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Bangkok Gem Shopping Tips

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Another year, another Bangkok jewellery show….. and to be honest, they all kind of look the same after a while.  Still, the magpie in me never gets tired of marvelling at the stunning gemstones, even if the selection and quality do seem to be going down year on year.  Although, it could just be me, maybe I’ve just been spoilt by other gem and jewellery shows over the years.

 Bangkok show early in the morning, unfortunately it didn't get much busier throughout the day.

Bangkok show early in the morning, unfortunately it didn't get much busier throughout the day.

The day started slightly earlier than usual, with the 5.20AM alarm causing me severe distress and anger after a few beers the night before, but in no time at all, I was on my way.  At this point, I would love to tell you that I was travelling in style - that I quickly settled in to a fabulous airport lounge, before hopping aboard a brand new A380 (upper deck of course!) - but in reality, nope.  I schlepped wearily through the airport with just one thought on my mind: STARBUCKS.  Well, Starbucks finally arrived in my line of sight, and what excitement I felt at the thought of the new Irish cream frappucino! Sounds amazing right? it wasn't.  Answer me this Starbucks; who the bloody hell puts chunks of jelly in an Irish coffee frappe???

Anyway I digress, now back to the point of the trip…..  Which wasn’t to drink ridiculous coffee, it wasn’t even to buy gemstones that I really couldn’t afford, and it certainly wasn’t to purchase jewellery.  My one job in the whole 5 hours that I was to be at the Bangkok Jewellery Show, was to check out prices for new tools and equipment for our new jewellery school.  So with my purpose clearly stamped in my mind, I hit the show, and actual fact, I didn’t do too badly.  I collected flyers from relevant suppliers and spoke to other suppliers who promised to reply to my emails this time – but ultimately never did.  Most of my time however, was spent drooling over tools that are currently way out of budget; from the latest in laser welders, to 3D printers, and superb casting equipment - "soon", I kept telling myself.

laser welder bangkok gemshow

In terms of jewellery, unfortunately it’s ultimately not worth discussing.  There was nothing new, particularly unique, or innovative at the Bangkok Jewellery Show.  But that wasn’t a surprise.  The Bangkok jewellery industry isn’t famous for its design skills, but rather its manufacturing skills and the ability to perform alchemy with the mountains of gemstones, which flood the city from all continents.  Which leads me to the purpose of my writing this article: to offer those heading to Bangkok in search of a bargain gemstone, my top 10 tips to avoid getting ripped off.  And so here they are:

#1

Do not buy from anywhere your tuk tuk driver take you to!  No matter how charming he is, if your tuk tuk driver takes you there, you are not going to get a great deal.  The drivers don’t seem to be taking you to places that sell fakes, but you certainly aren’t getting the best deals to wherever they take you - it’s a racket.  Don’t get sucked in by these guys. They are great fun, but they are not your new BFF. You are simply their meal ticket.  The same goes for anyone approaching you on the street, especially kids or cute girls – most of these guys are selling you fakes!

tuk tuk jewellery school

#2

Just because a gemstone has inclusions, that does not mean it's real.  Many synthetics also contain inclusions, and scammers will go to amazingly creative lengths to help relieve you of your hard-earned cash.

#3

Learn how to use gem tweezers and a loupe before your trip.  If you need help with this, check out YouTube.  Dealers won’t take you seriously if you can’t use the basics, and any scammers will know you are an easy target.

#4

Indian sellers tend to have better prices on commercial gems such as amethyst, aquamarine and citrine etc.  They usually have great banter too! But don’t be taken in by these charmers. The promises of the best prices are true, but only after a little negotiation.  Nobody will offer you their best price straight out, so always remember to negotiate.

#5

Pearls are for sale everywhere – mostly imported from China, Indonesia and the Philippines.  Whilst gem shopping, it is rare to see fakes in terms of pearls, but it is important to learn to tell the difference between freshwater and saltwater, and natural vs unnaturally coloured pearls.  It’s surprisingly simple to spot a dyed pearl: If a pearl is bright and garish in colour, it is most likely not natural! However, differentiating between freshwater and saltwater requires a lot of practice…. Maybe we should run a course!

 Stunning Tahitian keshi pearls, - these colours are entirely natural.

Stunning Tahitian keshi pearls, - these colours are entirely natural.

#6

If you are just buying one gemstone from a wholesale dealer, don’t expect them to give you a big discount.. Unless of course it’s a fine, unheated, 5ct ruby– these guys are in business and have to make a living too.

#7

The closer you are to the source, the better deal you expect. Unfortunately, the more likely you are to get taken for a ride as well.  The scammers know you are expecting a good deal, and are all too keen to offer you the “best”. 

#8

“Hydro”, as in hydro-quartz or hydro emerald, means the gemstone was produced using the hydrothermal growth method. It’s basically a synthetic gemstone, only the sellers prefer not to use the word “synthetic”.

 100% natural, unheated tanzanite. They were a great price too!

100% natural, unheated tanzanite. They were a great price too!

#9

There is a difference between synthetic, and fake or imitation.  A synthetic gemstone has basically the same chemical composition and crystal structure as its natural counterpart, but it’s made in the laboratory – kind of like Frankenstein’s monster vs a real human.  A fake or imitation, merely looks the same as the gem it is imitating. CZ is commonly used to imitate diamonds as well as many coloured gemstones.

#10

Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose, but don’t be afraid to spend a few bucks on a few cheap stones either.  It’s good fun, and still probably less than you would pay anywhere else!

 Beautiful African rough gemstones - this is what your sparklies look like before they're cut!

Beautiful African rough gemstones - this is what your sparklies look like before they're cut!

Bonus Tip!

Don’t drink more than 3 Singhas before gemstone shopping!