Buying a color gemstone in Bangkok or Thailand can be both very rewarding or horrifying experience. However, when actually reading online in many travel forums or discussion boards, it will seem their are more horror “Thai Gem scams” story tales then the pleasant rewarding ones. It has always been a fact that negative news like revolutions, accidents, natural disasters or murders are more popular then reading about good experiences people have because how it affects us emotionally. The Thai Gem scams does exist, but this does not mean you should not consider buying gemstones in Thailand. Like many countries around the world, they are always bad intentional people around trying to take advantage of foreign tourists ignorance so they can earn a quick buck. You should of course be careful when you are approach by these scam artists and to learn how to avoid them. More information regarding these scams can be read on — http://www.bangkokscams.com
But, here are some things you do have to worry and avoid when buying gemstones in Thailand and you should keep this in mind when you do decide to buy a gemstone from any wholesaler or retailer.
- Thailand is consider the experts in all the new treatments in color stones including heat treatment, synthetics, glass filled rubies, diffused color treatment sapphires, irradiation topaz, dyeing, waxing and oiling emeralds, etc.
- Thailand does not have strong expertise in diamonds. Diamonds are traded at a premium price compare to more larger and competitive markets like Antwerp, New York, Mumbai or Tel Aviv.
Now with all these facts in mind, how do you go about in buying a gemstone in Bangkok, Thailand?
- A good starting point is to first check the Thai Gems & Jewelry Trader Association website to get a list of gemstones dealers & traders in Bangkok (http://www.thaigemjewelry.or.th/Default.aspx?tabid=1472&language=en-US). This site is not completely updated and information is not 100% accurate, but it is better then having nothing in hand. However, the list is quite extensive and it can take you weeks to look at it. But, of course if you do have the time and do your homework it can be very rewarding.
- In Bangkok you should visit the following areas:
- For most higher end color gemstones (rubies, sapphires, emeralds, tourmaline, etc.,) you should check the end of Silom area. A good starting point will be Jewelry Trade Center, JTC,(http://www.jewelrytradecenter.net/English/map.html) which is the fourth largest building in Bangkok, so it is hard to miss.
In the building for example, it houses the Thai Gems & Jewelry Trader Association office, Asian Instituted of Gemological Sciences (AIGS) gem lab, GemResearch Swisslab (GRS) gem lab and also multiple gemstone wholesalers and dealers. Also, on the ground floor of the building you will see “gem booths,” and is a good place to start practicing your art of negotiating skills. Other places to visit are areas next to JTC, which is the end of Silom, Suriwong, andBangrak. This area stretches from JTC to the Chao Phyra river. Their are lines of gemstone wholesales shops around here with over 1,000 dealers. Most are concentrated in soi Mahesak Road(between Silom and Suriwong),
Warner Building in Mahesak, Executive House in Suriwong and Gem Tower in Bangrak. Most dealers here will be honest and won’t sell you fake stones without their own knowledge, but you do have to be careful when negotiating price and do double check with cheap local independent lab (more details is provided below) if the stone you are buying is what is stated.
- For “semi-precious” stones or synthetics which includes garnets, citrine, amethyst, cubic zirconia, etc., the best place to buy these stones is near Chinatown a place nicked name “Wat Koh,” which the official name of the lane is called Songwad Road, in Samphantawong. The lane itself is quite crowded, but you will definitely get very good deals and most shop owners are quite reliable.
3. In Chanthaburi, Thailand –
- Chanthaburi is located 280 kilometers southwest of Bangkok and is consider the cutting, manufacturing and treatment center for color gemstones in Thailand. It started of in the 1960s till 1980s as the Thai gemstone source of corundum (sapphires and rubies). But, these sources were quickly depleted because of extensive use of modern equipment and major mining operations. The town however, adapted itself by learning in those 20 years how to treat low quality rubies and sapphires to make them look spectacular. This again is done by new treatments likechemically diffused, glass-filed, irradiation, etc. This expertise has made it the source for low quality ruby and sapphires. You can buy gemstones here in the middle of town where you can rent tables or go to reliable dealers offices who will call brokers to bring you the gemstones you require.
Chanthaburi is only open from Friday, Saturday and Sunday and usually most gemstone dealers from Bangkok go there. The typical stones you will find here is usually of lower grade then in Bangkok because the higher end usually go straight to dealers in Bangkok. Also, dealers in Chanthaburi do come to Bangkok in the weekdays (Silom area again) and so you can see the same stones in Bangkok as well.
