Professional Jeweler Archive: Thailand Wants Your Business

July 2003

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Thailand Wants Your Business

The government and a trade association undertake pro-business initiatives and launch efforts to brand Bangkok's ties with jewelry-making and gem-cutting

Thailand hopes to boost exports of gems and jewelry to bolster an economy suffering from banking collapses, a real-estate bust and the 1997 devaluation of its currency. Gems and jewelry, a ray of sunshine in Thailand’s otherwise dreary economy, accounted for more than $2 billion in exports in 2002, an 18% increase, says Benjawan Ratanaprayul, assistant director general of the Department of Export and Promotion. (Professional Jeweler visited Thailand and the Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair as a guest of DEP.)

Ratanaprayul anticipates a smaller increase this year because the war in Iraq and the SARS health threat have dragged down the economies of all Asian economies, even those not directly involved in either, like Thailand.

In the long-term, however, confidence in the Thai economy is expected to grow. New Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has made several pro-business moves, including privatizing key state-owned industries and exempting gems, diamonds, precious metals and findings from a 7% value-added tax as of March 1. “The goal is to make the Thai market much more competitive and to increase exports,” says Dr. Sunee Sriorathaikul, president of the Thai Gems & Jewelry Traders Association.

Branding Bangkok

In an additional attempt to entice retailers from the U.S. and elsewhere, the association and the Department of Export & Promotion want to brand Bangkok’s links to jewelry-making and gem-cutting. Regarding jewelry-making, the Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair in February called Bangkok the City of Jewels and promoted Thai-inspired designs and Bangkok-made jewelry. A front-door jewelry showcase featured Thai motifs like those seen in the country’s famed silk designs.

Gem-cutting, meanwhile, began in Thailand in the early 1900s as an extension of sapphire and ruby mining in Kanchanaburi and Chanthaburi. Soon Thais were cutting Burma’s famous corundum too.

While mining is no longer big business in Thailand (ruby mines no longer produce commercial quantities and sapphire mining continues only on a reduced scale), gem-cutting has blossomed. Thailand imports vast quantities of gems for cutting and has become the world’s top exporter of faceted corundum and other gems. Some of these gems remain in Thailand for use in jewelry-making. Much Thai jewelry features sapphires and rubies from .01 to over 10 carats.

Thai Design

Jewelry at the recent Bangkok show included innovative uses of silver and anodized silver set with coral, turquoise, quartz and sapphire. Another trend: antique-style diamonds in modern jewelry. “They are very hot right now,” says Neelam Kothari of Eagle Stars Co. Ltd., Bangkok.

Beryllium-treated orange sapphires were spotted at several booths and, in some cases, were heavily promoted. But orange sapphires remain the object of intense debate, so sales were sluggish. (For more on beryllium treatment, see “Cranking Up the Heat,” pp. 66-67, May 2003).

Natural color sapphires in all colors and rubies were abundant at the show. And size matters. Larger, fine gems are being used in the latest designs, says Kanitta Tantavichien, executive director of Prima Gems Co., Bangkok. Her company, which focused on melee

sapphires in undulating, flowery pavé settings last year, is moving toward larger gems. She also says natural color pastel sapphires, such as those from Madagascar, are particularly hot.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

The trend toward bigger gems is seen in this pastel sapphire necklace and earrings by Prima Gems Co. Ltd., Bangkok.
Commerce Minister Adisai Bhodharamik (left) and Dr. Sunee Sriorathaikul, president of the Thai Gems & Jewelry Traders Association, are among Thai officials who deem the gem and jewelry business to be a strategic asset.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Orange Sapphire Co. Ltd. promoted beryllium-treated orange sapphires at the 31st Thai Gems and Jewelry Show.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications