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December 9, 2011


Touring Bangkok’s Jewellery Quarter

Image via Wikipedia Bangkok’s jewellery quarter, which encompasses both Silom Road and the area around the fabled Oriental Hotel in Bang Rak district,  is a fascinating area in its own right and a great place to take a cultural tour, as well as shop for gems, silver jewellery, silverware and ethnic jewellery, artifacts and curiosities. […]

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April 11, 2012


Hail Mary Full of Bling

If you are in Thailand’s gem capital Chanthaburi, check out the historic Cathredral of Immaculate Conception for its pride and joy: a stunning jewel-encrusted statue of the Virgin Mary. Made of 76 kilogrammes of silver and enamel, the magnificent icon is encrusted with 200,000 precious stones, including yellow sapphires and rubies from Thailand and white […]

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January 26, 2012


Mark your Calendar: Bangkok’s 49th Gems & Jewellery Fair Feb 9-13

The Thai Gem and Jewelry Trader’s Association isn’t boasting when it describes its upcoming Bangkok Gems and Jewellery Trade Fair as “the most comprehensive experience in the world of gems and jewelry”.

Held from February 9th to 13th at the Impact Challenger Centre at Muang Thong Thani, the BGJF is recognized as one of the world’s top-five gems and jewellery trade fairs, and Asia’s biggest under-one-roof.  Around 1,500 exhibitors from around the world will occupy more than 3,500 booths.

Though this is a trade fair, members of the public are welcome to attend on the weekend days, and is a not-to-be-missed event for anyone interested in learning about the trade, acquiring gems and jewellery at wholesale prices, or merely wanting to ogle a huge selection of  gemstones and finished pieces all in one place (see my post Shopping the Trade Fairs).

For the second time, the organizers will exhibit the prize-winning designs of “future-forward” trends of  the Ploy Thai Jewelry Creation Awards.

For the general public an there is an entrance fee of Baht 100.  Proper dress is expected and entry to minors below 15 years is refused.

Exhibition Hours:

February 9-12 10am- 6pm, February 13 10am-5pm

for more information see or email

January 21, 2012


Size Matters

A gold ring is an investment and you wouldn’t want to lose one, as I did on a long-haul flight when the sub-zero temperature of the cabin shrunk my finger to the bone. On the other hand (no pun intended) if you arrive at a tropical destination and your digits swell with the heat and heat and humidity a too-tight ring will only make your fingers took like overstuffed sausages.

To complicate matters further, there is no international standardization of ring sizes.  In Asia the most commonly used sizing systems are the American, Hong Kong and European (see FRA in the chart below) ones.

Here’s how to correctly size your rings:

  • Measure your finger size at the end of day when your fingers at are their largest (like sizing shoes).
  • Don’t measure finger sizes when your hands are cold; let them warm up to room temperature.
  • The width of a ring is an important factor in determining the size: a wider shank often requires a slightly larger size, perhaps a half-size more, because it covers more of your finger. This depends however on the style and construction of the ring: if there is a  large stone in a high setting there will be more space in the interior circumference which will allow more “give”, but a wide band-type ring will fit more snugly.

a wide ring with a stone setting may allow more "give"

a wide "band ring" fits more snugly

How to measure your ring size:

  • Wrap a piece of paper or a string around your finger
  • Mark the point where the two ends meet
  • Measure the string or paper against a ruler to get the circumference of your finger
  • Divide that by 3.14 to get the diameter of your finger
  • A ring fits properly when there is a little resistance when you slide it over the knuckle: this should not be a-tug-of-war

Look up your international ring size using the table below:

January 16, 2012


The Healing Power of Gemstones: a unique perspective

Danielle Wiedmann

Just about every culture  uses gemstones as a form of healing.  The Chinese use them in massage, Indian astrologers describe their planetary  influence and prescribe their use, and the 12th Century German Catholic mystic Hildegard Von Bingham recommended ingesting pearls and emeralds.

Danielle Wiedmann, a former decades-long resident of Bangkok now living in Germany, taps into the healing power of gemstones in a unique way that she will describe in a lecture at the Siam Society on February 23, The Healing Power of Gemstones.