Once you have decided where you want to buy, below are some guidelines in what you should do when you are at a dealers, retailers or gem market:
- The credentials of the office and retailer is true and correct – again this does not mean bigger offices or retail shops are better. Reliable wholesalers and retailers will have business licenses in a frame at the front of their office and large sign of their company name at the front door. This is required by law in Thailand if you are operating a business. Also, most reliable dealers will be registered in the Thai Gems & Jewelry Trader Association Directory as members and will also be listed on their website (link is provided above).
- Make sure the place where you buying the gemstone has neutral light. This means normal sunlight (from the window) and or quality “daylight” artificial lighting which is recommended by GIA when checking color for gemstones. This is important because in yellow light rubies will look redder while in “strong” unnatural white light makes darker emeralds and sapphires look lighter and better.
- Ask specific questions to dealers or sales person about the gemstones and see how they respond. This is were some common sense and understanding people skills come in handy. Some examples of pointed specific questions are:
1. Has this gemstone been treated? If no, can you show me how you know or do you have a certificate? If yes, in what way has it been treated? Has it been heated, chemically diffused, irradiated, dyed, oiled, waxed or glass-filled?
2. What experience do you have in dealing with gemstones? How long have you been in the trade for? Do you have any credentials like graduate gemologist degree from GIA or anyone in the office who does? If not, how can you tell if a stone is natural or treated?
3. Do you have a return policy if the gemstone you stated is not exactly what you sold? If the answer is NO, just walk away right now.
4. I am interested in buying this stone but it is currently not certified. Can you get it certify for me at local lab here or specifically at Tokyo Gem Laboratory or Hung Gemological & Testing Center? If the dealer answer is NO, you should walk away as it only cost US$10 to do it. (more details provided in the next point)
- If the stone is not certified, it is a good idea in getting it certified in smaller local labs in Bangkok or Chanthaburi to get a quick but reliable idea in what type of stone you are acquiring. These labs are usually 95% accurate and have a lot experience in dealing with new treatment stones. Both labs which I listed below have been used personally by me many times and cost only US$10 (Thai Baht 300). Both are located at the end of Silom road where almost all the dealers are located:
1. Name: Tokyo Gem Laboratory (Thailand) Co., Ltd. Address: 987 Rama Jewelry Bldg., 3 Fl., Silom Rd., Bangrak, Bangkok 10500 – Telephone: 02-635-2030-2
2. Name: Hung Gemological & Testing Center Co., Ltd. – Telephone: 02-2674939-41, 081-5807045.
- If a dealer or salesperson is trying to sweet talk, pressure or push you to buy the stone, just walk away. Until you are satisfied and trust a dealer you should never buy a gem stone from them
- Finally, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate – It is always important to try to negotiate the price with dealers. A good starting point is 50% below their asking price and see how they react. Again, this skill takes time and practice and sometimes their are good deals without negotiating. However, you have nothing to lose in asking for a better price.
The word jewellery in Thailand is often associated with scams. Visitor to Bangkok will have been approached at least once by a nice, helpful guy kindly advising him to go and buy jewellery for today’s special days (King’s birthday, Government’s celebration, Buddha’s birthday and so on) day. The scam has been well documented on various forums and in most guide books, yet many people still fall for it.
So let’s say you find yourself in a jewellery store, either because you were caught in that old scam, or because you genuinely wish to buy some jewellery hoping it will be cheaper than in your home country.
Let’s get some facts straight:
- Thailand is a well known place for stone cutting, mainly rubies and sapphires but many other colored stones as well.
- Thailand produces a variety of gems e.g. sapphire, often very dark, a brownish/yellow one, some green. These stones will often be treated to enhance or improve the color. Ruby deposits are exhausted. The bulk of rubies comes from Madagascar and Mocambique and is of varied quality. Few stones are top quality. Many are filled or are so-called composite stones (bits ‘glued’ together).
- Thailand does not produce diamonds or emeralds and is not renowned for cutting them, either.
Cut gemstones have a value set internationally, depending on their quality and mass (carat). You can get a marginally better price if you buy a stone mined or cut in the country. But most of the time if you are offered a cut gemstone far below the set price, it means:
- it is a fake
- it is another kind of stone (eg. a garnet instead of a ruby)
- it is not the size or quality advertised
- it has some defect (artificially hidden)
- it has been stolen
In Thailand, the main reason for a cheap stone will be that you are misled about its quality (bad cut, dark colour, poor stone treated beyond what is usually accepted).
- Bad cut results in a stone without ‘fire’, the light is not perfectly refracted, it goes through the stone, you’ll see dark or transparent areas, not uniform colouration. Best visible when you put the stone on print and you can read thru it. Bad cut.
