December 9th, 2005

NASA_bighead

Sapphires!

One of the biggest highlights of my trip to Thailand was a visit to Chantaburi, about 3 hours east of Bangkok, where the gem exchange is located. Those of you in the Bay Area who have heard the incessant commercials for The Shane Company hawking their sapphires and rubies know that Mr. Shane buys those personally in Bangkok. Which means he pays 10 times as much for gems which are twice as nice as the ones in Chantaburi. I'm not fussy, I just love the magic of a star coming out of a piece of polished rock.

There are four ways to buy gems in Chantaburi. You can buy them from people on the street who hang around the tourist hotels. These people are usually the sellers from the mines, and they are trying to unload the gems which they could not find a buyer for elsewhere. The second place to buy them is from a gem shop. The third is from a jewelry store. You will see a better grade of stone, and more rare colors there, but you will pay the price. Also, jewelry stores want to sell bracelets and rings more than loose stones.The final way is from a broker. The broker sits at one of several tables on Gem Street, finds out what you are interested in buying, and he takes his felt pen and a piece of loose leaf paper and makes a sign which he puts up somewhere easy to see from the street. Vendors who have what the sign says will come in and show you their gems, and bargain with you. Though the seller does the bargaining, he or she knows the broker will take a commission, so he'll pitch his price way too high at first. You pay the broker, not the seller.

I started out by going to gem shops,  but was told by three of them that star sapphires are a collector's item, so the gem stores didn't stock many. I did buy a small batch of stones from the first shop I tried, but it took half an hour just for them to dig them out of the vault. Another gem shop sold me the best big dark blue stars I had ever seen, but the price was pretty high. I bought some odd colored stones at a jeweler, who kept trying to sell me settings for them, and I paid a high price there too. I had my best luck at the broker, but it took some doing.

My first stop was at a broker, and of course a crowd of vendors gathered when they saw the Westerner. I kept telling them I was only looking for gems which had stars, and they kept putting cut stones under my nose. Sapphires, rubies, garnets, you name it. After 10 minutes of not seeing a star sapphire, I got up and left. My next stop was at the other end of Gem Street at a gem shop. See the rest of the story behind the cut.

Here's a teaser

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