Danielle is a practitioner of the healing arts including Reiki, Shiatsu and yoga, a teacher of Vispassana meditation, and a self-described medical intuitive. Using her highly-attuned senses along with a  pendulum to “dowse” or tap into the energy fields emitted by a person or object –such as a gemstone– Danielle “intuits” and prescribes their use for healing purposes.

She says she doesn’t need to be in the presence of the person she is healing, or even know them. She only needs to know their name. She then goes through a process of  connecting with the energy of the individual’s body chakras, determining with her pendulum which gemstone has the properties needed to strengthen or balance the energies. She correctly determined that I had a thyroid problem and recommended that I wear a blue feldspar stone at my throat as a remedy.

“The healing stones have the strongest and most healing properties of all natural remedies whether you believe it or not!”, says Danielle.

Danielle will give her lecture, The Power of the Healing Stones, at the Siam Society , Sukhumvit Soi 21 (Soi Asoke), on Thursday February 23 at 7.30pm.

To contact her email or call 080 221 21 29

December 22, 2011


The United Nations of Jewellery

The interior of the tiny Silom store of Frenchman Yves Bernardeau looks like the inside of a treasure chest: all four walls are lined with richly dressed showcases. The effect, he says, is deliberate: he has to be democratic and show jewels that appeal to every sector of his very international clientale.

Likewise, whether you speak Chinese, Russian, Turkish French, English or Thai you’ll have no problem communicating with this multi-lingual jeweller, or finding something in the collection at Yves Joaillier that suits your taste.

Although jewellery styles have become more globalized it is still true that customers of different nationalities have specific tastes, he says:  Middle Easteners love very beautiful pieces featuring very colorful stones; French people are more discrete and usually choose more subtle colors which are more appropriate for wearing in winter; Indian people must have matching sets; Russians like showy  pieces with big gemstones enhanced with small diamonds while Americans are “more versatile, more open to different styles and are not afraid to wear big pieces.”

A lot of the cultural preferences is lead by what is being promoted by advertising in those countries but the customers themselves are always demanding novelty and versatility, forcing him to adapt constantly. “It’s been wonderful having all these different international customers having different tastes. It’s really opened my mind and forced me to do things that jewelers in the West would not do,” he said.

The challenge, he says is to work quickly and to get it right. He can deliver an item within three days to a week: which is fast even by Thai standards.

Thai customers are Jewellery Experts

Of all the customers his local Thai regulars make up the majority and are the most demanding; “They know jewellery  and gemstones as well as any professional,” he said. “Thai people buy a lot of jewellery and will not compromise on the quality of gemstones. They know exactly the cost prices and will leave you only a very small margin.”

“In the past jewellery and gems were bought as a store of wealth. The local jewellers all had pawn stores and there was a lot of trading at very small margins. This is still the case and one reason jewellery is such a bargain in Thailand, as well as the fact that very few people make up the chain between gem suppliers and the retailer.”This is not the case in Europe.”   In Asia retail jewelry customers are even welcome to buy at the trade fairs which is unheard of in Europe where the manufacturers are determined to keep their suppliers and customer base ignorant of each other, he said.

The jeweller’s bread-and-butter however is not the retail customers but the out-sourcing work he does, including manufacturing for  a well-established high-end label with 30 stores in America, whom he said would prefer that he not identify.

A student of Oriental studies in France and a life-long Asia-phile, Yves came to Thailand by way of Turkey in the late 1970′s and first operated adventure cruises on a Chinese Junk between Phuket and Penang long before Phuket was a tourist destination.

His family had  dealt in antique French country furniture and Yves was always surrounded by beautiful objects. He had an early interest in geology from fossicking for stones near his home in Chamonix, famous for its amethyst and rock crystal: the showcases of Yves Joaillier are filled with raw rocks which he uses as pedestals to display the jewellery.  Once  in Thailand he gravitated naturally to studying gemology at the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences, becoming the protege of its director, Henry Ho.  “He still helps and advises me today,” he said.

