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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

However, the purpose of this article is not to inform you how to avoid blood sucking vampires or gem scam artists, but to explain to you what you should do when you want to buy a gemstone in Bangkok or Thailand?

First lets get the facts straight regarding buying gemstones in Bangkok or Thailand and why you should consider it.

  • 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? A better way to understand this is by comparing another industry which we all know about very well like buying an Apple iPhone.  It is given fact that iPhone component’s come from around the world like silicon chips, memory chips, touch screen materials, etc., and are assembled either in Taiwan or China.  Therefore, it should be logical that it should be cheaper to buy the Apple iPhone either at the source of these components or at the assembling plants in China or Taiwan.  However, the fact is, the cheapest and most competitive market to buy iPhone is still the United States of America (USA) because of one sole reason that it is the major trading place and largest market for these devices.  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.

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?

  1. 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.
  2.  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.

    JTC Entrance

    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, and Bangrak.  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),

    Entrance to Soi Mahesak Road

    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.

    Gem Tower Building

  • 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 like chemically 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.

    Memory lane – My GIA class renting a table in Chanthaburi Market

    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.

    Tokyo Lab Certificate Sample Front

    Tokyo Lab Certificate Sample Back

  • 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.

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