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.