Classical Yet Modern

The jewellery produced in his workshop is quite distinctive.  Influenced by ancient Byzantine and Roman designs, the gold is hand-hammered, combining the spare forms reminiscent of  Ilias Lalaounis with the added allure of colorful gemstones, sourced in Thailand but originating from all over the world. The effect is classical,  yet modern. It appeals to working women as it is wearable and not too “out there” in its design. The difference between Yves creations and the antique “Mediterranean” style is that colored stones feature much more prominently.

In one of the world’s hubs of stone cutting and gem trading, Yves became known for having a significant collection of colour stones, and in creating the jewelry he takes his cue from the stone itself.

“There is so much more material available in Bangkok these days.  Sometimes a dealer will bring you something of a wonderful colour that you’ve never seen before because some new mine in Africa has just opened.”  Another significant influence in the market today is the added creativity that has been inspired by the huge international trade in fashion jewelry: a trend which he considers to have  had a positive effect in enhancing the quality of  design locally.

“Because of this boom in fashion jewelry people now wear real jewelry in a much more relaxed way. They change it often to suit what they are wearing. Some of my Thai customers bring me these fashion pieces and ask to have them copied with real materials.”

Jewelry and gemstones are not Yves only love. For years he has shuffled between Bangkok and Cambodia, where he ran a French language newspaper and a Chinese antique furniture business in Pnom Phen. His new venture, in partnership with his adopted son and his wife,  is a seaside cafe in Koh Kong  province neighboring Thailand, that he believes will be the next hot beach destination in Asia.

But he is careful to be in Bangkok at least 10 days a month to oversee the quality control of his production.  “This is the weak point in Thailand, and you have to constantly keep on top of it,” he said.

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December 1, 2011


Bangkok Jeweler: Thailand’s Talisman King

Rock star, Monk, Scholar, Astral Jeweler

Richard “Rick” Shaw Brown Jr. is a rare bird. The Bangkok-based  proprietor of Astral Gemstone Talismans of is one of only 13 Planetary Gemologists in the world: a person who is both a Certified Gemologist as well as a Vedic astrologer, or Planetary Gem Advisor. Confused? To put it another way, Rick is the go-to guy if you want to have a piece of jewelry custom-made to enhance your individual Vedic horoscope.

As the founder of the global Planetary Gemologists Association which oversees this branch of astrology he is also a gate-keeper of its laws, which decree that only the very best natural gemstones can be used in talisman jewelry; that no synthetic or flawed stones can be used, nor  any gemstones that are astrologically harmful to a client. And the association even maintains a blacklist of Planetary Gem Advisors who have violated this code.

Richard has been variously a psychedelic rock musician in the UK, a monk in India, and for the past 40 years one of the few Western scholars of the ancient Vedic tradition of  Jyotish, or Sidereal astrology. He understands Thai, Hindi and Sanskrit, and has written nine books on the subject of astral gemstone talismans.

Western system of birthstones “bogus”

In the “Tropical” system of astrology prevalent in the west, zodiac or birth signs are determined by the position of the sun in one’s horoscope. In the  Eastern, or Sidereal system, these determined  by the position of the moon.  But in both systems the zodiac sign is important, not the month of one’s birth.  Richard says the Western system of birth stones is traced to biblical references to 12 gemstones representing the 12 tribes of Israel, which the American National Retailer’s Association arbitrarily changed to a different, more commercial set of stones in 1912. He describes Western “birthstones” as a bogus system, evidenced by the fact that the signs of the zodiac change on or about the 22nd of each month, making it impossible to establish a list of birthstones based on the months.

Sideral astrology, he says, notes the strengths and weakness that a person will experience in life, and also recommends remedial measures for improving the future. The karma or destiny we are born with has been accrued by good and bad activities in previous incarnations, and the spiritual astrology of India degrees that karma is not eternal and can be changed. There are several ways to strengthen our planetary karma, he says, and the  easiest method its to wear  gemstones which attract the pure vibrations of the planets.

