Where: Bangkok is the centre of the Thailand gem trade and known as the ‘gemstone Capital of the world’
What’s in store: Indigenous black and blue sapphires, zircons, garnets, cat’s eyes & rubies
Bag a bargain: Buy from a bonafide member of the Jewel Fest Club or the reputable Uthai’s Gems Ltd
Bangkok is internationally recognised as the ‘Gemstone Capital of the World’ and the blue or black sapphires that are indigenous to Central Thailand are some of the best buys. You can also get zircons, garnets, cat’s eyes, jadeite, nephrite, tiger eye and turquoise, as well as rubies from Myanmar and Cambodia.
How to Bag a Bargain
Tens of thousands of visitors buy gems in Bangkok each year, but those not in the know are at a serious disadvantage, as the majority don’t have much of an idea what they’re looking for and scams are widespread.
One of the most common scams is for helpful young ‘students’ to approach visitors and befriend them, under the guise of wanting to practice their English. Your new-found ‘friend’ will offer to take you to the shop of an acquaintance who sells top quality gems at bargain prices. Once you’ve paid well over the odds for something that may turn out to be nothing more than cheap spinel, they claim a hefty kick-back for reeling you in.
You are better off buying from members of the Jewel Fest Club, a initiative made up of gem dealers who agree to adhere to fair trading practices – but again, beware. This is Thailand, where everything and anything can be convincingly faked, even down to the Jewellery Fest sticker you may see on the door of a shop. If in doubt, ask to see the trader’s membership certificate.
You might even want to consider learning a bit about gems yourself, so you can tell top gems from poor seconds, or even cut glass. The Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences runs courses in gemology for all nationalities. For a small fee they will even grade and authenticate gem-stone purchases after the event, just to put your mind at ease.
Where to Buy Gems
Uthai’s Gems is a successful family business which, over the past 40 years, has built up a reputation as one of the most reliable gem shops in the city. Owned and managed by Uthai Daengrasmisopon for about 40 years, the small workshop and showroom are situated close to the American Embassy, just off Sukhumvit Road – a fact which explains, in part, the framed photos of Bill Clinton and Nancy Reagan.
Khun Uthai’s customers have heard about his shop by word of mouth. Many are native to Bangkok, others are American or European visitors looking to pick up a few trinkets while in town for a few days. If they have a specific design or idea in mind, Khun Uthai will have is custom-made in his workshop in a matter of days. Otherwise, there’s a vast selection of ready-set gems to ogle, including rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. Although you will be mesmerised into oparting with some serious cash, it will only be able half of what you’d pay back home. What’s more, Uthai offers a full money-back guarantee should you change your mind at any time – even 10 years after you made your purchase.
Uthai’s Gems Ltd
28/7 Soi Ruamrudi,
Tel: +66 2 253 8582 / 4062
Fax: +66 2 253 2860
By Jess Halliday