Thailand Experience #3: Jewellery And Coins
As my wife complained all the time; I am a shopperholic. That means I enjoy shopping and purchasing more than using the things I bought. I derived most of the pleasure in knowing where to buy the stuff at the best price I can get them. This is not easy to do when you are traveling in foreign countries.
I am somewhat knowledgeable about how to purchase jewelry in the USA and in Hong Kong. So quality and prices will be compared with the above markets.
First of all I would like to describe the general practice of pricing in the USA. Let us call the average list price you see in a retail store (like a major department store) the retail price. Typically if a store only buys a small quantity of products from a wholesaler they paid 33% of the retail price. That can go down to the low 20% of retail if they buy many millions of dollars worth. If you want to sell your jewelry, you will be lucky if you can get 20% of the retail price. The really cheap jewelry is even worse and you may never be able to sell it and get any money at all. That is why jewelry in general is not for investment. The 24k gold jewelry; top brand name designer label (like Rolex) and very high quality gem stones have a much higher resale value. Typical 24k yellow gold jewelry is sold by weight. The buy and sell spread is about 10%. There is a small amount of labor charge in making the jewelry and a small transaction fee. For a simple ring or necklace you can sell it back for about 85% of what you paid for. For Rolex watches you can buy them at 20% off list and can sell at 50% off list. More if it is in great condition and less if it is not.
First of all I would like to discuss pure gold (24k) jewelry. The best place to buy them is in Hong Kong. All 24k gold jewelry from Hong Kong contains 99.99% gold. I have never heard of any problem (fake) buying 24k gold jewelry from a regular store in Hong Kong. There is a very good store in the Hong Kong airport and their prices are the same as others shops in Hong Kong. In Bangkok the best place to buy 24k jewelry is in Chinatown. There are many large jewelry stores in Chinatown specializing in 24k gold jewelry. They also post the price of gold and you pay by the weight. I did talk to a vendor outside of Chinatown about a 24k Buddha. She told me it is actually 22k. In Hong Kong it is either 24k or 18k but no 22k. So Pure gold in Thailand is 96% to 99.99%. Asians prefer yellow gold to white gold. I like white gold and platinum. White gold is just gold with some other metal (Zinc?) and is usually 18k or 14k. Platinum is usually 24k. 24k gold is very soft. It will bend easily and will not stay in shape for long. 24k platinum wedding rings are very pretty and it is as strong as an 18k gold ring. Right now 24k platinum jewelry is about twice as expensive as gold.
Gem stones are my next topic. I came to know a few jewelers in the Atlanta area in the late 80’s. One couple actually are both gemologists. They teach me a lot about gem stones. I have never bought any gem stone other than diamonds because it is very difficult to tell the value of gem stones. Even an expert cannot always tell for sure whether something is real or fake with their naked eyes or even using 10x loops. How to judge the real value of a stone is extremely difficult.
The easiest gem stone to value is diamond. If you want to be safe you can always buy a diamond which is GIA certified. In the US the dealers also have an up to date wholesale pricing sheet for different grades of diamond. There are 4 factors, color, clarity, cut and (carat) weight. Before you buy any stone that is expensive you should go to a few dealers and try to get some idea how much a similar stone should cost. If you have Internet access go to the web and search for loose gem stones. This is the best way to find out what they are selling for. Since diamonds are imported into Thailand, the only advantage is the low cost of labor. The smaller the stone the more labor it is to mount them. As a result the best value is diamond jewelry with many small diamonds.
There are two types of diamond like stones. The newest and the best is moissanite. Here is a link to more information http://188.8.131.52/about.htm. It cost about 10% of real diamond and it looks just as good or even better than diamond. Unless you know what to look for, you will not be able to tell the difference even if you use a magnifying glass. Simple electronic tester will also identify them as diamond. Actually many wealthy people duplicate their diamonds using moissanite and wear them instead of their real diamond due to insurance cost. The real cheap one is cubic zirconias. They are extremely cheap; less then $100 a carat. Here is a link for more information http://www.russianstarz.com/main.asp. The message here is that only buy diamonds from stores and people you can trust. There are not too many in LOS that a tourist can find.