- Dark colour is common among sapphires to the point they almost look black (some still try to market them with a catchy name like ‘galaxy’ sapphire, do not be fooled, if you buy a coloured stone, you want to see the colour).
- Heating treatment is common for rubies and sapphires but abusing it can weaken the stone (resulting in cracks in turn hidden with injected resin). Heating has been used for centuries. It does not mean the stone is of always lesser quality. Heating s an acceptable treatment, no declaration necessary. High temp. together with other processes or filled stones need to be declared to buyer in some countries IF the seller is’aware’ of it.
- Treated stones get sold worldwide and not only in Thailand. Untreated ruby/sapphire command a high premium.
If you want a nice stone for a special occasion you should buy it loose. A set stone’s quality is more difficult to assess and prongs can conveniently hide imperfections.
Above a certain mass or price, you should demand a laboratory report from GIA, GIT, AIGS (my preference). A report has to be of a recent date. Not years old. Nobody will certify a stone, they report on a stone.
Get the seller to describe the purchased item on the bill, e.g. weight, size,
For loose stones, small dealers are better (eg. Shiraz Jewellery in Chiang Mai on Taphae Road), but it’s a matter of trust.
If you know nothing about gemstones, the dealer may be inclined to sell you something above the normal price.
Tip: do not buy right away, get the information about the stone, write it down, then stop at an internet cafe and use google to check the value. If there’s a huge difference, something is wrong. You must ask for the details of the stone to be written on your receipt (type of stone, colour, carat, cut, quality) suddenly you will see that the 2.5 carat ruby you were discussing, has become a 2.35 carat, or that the VVS1 quality becomes VVS2, that sounds like nothing, but that makes a real difference to the gemstones value. Always ask to see the stone in daylight even if they tell you about a daylight lamp in the shop.
Once the stone is chosen, they will have it set in any style of your liking. It’s on the labour for gold setting that you can make a small gain compared to your home country.
Do not expect to buy a cheap stone in Thailand to sell it for a higher price in your home country.
Buy a stone for your pleasure, if you do not feel comfortable dealing with loose stones and are just looking for regular set jewellery, big superstores like ‘Gem’ are good, prices are fair (thanks to cheap labour for both cutting and gold setting), quality is OK and they will provide free transportation to their factory shop if you call them on the phone.
If you are still in that dark jewellery shop wondering what to do… just smile, leave, and sleep on it.
Remember: Gold and diamonds have a world market price with small variations in different countries.
Do not be cajoled or bullied into purchasing jewellery that you did not choose in the first place.
Gemstones in Thailand
The Myth of Gemstones in Thailand
Thailand’s reputation as a center of civilization in the Orient has been reflected by the rich forms of art that has formed an integral part of most Thais. The artistry of Thai artisans have intrigued men and women around the world for its exquisite, delicate splendor and beauty. The long tradition of fine craftsmanship has passed through several generations and is still very much intact today.
Gems and jewelry is one of the key industries which has flourished ever since ancient times. traditional belief suggested that by wearing certain jewels and clothes which agree with the colour of the day and or birthday would bring good fortune and success.
A Birthplace of Jewels. Fine Craftsmanship and Discovery
Thailand has been recognized as one of the world’s major gems and jewelry centers. The Kingdom is not only endowed with dedicated and gifted artisans, but also gemstone resources.
Sapphires have been discovered in Kanchanaburi. Chanthaburi, Si Saket, Ubon Ratchathani, Phrae, Phetchabun and Sukhothai. Chanthaburi’s districts of Pong Nam Ron, Bo Rai and Khao Saming have been known as producers of rubies: in addition to. Nam Yuen district of Ubon Ratchathani.
The red rubies discovered in Chanthaburi have been known as “Tab Tim Siam” or “Siamese Rubies” which are sought after by jewel lovers around the world for their dazzling red and magical looks. The Siamese Rubies have thus credited Thailand as the “Land of Jewels of die East”.
Thailand’s gems and jewelry industry has systematically developed from a cottage level to a large-scale export-oriented scale. The sector has become one of the country’s top-ten foreign exchange earners, generating tens of billions of Baht to the economy and creating jobs for millions of people.
Quality, attention to detail and reasonable pricing are elements of continued success of the Thai jewelry industry. To enhance the sector’s competitiveness, the Royal Thai Government has exempted tariffs on imported raw materials.
The quality of Thai jewels is assured
Retailing of gems and jewelry in Thailand is governed by proper trading rules which are closely supervised by government and industry organizations. The quality of gems and jewelry is examined and guaranteed by internationally accepted local bodies such as the Asian Institute of Gemological Science (AIGS), the International Gemological Institute (IGI), the Gems and Jewelry Institute of Thailand, etc.
