The Chanthaburi gem market, approximately a 4-hour drive from Bangkok, has a rich history dating back several centuries and is well known for its prominent role in the global gem trade. Located in Thailand's lush rural Chanthaburi province, this market has significantly shaped the region's economy and reputation as a leading gemstone hub.
A Brief History of Chanthaburi Gem Market:
The history of gem trading in Chanthaburi dates back to the 17th century when the area was known for its ruby and sapphire mines. During the 19th century, Chanthaburi became a vital gemstone trading hub, attracting gem merchants from various parts of Southeast Asia and beyond. The gem trade flourished, with precious stones sourced from nearby mines and traded in the bustling market. In the early 20th century, Chanthaburi's gem trade faced disruptions due to political changes and economic challenges. However, the market managed to endure and recover. The growth of the market was further fueled by the expansion of the global jewellery industry, creating a demand for quality gemstones. Over the years, Chanthaburi has adapted to changing market dynamics and technologies. The traditional open-air gem markets have modernised by introducing more formalised trading practices and gem certification procedures. Chanthaburi's gem markets are renowned for their diversity of gemstones, including rubies, sapphires, and every other type of precious and semi-precious gemstone. The region's reputation for producing and trading high-quality gemstones has made it a destination for gem enthusiasts, collectors, and industry professionals. Despite facing competition from other global gemstone trading centres, Chanthaburi's gem market continues to thrive due to its historical significance, unique gem offerings, and the expertise of local gem dealers. The market remains a crucial part of Thailand's gem and jewellery industry, contributing to the country's reputation as a key player in the global gemstone trade.
A Gemstone Buying Adventure:
I have travelled twice to Chantaburi to source and buy gems for The Sapphire Merchant. The first time in 2019 and the 2nd time in 2023. The market is most active on Fridays and Saturdays, with gem traders and buyers coming from as far afield as Sri Lanka, parts of Africa and beyond. There are several options for buying. Firstly you can rent a table in the open-air market. Alternatively, you can use a gem broker's office. On both occasions, I opted to use a gem broker's office for quality control, but also because I have built a professional relationship with the family of this particular gem broker. A reputable gem broker will screen all gems coming through the office to ensure they meet the criteria of what is being hunted for.
On my 2023 trip to Chanthaburi, I was specifically hunting for sapphires. Signage was put up in the window of the gem broker's office to stipulate what type of sapphires I was hunting for. Gem sellers then check the signage, and if they have gems that meet these requirements, they enter the office to show me their stock holdings. Thousands of gems can be viewed within hours, and working to select, negotiate and buy the gems is relatively fast-paced. Negotiation is generally the most time-consuming part of this process, and if a deal cannot be reached, the gem is taken back off the table.
Buying in the Chanthaburi gem market is all about the day's luck. Sometimes there are incredible deals to be had, and at other times the specific type of gem you are searching for (cut, colour, carat size) can prove elusive.
Why Buying from Chanthburi Keeps Prices Lower:
Because The Sapphire Merchant buys from the Chanthaburi gem market, I can keep the cost lower on the retail price of my gemstones. There are several reasons for this:
Competition: The Chanthaburi gem market has a high concentration of gem traders and dealers. This competitive environment leads to more reasonable prices as sellers strive to attract buyers by offering competitive rates.
Variety: The Chanthaburi gem market offers various gemstones, including those unique to the region, such as ruby, sapphire, and spinel. The abundance of gem options allows buyers to find gemstones that suit their preferences and budgets.
Negotiation: Traditional gem markets like Chanthaburi allow room for negotiation. Skilled buyers can discuss prices with sellers, potentially securing better deals than fixed-price retail environments.
Lower Overheads: Gem traders in Chanthaburi operate in open-air markets or smaller shops, resulting in lower operational costs compared to upscale retail stores. These lower overheads can translate into more affordable prices for buyers.
Expertise: Chanthaburi has a history of gem trading expertise. Local dealers possess extensive knowledge about gemstones, their quality, and their value. Buyers can rely on their expertise to make informed purchasing decisions and obtain better value.
The Sapphire Merchant business model is about offering precious gemstones to the New Zealand market at more affordable prices. I can do this because I buy from gem markets such as Chanthaburi, substantially cutting down the longer supply chain often seen in the gemstone and jewellery industry.