Thailand boasts an impressive array of fine jewellery and precious stones, and Bangkok is a major shopping hub in the worldwide gem trade. Most large dealers in gems and jewellery have offices in Bangkok in order to have greater access to the best deals.
Even so, shoppers are advised to be wary of expensive transactions or too-good-to-be-true deals, as Thailand is equally renowned for gem scams and stings that target unsuspecting tourists. Bigger value deals should be confined to larger, reputable venues where the quality is backed up by firm, international clout.
With this in mind, shopping for jewellery in Thailand is an exciting experience. Varieties in every price range include large, ornaments contrasted with subtle, careful engravings and filigree. Prominent hand-crafted pendants carved from jade, wood, metals or a variety of other creative media are another popular find. This makes shopping for gems or jewellery good value in Thailand.
Thai jewellery and gem styles run the entire gamut from mainstream international fare down to the traditional more specialised jewellery trades that have prospered in Thailand for centuries. Half the fun of shopping for precious jewels and gems in Thailand is the striking contrast of styles.
While rubies and gems aren’t as easy to find in Thai soil as they once were, the country has still maintained its status as the world’s leading gem exporter and processor. These days, emeralds, gems and sapphires are imported from Myanmar and Cambodia before they’re processed in Thailand and shipped internationally. However, be aware that most the gemstones, particularly rubies, come from Burma and are mined under dreadful conditions by the military junta. Those who want to take a stand against this repressive regime should refrain from supporting the trade.
A great deal of gem-work is done in Chanthaburi, across the border from Cambodia, where you can still find small-scale vendors operating from sidewalk stalls. This is one of the best places for independent gem shopping in Thailand, as a great deal of raw merchandise stops here before it goes on the market.
Most of Thailand’s major cities have a gold district, with shops that are usually owned and operated by Chinese merchants. These outlets specialise in very yellow varieties of gold, and prices are very competitive due to Thailand’s low cost of labour. White gold and more international styles are easier to find at larger-scaled shopping outlets and department stores.
If you’re on the look-out for the absolute best deals, then you’ll probably want to stick with sapphires, jade and rubies. These are the ‘big three’ for gem shoppers in Thailand, consistently offering the finest quality for the money. There are certainly other bargains out there, though they’re harder to come by. But for gem shopping in Thailand, this trio offer the best bargains.
Keep in mind that local con-artists are on the lookout for gullible tourists anxious to strike it rich in the gem trade. Be sceptical of any unsolicited offers, especially of those who claim that the gem dealers are all closed due to a national holiday. To safeguard your investment, buy only from well-reputed dealers who are registered with the Jewel Fest Club or the Thai Gem and Jewellery Traders Association (TGJTA). When shopping for gems in Thailand, people get scammed almost daily, realising they’ve been sold a fake (even when they were looking at an original in the shop) only to return and find the shop has ‘disappeared’.
The Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences, located in Bangkok, is available to authenticate and grade precious stones. While this service does not include an actual appraisal, it’s at least a means of establishing the quality and authenticity of your newly acquired treasure.