The adoption of stringent examination processes and issuance of quality certificates assure you of the quality standards of the goods you purchase exactly match your expectation both for personal pleasure and investment. So if you are looking for something that reminds you of fond memories of your visit to the Land of Civilization of the Orient that is rich in arts. heritage and friendship, consider buying a Thai jewel.
Here is the guide: For those who are born on:
Sunday Wear jewelry with Garnet and Zircon and clothes in orange or red
Monday Wear jewelry with Pearl and Diamond and clothes in cream or yellow
Tuesday Wear jewelry with Topaz and clothes in pink
Wednesday Wear jewelry with Emerald and clothes in green
Thursday Wear jewelry with Cat’s eye (Chrysoberyl) and clothes in orange
Friday Wear jewelry with Pearl and Diamond and clothes in sky blue or dark blue
Saturday Wear jewelry with Spinel and Ruby and clothes in black or purple
There has also been a myth about decking oneself with certain gem-stones based on his/her month of birth in order to capture the best fortune and prosperity. It goes like this: For those who are born in the month of
Birthstones by Month
March Aquamarine and Bloodstone
June Pearl and Moonstone
December Turquoise and Zircon
How to choose a gemstone and a piece of jewelry Nature of Gemstones
First, it is essential to have the basic knowledge about the characteristics, colors, clarity, cutting style and the weight of the gemstones you are selecting. Generally speaking, there are two categories of gemstone – precious and semi-precious.
Precious stones are Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Yellow Sapphire, Emerald and Cat’s Eyes. Semi-precious stones are Tourmaline, Peridot, Tazanit, Garnet. Opal, Spinel, Zircon, Aquamarine, Moonstone, Agate, Pearl, Sunstone, etc.
The commercial value, hardness, and durability of semi-precious stones are normally less than precious stones.
Thailand is one of the world’s most important sources of Corundum. the collective gemological name for precious stones like Ruby and Sapphire.
Ruby Its color ranges from dark red to pink hardness measured in Mohs is 9: reflective index is from 1.762 to 1.770 (+/-0.009 – 0.005}: and specific gravity of 4.00 (+/- 0.10 – 0.05). This precious stone has its origin in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam and Tanzania.
Blue Sapphire It is another species of Corundum with properties quite similar to Ruby in terms of color, hardness and specific gravity. Its origins are Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma).
Yellow Sapphire As part of the Corundum family. Yellow Sapphire has specifications like ‘Blue Sapphire and Ruby, but it is only found mostly in Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Diamond Discovered mostly in Africa, Australia, Russia and South America, the Diamond is normally colorless, though some come in the shades of light yellow and brown. Its hardness is 10 in Moh measurement; reflective index of 2.417: specific gravity of 3.52 (+/-0.01).
Quality and value of gemstones
The value of a gemstone lies in its beauty, measured by its color, luster, transparency, clarity, perfection of cutting (polishing), size, durability as well as rarity.
The most valued Ruby is in pigeon’s blood red. The stone with dark to purple red color has a lesser value. The Ruby which yields good transparency is considered more beautiful and has more value than the lesser one. The value of Ruby can also be judged by its clarity which is normally a key characteristic of the stone, and physical site. Another beauty yardstick of Ruby is the “Asterism” or star in the stone that renders it the name of “Star Ruby.” The star can be best appreciated from Ruby with a cabo chon shape placed in the light.
Blue & Yellow Sapphire
The highly priced color of Blue Sapphire is “pure” blue not being tainted with green or gray, yet not too dark or black. The most beautiful color for Yellow Sapphire is dark yellow and golden yellow. The popularity of the two shades varies from one market to another, depending on tastes and fashion trends. Blue and Yellow Sapphires with good transparency and clarity command more value with size as another determining factor, though it is easier to find a bigger size of Blue and Yellow Sapphires than Ruby. Like Ruby, Blue Sapphire has the “star” while it is rare to find a star in Yellow Sapphire.
More common colors of diamond range from light yellow and light brown while while is rarer (*see color grading table). There are also established clarity levels of diamond (*see clarity table).
The bigger the size the higher the value of the diamond. Well-proportioned cut diamond is capable of reflecting light, yield more brilliance and sparkle, thus is more valued.
Color Scale Trade Terms
Colorless to D Colorless Finest White Jager Colorless
I E River
F Colorless Fine White River Colorless
G Near Colorless Top Wesselton Stones in this grade look colorless face-up: slight traces of color will not be apparent in mounted stones to other than the trained eye.
