Shopping for Gemstones and Jewelry in Thailand

Burmese Ruby The country is a major center in the world market for gemstones. As such, markets for gem rough and cut gems attract buyers from around the world. Thailand has hundreds of gem cutters and jewelry makers.

Loose Gems and Gem Rough

Several areas have casual and "organized" markets where gem rough is dealt. Proceed with caution.

Gem Rough in Maesai

  • Maesai is located at the northern tip of Thailand in Chiang Rai province and a transit point and market for ruby rough. Much of the rough is smuggled from Mong Hsu and the Kachin State in Myanmar.
  • An active market for rough gems east of the main road about 1 km south of the river is quite interesting. You will see mounds of rough gems on wooden table along the street being inspected and bargained over.

Gemstones & Rough in Mae Sot

  • Farther south along the western border with Myanmar (Burma), Mae Sot has a smaller and quite diverse market for jadeite, faceted ruby, spinel, sapphire, gem rough and a variety of other gems.
  • Much of this material comes from Mogok which is the area of Myanmar that has produced some of the world's finest rubies and red spinel
  • Several "markets" or areas of display are situated along the main street in town, one in an annex of a large Thai style hotel.

Cut & Polished Gems in Chantaburi

Along the eastern seaboard toward the Cambodian border is a heat treating and cutting center as well as a market for faceted gems The market operates primarily on weekends and is just off one main street and near the river.

If Something Sounds Too Good To Be True It Usually Is Too Good To Be True

Gem Cautions and Scams

  1. Synthetics - Laboratory produced material is often sold as naturally occurring. The inexperienced buyer can be easily fooled into paying a high price for material which is produced very inexpensively
  2. Touts - usually taxi or tuk-tuk drivers waiting outside hotels and along the sidewalk in shopping areas will offer "unbelievable deals". At best you will pay a commission, often 20%.
  3. Tour guides - should not be taken on a shopping trip. They will likely be making a commission of 10 - 20% Intimidation - is a common tactic where a customer has been taken to a "private" shop back inside a soi. If you do not have the experience to deal with these situations, avoid them entirely. Simply get out of the taxi or tuk-tuk and walk away. If you are followed or threatened, find the nearest police box.
  4. Profit pitches - may claim that you are being offered such a deal you can make thousands of dollars on the gems when sold in your home country.
  5. Substituting - You may bargain for and pay for good quality natural gems and decide to have them set. But when you return to pick up the item, poor quality gems or synthetics have been substituted.
  6. Friendly strangers - Very pleasant and well-dressed Thais may approach you on the street saying they want to get acquainted, practice there language skills or do you a favor. Excuse yourself politely and walk away.

If Something Sounds Too Good To Be True It Usually Is Too Good To Be True

Final Advice About Gems in Thailand

  • Unless you know gems or have a "good" referral, don't buy.
  • The vast majority of ruby and sapphire rough must be heat treated before it will look good. So if you take it back home, who will heat treat it for you?
  • If you buy gems, never take your eyes off them, take them with you. Get your gemstones set back home. Don't allow any items to be shipped. Carry the items with you. Most western countries have very small customs duties on loose gemstones.
  • Avoid "private" locations.
  • Protect your credit card. Consider cash instead.
  • Let yourself "cool off". Go back tomorrow if you really want it. You may decide that you really don't want it all that much. And you will also probably get a better deal.
  • A customer's greed is a scam expert's most powerful tool

Where to shop? some suggestions