The most popular gem stones purchased in Thailand are red ruby and blue sapphire. Both are from Thailand and other southeastern Asia countries. Red ruby for woman and blue sapphire for man. Just to warn you those sale people are really good. Most of them lie to you and tell you why their prices are low. Here is a link you can check some loose stones and their prices, http://www.gemsuite.com/front.html. I run into a salesman who is from Singapore. I asked him why he is working in Thailand. He said he is a Jehovah Witness and cannot find a job in Singapore because they are considered to be evil. He is the only salesman who told me the truth in LOS. Actually no high quality blue sapphire is from Thailand. The Thailand blue sapphire is of the darker color type. I did purchased a blue sapphire and made a simple ring for myself from the largest gem stone store in BKK. But the price is not low. Well, I have to say I did my purchase before I have all the information about blue sapphire. Some high quality red ruby is from Thailand and most of them are not. I end up buying one for my wife in Hong Kong. She likes white gold also and there are not many choices in LOS for white gold. Again the price I pay is not low. Stick to lower price gem stone unless you really know how to value one. To begin with most real gem stone you see in stores are treated with heat or oil or chemical. There is no way you and I can tell the difference between untreated gem stone and enhanced gem stone. Then there are imitations and some are so good that even experts have problem identifying them without equipment. Also remember the appraisal value of jewelry is the retail price of the jewelry. Normally in USA you should be able to buy them at no more then 50% of appraisal value.
My wife worked on a huge project in Thailand where about 100 people from all over the world came. Someone in the company had a connection with a gem stone shop near Chinatown. Many of those 100 people went to this gem stone store. They were offering free lunch and dinner and transportation. I examined some of their purchases and was not impressed. They are probably getting reasonable deals which means no cheating but good profit for the shop. I get nosy when one of them told me they got a large aquamarine ring for 10,000 baht. I was looking for aquamarine for my daughter and was not able to find any reasonable offer. She show me the ring and the stone was big (about 3 carat). I told her this cannot be real aquamarine. Then she looks for her receipt and it says BT ring. I assume BT stands for blue Topaz which looks like aquamarine and is very cheap. At least the receipt is correct. But a BT ring should be cheaper then 10,000 baht. On the other hand she bought a red ruby for about 40,000 baht that looks like a good price to me. Again what I cannot say for sure is how the stone is treated and my valuation skill on red ruby is just fair.
Many people like my wife like to keep foreign coins and paper money as safe keeps. I on the other hand like to collect them. Every time my wife gets a coin that looks good or paper money that is new or near new she wants to save them. I keep telling her that is not the best way to get coins. You should only get uncirculated or proof coins.
There is a place at the Grand Palace which offers a great selection of uncirculated and proof coins. It is located between the ticket booth and the entrance of the Grand Palace. When you buy the ticket of the Grand Palace it came with 2 other tickets. One for the V house and one for a coin show in this museum. I bought some uncirculated year coin sets from them at very good price. There were about 5 or 6 years available. They have a lot of gold coins also and some are very expensive (>100,000 baht). I did two purchases on the street near Chinatown. There was one small vendor selling uncirculated coins. I bought some 10 baht and some 20 baht coins from him. I first observed locals buying coins from him. I saw how much he was paying. Then I negotiated a price better then what the local paid because I was buying a few more coins then the local did. I bought some proof and uncirculated coin from another street vendor. This time I selected a few items that has price labels (most items do not have price labels) and get about 20% off the price labels.
In the weekend market there are about 10 shops that sell coins and paper money. They look very attractive to me. Unfortunately there are so many other things my wife wants to look at and coins is not one of them. I am sure they offer a lot of different old coins and currency. Also there are a lot of shops here if you are interested in low cost jewelry.
Talk about low cost jewelry of less then 400 baht. You must visit Chinatown. There is a very narrow street parallel to Yaowarat towards the river. I usually take BTS to the end of the line (S6) by the river. Then the river boat to Chinatown (Ratchawong). (I loved the sugar cane juice stall right at the pier here. The best price you can get and fresh every day. I even took a picture with the woman and her daughter who owns this stall) Walk towards Chinatown. The narrow street before you get to Yaowarat is the main street for all the wholesale / retail stores. If you go left you will find a lot of clothing types. Go right for other shops. The low cost jewelry here is bargain priced. Buy at wholesale quantity for the best price. Just in case you are looking for loose gem stones, there are about 20 shops at the end of this street. Some types of store are concentrated in one area but some are scattered all over the place. It is very crowded here almost like the weekend market. Be careful of pick pockets just like the weekend market. If you are an early person this is the area you want to visit. Usually all shops are open by 10 am and a lot of them open at 9am. Visit the flower and vegetable market near by if you want to start the day early because they are open 24 hours. How can you beat the price of as low as 30 baht for 50 roses? (Long stems are 100 baht.)
I’ll be in Sapporo Japan in a few days for the snow festival. They have ice sculptures 5 stories tall. No shopping. Japan is too expensive. I’ll do a lot of shopping in Hong Kong on my way back.
I am looking fore ward to visit LOS in July. Talk about shopping in LOS. My wife’s friend’s husband wants to come back to BKK just for shopping. He was in LOS twice between 10/2003 to 12/2003. He said he did not have enough time to complete his shopping. Let’s face it. Other then the red night district, shopping is the most attractive activity in LOS.
Interesting, although it hasn’t convinced me to add to my yet-to-be-started jewellery collection.