H Near Colorless White Wesselton
I Commercial White Top Crystal
J Top Silver Cape Crystal Small stones in these range will look colorless face-up when mounted but large one will be tinted.
K Faint yellow Silver Cape Top Cape
M Faint yellow Light Cape Cape Mounted stones in this grades will display a Yellowish tint even to the untrained eye.
N Very Light Yellow Low Cape
O Very Light Yellow Cape Very Light Yellow
S Light Yellow Dark Cape
Fancy Yellow Z Fancy Dark Cape
Clarity Scandinavia Exchange USSR Alternate W. Europe
FL FL 10X CLEAN IF
IF IF PURE
VVS 1 VVSI 1 VVS 10X CLEANISH VVS 1
VVS 2 VVSI 2
VS 2 VSI 1 10X VERY SLIGHT VS 1
VS 1 VSI 2 SI
SI 1 SI 1 10 SLIGHT EYE CLEAN SI
SI 2 SI 2
I 1 PIQUE 1 PIQUE VERY SLIGHT TO THE EYE PIQUE 1
I 2 PIQUE 2 SLIGHT TO THE EYE PIQUE 2
I 3 PIQUE 3 MARKED TO THE EYE PIQUE 3
IF Internal Flawless
VVS Very Very Slightly
VS Very Slightly
SI Slightly included
Content of Fine Gold and Precious Metal in Alloys
Fine gold Platinum
24 karat(Kt) gold is referred to 100% pure gold
22 Kt = 92%
18 Kt = 75%
PT900 = 90%
Weight measurement for gold, gemstones and diamond
The weight of gemstones and diamond is measured in carat and grams. One carat is equal to 200 milligrams, while one gram is 5 carats or 1.000 milligrams.
Gold is measured in karat, referring to the percentage of gold in alloys. Karat, in gold measurement, is usually written with a capital “K” or “Kt” to provide a distinction from “carat” for precious stones measurement.
Certification of Gemstones and Jewelry
In normal practice, the issue of an authenticity certificate for jewels purchased rests on a laboratory. However, such certificates can be issued by specialists who have graduated from gemological institute and been employed by jewel stores.
With the growing use of synthetic stones in jewelry, it is very crucial that buyers demand the certificate of authenticity with a gem identification report being issued by authorized gemologists from the stores they make the purchas
The conditions currently applied to VAT refunds are as follows
Furthermore, to make the purchase of gems and jewelry in Thailand even more attractive, the Royal Thai Government has agreed to provide full refund on Value Added Tax (VAT) imposed on jewels bought by foreign visitors.
– Purchase at shops with the sign “VAT Refund for Tourists”.
– Bring along the goods with oneself within 60 days from the date of purchase.
– Minimum value of purchase from one shop in one day is 2,000 Baht.
– Total value of goods purchased for a VAT refund must be at least 5.000 Baht.
– Sales clerks will prepare a VAT refund form and hand two copies of the form to buyers with a Tax Invoice.
– Goods eligible for VAT refund must not be restricted items such as firearms, explosives and the like as well as unset gemstones.
– Must bring along the goods to the port of disembarkation for display to Customs officials.
Over the years, Thailand has developed to become one of the world’s top-five jewelry polishing centers which has included Israel, Belgium, the United States and India.
The Kingdom’s gemstone polishing capability has developed by leaps and bounds, leading to the creation of “Bangkok Cut”, which is widely admired. With the advantages mentioned above, it always makes a good reason to buy a piece of jewelry in Thailand when you are here right in the one of the world’s forefront gems and jewelry centers.
List of gemological institutes
Department of Mineral Resources
Location : Physics Section, Rama IV Road, Phayathai, Bangkok 10400
Tel : 0 2202 3690 Fax: 0 2202 3681
The Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (Public Organization) (GIT)
Location : 140, 140/1-3, 140/5 ITF – Tower Building. 1st – 4th and 6th Floor, Silom Road, Suriyawong, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500
Tel : 0 2634 4999 Fax: 0 2634 4970
Asian Institute of Gemological Science (AIGS)
Location : Jewelry trade center Bldg. 6m Floor. 919/1 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500
Tel : 0 2674 3257 Fax: 0 2267 4327
International Gemological Institute (IGI)
Location :B.G.I. Bldg. 9 Soi Charoenkrung 36, New Road, Bangkok
Tel : 0 2630 6726-7 Fax: 0 2630 5030-2
Tokyo Gem Laboratory (Thailand) Co., Ltd.
Location :1 Floor, 55/11 Soi Charoenkrung 42/1, New Road, Bangkok
Tel : 0 2235 1667-8, 0 2235 7324 Fax: 0 2630 9735