If you are in the jewelry industry, you know that Thailand has a rich history in gems and jewelry. Something about the topography makes Thailand and nearby regions rich resources for fabulous gems.
Thailand gives us the dazzling red “Siamese rubies,” for instance. Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province is known for extensive deposits of blue sapphires.
It’s only natural that hundreds of years ago, the Thai people began combining their artistic flair and these local gem resources to develop a thriving jewelry industry. Skills handed down through generations plus modern manufacturing techniques helped the country become a global production and trade center.
As I wrote last week, I recently visited my daughter and her family in Thailand. I had been wanting to get a better sense of the jewelry industry in Bangkok, so for this trip, I made arrangements to visit one of the luxury firms. I ended up enjoying a fascinating jewelry tour and education.
I visited the production center for a jewelry company that designs and manufactures luxury pieces with prices ranging from $5,000 to $250,000. They are well known in luxury destinations around the world, but I cannot divulge their name to you.
Secrecy and discretion were the rule of the day! When I saw the artisans and craftsmen working, I immediately wanted to take pictures. (Remember: Wherever I travel, I am always thinking of my dear readers!)
“Not possible,” the intelligent and handsome Swiss manager said with a smile, so I put away my camera.
This factory employed more than 150 Thai workers to produce jewelry for their own design house. Additionally they manufacture for other designers worldwide. For instance, a European design house may outsource the manufacturing to this company or one of the others like it around Bangkok.
Many European designers are reluctant to admit their creations are actually produced outside of Europe. Think about it: “Made in Italy” is a prestigious luxury designation, but not everything can be produced in Milan, Rome and Florence at all the different price points retailers require!
I wonder if designers and customers will eventually be more accepting of high-quality goods coming out of places like Thailand. In the garment industry as well as other industries, people are increasingly concerned about exactly how and where products are made.
Recent factory tragedies, such as the building collapse in Bangladesh, have put the spotlight on Asian manufacturing conditions. However, this Bangkok jewelry manufacturer operated in a pristine factory with skilled workers and craftsmen who were obviously treated very well.
As I toured the various areas of the facility I observed most of the steps in jewelry making:
Concept. The process begins with the designer’s drawing and visualization of the jewelry piece. These sketches are referred back to throughout the process.
Stone selecting. An entire work team was devoted to selecting stones. If a necklace is to have 10 sapphires, for instance, the finest jewelry will have 10 stones that are very, very similar in quality and color. Craftsmen may sort through hundreds of sapphires until they are satisfied with the 10 stones that, when assembled, will create the most magnificent piece.
Processing the stones. The gems must be ground, cut, buffed and polished with a keen eye and high level of skill.
“Lost wax” casting. Have you ever wondered how the raw bulk gold became the finished product? The “lost wax” casting method was developed in ancient times, although modern tools are now used. The object that is to be created is first sculpted out of wax to exact specifications. The wax sculpture is encased in plaster. After drying, it is put into a kiln to melt the wax, leaving its hollow image inside the plaster encasement. Molten gold is put in the hollow spot.
Setting the stones. Stone setters are like surgeons. They must have a steady hand and a meticulous eye. They are perfectionists in symmetry and placement.
Polishing. The metal becomes smooth and shiny. Impurities are steamed off, and remaining sharp edges are buffed away.
I was overwhelmed with the well-organized facility, the use of age-old skills, the intricacy of the work and the obvious contentment and expert professionalism of the workers. If I were to own a beautiful piece of jewelry made by these practitioners, I would be most proud to have an example of fine Thailand-made jewelry.