“According to a person’s birth chart gems can be recommended to counteract negative influences, strengthen auspicious planets, or even to help fulfill a certain ambition,”  he says.  Sidereal astrology recognizes the relationship between nine types of gems and nine planets. Each sign of the zodiac (rasi) is ruled by one of the planets and each planet in turn rules over certain gemstones according to their colour. In Asia these nine gemstones are  known collectively as Navaratna (or Nopparat in Thai), and  flawless examples of  each gem are set together in a single item of jewelry as a talisman.

9-gems Navaratna ring

“Just as you wouldn’t send your worst horse out to run a race, you wouldn’t choose to strengthen the most malevolent planet in your chart,” he explains. There are opposing schools of Vedic thought that advise the wearing of gems that represent afflicted planets in the belief that this will “pacify” them, but Richard said this practice has not proven beneficial in his experience. However, auspicious planetary sign positions give positive results and respond to “strengthening”, he says.

Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend

Richard’s second book, Ancient Astrological Gemstones and Talismans Vol. 2,  contains a contribution from the Chief Vedic Priest of Thailand that would not be good news to de Beers. In a contribution titled “Why diamonds are bad for women” the leading astrologer Pandit Vidyadhar Shulka notes that diamonds abnormally increase a woman’s sexual desire, bringing upon her mental, physical and social damage, adding that the power of diamonds is exactly in proportion to their size:

Diamonds are the hardest element known to man. A woman whom wears a diamond can become hard-hearted and unable to give proper affection to her husband and children. It should be noted that women in ancient times did not wear diamonds weighing more than half a carat. Instead they only used small diamonds as accent stones in their jewelry”.

Emerald Mercury ring

Coral Mars rings

The price of good luck

Richard stresses that his company is not in the business of selling luck, but that he has to date produced over 17,000 talismans for satisfied customers all over the world, including a VIP clientale in Thailand.

“We sell our numbered and dated, hand-crafted, Astral Gemstone Talismans, set with clean (90 – 100% flawless)  jewels, according to the retail market value of gems & jewelry in our limited edition designs. We do not charge anything for the purported “powers” which gems are known to possess! If we could guarantee “good luck” from our AGT pieces, then price would be no object. But the best we can do is help you choose which clean, natural gems which are suitable for you; then you must decide your budget limitations, so we can tell you what is available within your price parameters.”

To contact Richard Shaw Brown email:

To see a list of  Astral Talisman Gemstones six Bangkok outlets and to order an astrological chart see:



November 24, 2011

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Bangkok Jeweler: Gifts of Nature

If you’re looking for something unique and close to nature, look no further than the creations of  Yang Riches.  The Malaysian-born, long-time resident of Bangkok makes one-off pieces out of roughly-hewn gemstones, set in hammered gold or silver.

Jeweller Yang Riches

Yang's own style: understated elegance

The former quantity surveyor channelled her passion for art and jewellery into a career after  completing a design course at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Bangkok. She started selling her Yang Jewellery creations with by-invitation trunk shows in Bangkok, Bahrain, London and with displays at the Chiva Som Health Resort at Hua Hin, and has now teamed up with Almeta, the  well-known silk company, which will soon display her items at their Gaysorn Plaza showroom.

For Yang the romance of the stone is everything. Because her pieces are one-offs her work is not just a matter of  finding pre-cut stones calibrated to fit a design template, but rather is a labour of love, where the search for the right raw stone can take days, weeks or even months.

“I can get lost for hours selecting each stone to create a  pair of earrings, ring, or necklace. Usually I’m attracted to the natural stone and create something from it; sometimes I have an image in mind and look for that particular stone”, she says.

With her artist’s sensibilities she can discern the potential in a dusty parcel of rough material and will spend hours sitting beside her  Muslim gem cutter in his “hole in the wall” workshop in a back soi of the Silom jewelry quarter ensuring each facet is cut to her exacting prescription. The resulting jewels are subtle and understated, unadorned with diamonds or the in-your-face glitter of precision-cut stones: all the attention is on the unique characteristics of the gemstones — inclusions and all– which she views as natural enhancements.

