Thailand is fortunate to have jewelry artisans following traditions dating back hundreds of years and substantial gemstone resources within the Kingdom. The country has developed its gold and silver craft with its wide use of precious and semi-precious stones, however diamonds have never been extracted from Thailand’s natural deposits.
Combining a deep ancient tradition, excellent craftsmanship and sophisticated modern technology, Thailand’s gems and jewelry industry sparkles among the world’s finest. With natural resources and superior production capability, the country is a leader in cutting and polishing, innovative design and quality control. Thailand has a rich history in gems and jewelry. Hundreds of years ago, the Thai people drew from their natural artistic flair and started incorporating rubies, sapphires and other local gem resources into jewelry. Gold and silversmiths also began honing their skills. Boomtowns sprouted up, such as Chantaburi, famous for its rubies and sapphires. The dazzling red “Siamese rubies” hail from there. Kanchanaburi Province is likewise known for extensive deposits of blue sapphires. As practitioners applied skills handed down through generations, a cottage industry formed in various provinces, with the business aspects gradually coalescing in Bangkok. Over time, modern advancements in manufacturing techniques helped the country gear up as a global production and trade center.
Thailand is the world’s number one producer of silver jewelry and the fifth-largest center of diamond cutting. It is also one of the top five jewelry polishing centers along with Israel, Belgium, the United States and India and ranks 12th worldwide for colored stones.
Thailand’s expertise in cutting and polishing precious stones and diamonds indeed is praised worldwide. Because of the high standard of workmanship, international gem and jewelry merchants send vast amounts of gemstones to the country for these precision processes. Besides stressing perfection, the local industry is also an innovator. Thai designers are continuously coming up with special looks and breakthroughs in the use of materials, whether for costume or fine jewelry. In recent releases, everything from wood and coconut shell to silk and leather can be seen combined with gold, silver and jewels.
From materials to production, the Thai industry is serious about the promise of utmost quality, even at reasonable pricing. The quality of the gems and jewelry is examined stringently and guaranteed by the Asian Institute of Gemological Science, International Gemological Institute, GJIT and other internationally accepted local bodies. The local industry’s big event is the biannual Bangkok Gems & Jewelry Fair, which ranks among the top five such fairs in the world. For more than two decades, it has served as a grand showcase promoting Thailand as a gems and jewelry trendsetter.
Using natural gem resources, local artisans began to incorporate such gems into silver and gold jewelry. Before, Thailand was known as the ‘land of smiles’ their beautiful gem stones had given Thailand the name of the ‘land of jewels’. Thailand jewelry, at least in relation to silver, is said to have been heavily influenced by a number of distinct minority nomadic groups who live in the North of Thailand near the Burmese and Lao boarders knows as the Northern hill tribes. These groups, which include the Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Meo, originally migrated from China over a hundred years ago. Due to their isolation in the North of Thailand, they maintained their traditional knowledge of arts and crafts including the use of silver dating back several hundred years.
While each social group or hill tribe had its own cultural and artistic traits, for the Karen tribe this included the wearing of silver rings, necklaces and bracelets which was and still is a distinct display of their identity and wealth. Thus, the skills and jewelry designs once practiced and found in the northern Thailand villages are now mass produced in places such as Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Thailand’s gold craft dates back to around the first Century A.D in the Chao Phraya region of Thailand where early Thai artisans were inspired by Hindu people from India, bringing with them early gold pieces and a knowledge of gold artistry dating back approximately two thousand years. These early Hindu settlers or the ‘Mon people’ are said to have heavily influenced the initial gold industry in Thailand including the use of rubies set in gold.
Here is some valuable advice and useful tips for tourists looking to buy gems and jewelry in Thailand:
- To ensure quality, look for the logo of the Jewel Fest Club (JFC). Purchasing an item from any JFC member store is a guarantee that the items are certified for their authenticity and high quality as well as offer value-for-money.
- Check information about the shops you visit – as well as any details of the offered items before you make the decision to buy. Don’t be pressured into a hurried.
- Ask the seller to write down the details of any purchased items on your receipt; such as, type of stone, color, weight, size, cut, and quality. The quality of course, makes a huge difference to the value of the stone.
- Always ask to see the stone in daylight even if they tell you that they have a daylight lamp in the shop.
- Ask for a certificate of authenticity with a laboratory report issued by authorized gemologists from the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT) or the Asian Institute of Gemological Science (AIGS). Lab reports should be recent and not several years old.
- Purchase at shops with the sign “VAT Refund for Tourists”. Also note that the total value of goods purchased for a VAT refund must be at least 5,000 Baht. Keep the VAT refund form and the copy of the tax invoice along with the goods to present to the custom officials yourself at your port of disembarkation within 60 days of the date of purchase.
- Do not buy right away. Try to find information about the stones being offered, write it down, and, at the very least check this information on the Internet, especially the prices.
- Do not purchase products that are offered with surprisingly incredible deals. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.