Elegant and Sublime Jewelry Selections
FOR MANY VERY good reasons, jewelry, silver and gold are high on many visitors' shopping lists when they visit Chiangmai. The wealth of precious metals and beautifully cut gemstones available in the North is not only a powerful attraction but a source of considerable export earnings as well. Chiangmai's reputable jewelry commerce is now firmly established and second only to Bangkok here in the Kingdom.
Although Thailand has mined gems for centuries, it wasn't until two decades ago that it became a world class center for the industry and currently ranks as the world's second largest jewelry exporter. Not only are gems mined here, they are also cut, polished and made into exquisite jewelry within Thailand's own borders. Buyers have the options of purchasing individual unset gems, finished jewelry or custom-made treasures. Gems from all over the world are now imported for cutting and polishing due to the reputation of the fine craftsmanship found here. This is due to the extensive training of skillful gem cutters. For the first time, a country which is a major producer of gemstones is also a leading cutter. In the past 20 years, Thailand has developed into the gold, silver and gemstone center of Southeast Asia.
Some helpful information about gemsHow is the value of gems determined? The size or weight of a stone is measured in carats, unlike karats, which are used to measure the purity of gold. In a stone, one carat is equivalent to 200 milligrams. Each carat is divided into 100 points. The measure of the gem's density is the true determining factor of the gem's value. The greater the density of the gem, the smaller the size per carat and the greater the value. On a scientific level, the size per carat is determined by the specific gravity, and a larger stone does not necessarily have more carats than a smaller one.
Colored GemstonesToday, Thailand is the world's largest colored gemstone center, and Asia's largest manufacturer of jewelry. Thailand is Asia's main source, reflecting not only the Kingdom's rich mineral deposits, but also those of its neighbors. Thailand's proximity to Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka and the more recently developed Cambodian gem-producing mines means that all four countries have Thailand as their outlet. This makes Thailand the major source of rubies and sapphires worldwide, in fact supplying 80% of the rubies and sapphires on the world market. More than a dozen other varieties of gemstones are mined in Thailand - including zircon, garnet, beryl, quartz and tourmaline. The jewelry manufacturing industry in Thailand has grown to such proportions that it is now a major importer of colored gemstones from around the world, as well.
Rubies and SapphiresRubies and sapphires, which are the most abundant gemstones found within Thailand itself, are actually just color variations of the same mineral - corundum. Red corundum is called ruby, and all the other colors (such as blue, black, pink, green, white, etc.) are sapphires. Next to the diamond, the second hardest mineral on earth is corundum.
Stones for Days of the WeekWhile in the West specific gemstones are tied to the month of one's birth, here in Thailand, each day of the week has a color and appropriate gemstone associated with it:
One type of traditional Siamese ring, called a "Princess Ring" is made with nine different gems, set in a circle. It can be worn on any day of the week, and is believed to bring happiness, health and riches to its wearer.
JadeChiangmai is also an excellent place to buy jade. Throughout history, jade has held a peculiar fascination for people all over the world, and nowhere has this fascination been greater than in China. From ancient times until the present, the Chinese have coveted jade for its value and beauty and attribute healing and mystical powers to it. The ancient Chinese believed that when crushed and mixed with liquid, jade would provide a powerful tonic.
The earliest use of jade in China was for ornamental sculpture, primarily exquisite carvings of Chinese deities and mythical beasts. Today, jade is prized by art and gem collectors and is universally used as a precious stone in fine jewelry making. Much of the jade on the world market today comes from northern Thailand and Myanmar. You will find many fine examples of jade craftsmanship here in Chiangmai. Silver The fine art of silver-working first existed in Southeast Asia at about the same time as gold. It is also attributed to the Hindu culture, which brought it into the region. Silver was always the decorative medium of the common people in the region; water bowls, trays and utensils of many types having been made of silver for many centuries. Until the founding of Chiangmai in the 13th century, silver work was limited to these practical items, as well as ritual betel box sets, religious articles and other decorative paraphernalia. The common use of these articles in silver persists down to the present day.
Silver as a jewelry item began with the rise of Chiangmai and its handicraft industry. From central Burma, immediately after the sack of Pagan in 1294 A.D., came the silver craft. Five hundred Burmese families fled the falling Burmese capital and brought silver-working to Chiangmai. This was the beginning of the art we know today as northern Thai Silver. Although the first designs of 700 years ago were Burmese, the Thais gradually evolved their own silver designs in jewelry, and other decorative art pieces. Many fine examples of silver work are to be found in Chiangmai.
GoldIn Thailand, gold jewelry is generally available in 90% purity (22 karat), or 95% purity (23 karat). There are some specialized outlets now selling pure, 100% (24 karat) jewelry. Gold is primarily used in combination with Thai-cut and polished gemstones in the production of fine jewelry. However, gold necklaces and bracelets are extremely popular with the Thai people, both for their beauty and intrinsic value.
The weight of gold in Thailand is measured in "baht". One baht weight of gold is equal to 15.12 grams, or slightly over 0.002 ounce. The prices of gold vary from day to day with the fluctuation in the world market price.
One interesting variation in the use of precious metals in jewelry is what is locally known as "Three Kings", in honor of the three kings who came together over 700 years ago and founded the city of Chiangmai as the common capital of their three Kingdoms. This type of jewelry involves combining links or strands of gold, silver and copper into necklaces or bracelets, and some very beautiful examples can be found. Another Thai traditional gold item is a gold ring with your family name enameled in red. The jeweler making the ring can write your name in Thai script.
Buying JewelryWhen shopping for jewelry in Chiangmai, visitors and residents alike should deal with reputable shops. "Welcome to Chiangmai and Chiangrai" recommends the following ones, all of whose advertisements have been accepted into the pages of this magazine. Be sure to mention having found their names here, which will ensure you individual attention.
For fine jewelry and custom designed pieces see Orchid Jade Jewelry at Doi Suthep; also, Shiraz Jewelry and Nova Contemporary Design both on Thapae Road; Princess Jewelry on Chang Klan Road, where fine handcrafted jade is available.
Vintage silver ornaments are found at Sipsong Panna in the shopping arcade opposite the Amari Rincome Hotel; for 3 generations Tada Silverware has been selling quality silverware. Iyara Art has an outlet on Sankampaeng Road. Many popular jewelry fashions can be purchased from Chiangmai Earring who generously pay Bt 100 for transport to their factory.
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