She particularly favors the soft watery shades of aquamarine, prehnite, moonstone and grey South Sea pearls, but also has a has a knack for colour-pairing gems in an unexpected way. The creations sometimes feature striking and unusual combinations of colour and texture,  but rather than resembling a fruit-salad concoction of competing colors they express an understated harmony, and a quieter sense of luxury.

To contact Yang Riches email:

A dramatic claw setting

Perfect Imperfection

To contact Yang Riches:

November 10, 2011


The Great Bangkok Gem Scam

The Great Bangkok Gem Scam – a cautionary tale

First up, here’s a confession: It almost happened to me too. My stirling credentials (Old Asia Hand, 12-year resident of Bangkok, street-wise traveler, journalist cynic) did not prepare me for the slickness of the operation. When I finally caught on to what was actually going on we were (cross my heart) almost killed: here’s the story:

My husband and I decided one fine day a couple of years ago to spend the day being tourists in Bangkok. Since we’d lived here so long our out-of-town visitors had tailed off  and we hadn’t had to escort anyone to the temples and monuments in such a long time. So off we went on a jaunt, just the two of us, to the Grand Palace.  Some distance away from the palace gates  we saw a very long queue of Thai people all dressed in black, snaking its way into the palace grounds. Days before an elderly princess, the King’s sister, had passed away.  With the Royal Family being so revered here, I realised immediately that this mass of people in black lining up outside had something to do with her death. Then suddenly a very charming and well-spoken Thai gentleman smartly dressed in black materialised. Oh, what a pity, he said. We’d come on just the wrong day. The Grand Palace was closed to tourists since this was the day that the Thai public were allowed to come and sign their names in a commemorative book. In fact he’d just done that himself, he said. Then he whipped out a map (why, oh why did this in itself not ring my alarm bells?) and suggested another Wat nearby that we could go to instead.  Before you could say “feckless farang”, a tuktuk appeared out of nowhere and we were being sped on our way to the temple in question.  We had no sooner rounded the corner of the Palace when I saw that the gates to a second official entrance to the Palace were open.  Whoa, I said to the tuktuk driver, let us out HERE.  This fell on deaf ears, though I spoke clearly, politely, and firmly, in Thai. The driver was by now on his cellphone in loud negotiations with his keeper. Let us off, I insisted. No, he replied, one ear still glued to the cellphone, “I take you to Government Showroom, very good shop, very cheap Thai souvenirs, gemstones. Better than Wat“. Fully aware of the fact that we were, literally, being taken for a ride, we kept insisting on being let off the tuktuk, and the more we insisted the more enraged the evil jockey became,  commandeering his three-wheeler at an increasingly reckless pace. Careening into a large roundabout on only two of those wheels without so much as a sideways glance, we came within an inch of our lives of being broadsided by an SUV. Only after that did he screech to a stop and pour us out of his vehicle, a jellied mess, dumped unceremoniously on the sidewalk. And what nerve: furious that we refused to pay he let out a toxic and imaginative stream of Thai curses!

So what would have happened had he had his way with us and taken us to the “Government Showroom”? The following clip shows that our introduction to the scam was typical of the modus operandi of the scam gangs:

The morals of the story is:  These gem scams are run by ruthless people who can intimidate, drug, and possibly assault or endanger you. Don’t talk to strangers who approach you in public places, no matter how well-mannered and charming they appear. If you plan to buy gemstones in Thailand, go to a respectable shop or a proper source (see future posts).

It’s a sad fact that because of official indifference and corruption thousands of visitors to Thailand continue to fall victim to numerous scams. Aside from  apart from the Grandaddy of them all, the infamous Gem and Jewellery Scam, they include the King Power Duty Free Scam, the Phuket Tuktuk Scam, the Pattaya Jet-ski and Baht-bus Scams, the Airport Taxi Scam.  If it’s any consolation to visitors, there are many other scams that are targeted exclusively at expatriate residents….I could go on and on.

What to do?

If you are targeted and find yourself trapped in one of these outlets. You could try calling the Tourist Police 1155.  But don’t hold your breath.


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