Coming home

After nine weeks, over a thousand carats of gems bought, and nearly three million Thai baht spent, it is time to bid a fond farewell to Thailand until my next trip. Along the way, I’ll pick up my lovely wife, who has spent the past few weeks visiting with her family and friends in Japan.

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It may not be the most efficient way of buying gems, but buying gems in Thailand is one of the favorite aspects of my occupation. It is literally hunting for treasure, or what might be considered modern day treasure. And often while in search of some particular size or type of gem, some totally unexpected opportunity arises. On this trip, a little known and underappreciated gem called spinel was discovered on the market in large quantities at very attractive prices. Also, the prices for very fine sapphires in 2,3 and 4 carat sizes were the lowest I have seen in years, maybe the lowest ever since I have been coming to Thailand, which is over 20 years.coming home3

The Thai people in the gem business are also fun to deal with and many of the folks in the gem business here have become friends over the years. Negotiations are a friendly affair with sellers urging me to just pay a little more and me suggesting that they can accept just a little less. Whether a deal is struck or not, negotiations are always conducted in good spirit and relationships always remain cordial.

Aside from the gem business, the Kingdom of Thailand is a wonderful place to visit. The weather here is consistently balmy, but mornings and evenings are my personal favorite. Most mornings I stroll about town for an hour or two just around daybreak, greeting local vendors and passersby along the way. Most evenings are spent in the company of friends, generally dining along some riverbank or by the sea. There is often the fragrance of flowers in the air and the sounds of tropical birds in the trees. Delicious food is prepared with the freshest local ingredients and the fresh tropical fruits are divine.

Life in Thailand has a dynamic totally unlike our day to day lives in America. Life here has a depth and richness which is hard to describe, but easy to sense. Thai people are friendly and easy going. They seem to be unfamiliar with the emotions like anger, frustration or impatience. From a personal standpoint, my time in Thailand is typically without appointments, schedules, or deadlines. On the rare occasion that my phone rings, it is usually friends inviting me to dinner, play snooker, or some other social activity.

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I will miss Thailand until my next return but will carry fond affection for this place in my heart until then.

~Keith

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Fair Winds & Following Seas
Pink Sapphire & Diamond Ring

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A gem with no respect

Spinel is the Rodney Dangerfield of the gem industry. Poor spinel gets no respect.

This is surprising because spinel is a very hard and durable gem which makes it a great candidate for jewelry. In addition to its wonderful physical properties, it has a beautiful luster and excellent brilliance. Some people are familiar with the cheaper, opaque black spinels that are sometimes featured in jewelry on home shopping channels and so forth, but spinel comes in a wide range of beautiful natural colors. I have a personal attraction to the many delightful pastel shades. There are also a variety of shades that have a slight grey overtone to the color which gives them a mystical, smoky quality. Some of the reds can be so saturated with color and intense that they look as if they have lights glowing within them.

Since spinels are largely unknown as compared to gems like ruby, diamond and sapphire, demand remains low, which keeps them surprisingly affordable.

Ralph Pride and I have made combined acquisitions of over three hundred carats of these under appreciated and undervalued gems while here in Thailand. Look for them to start making an appearance in jewelry at Cross Jewelers later this year. Perhaps you can acquire one of these delightful and affordable gems and share the same joy that Ralph and I derive from them.

spinel 1~Keith

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Black Prince
Ruby Red Spinel & Diamond Ring

This piece has sold. Please call to discuss making a similar ring.

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From buying to the beach with Ralph Pride

It has been fun and interesting to buy gems alongside Ralph. Over a period of three days on the gem market in Chanthaburi, the two of us were presented with tens of thousands of carats of gems to consider. Of those, most were rejected out of hand as being inferior quality. However, we did take time to sort through several thousand carats of the best gems. From those, we selected the best of the best. march 15 3At the end of the three days, we had purchased around 400 carats of fine gems between us. Ralph was buying through the eyes of a merchant, considering which gems would be most interesting and appealing to the customers of Cross Jewelers. I was buying through the eyes of a jewelry maker, considering what sort of unique and desirable designs could be created from the gems.

After the intense three day evaluating and buying marathon, we headed off to the Thai beach at Chao Lao to discuss all of the wonderful possibilities for the gems we had purchased. At one point, we sat at a table under a little thatched roof pagoda by the sea for over six hours straight, playing games of “what if?”. It was a wonderful time! Children were playing in the surf, families and friends were dining, drinking and laughing all around us, and we were talking about the exciting possibilities for our gems. Ralph would suggest a “what if?” marketing idea and I would consider ways that jewelry might be created to fulfill that idea. I would suggest a “what if?” jewelry design idea and he would consider ways that it might be presented to his customers.march 15

Aside from the gem and jewelry discussions, we took time for long walks along the shoreline. march 15 2We stopped by a small fishing village and walked out to the end of the pier where we could watch little fishing boats coming and going with their catches.march 15 4 At another point along the shore, we inspected the construction of hand crafted crab traps which looked remarkably similar to lobster traps in shape and size. All along the way, we received friendly greeting from many of the Thai people we saw and even crossed paths with one or two foreigners who were vacationing at the beach.

It was a delightful camaraderie between two gem guys. Hopefully the fruits of those hours of gem and jewelry contemplation will result in some fresh and enticing jewelry for Cross Jewelers customers.

~Keith

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Fair Winds & Following Seas
Camelot Blue Sapphire & Diamond Necklace

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Mine to market with Ralph Pride

My friends and I wanted to introduce Ralph to the world of Thai gems in a logical progression so we started by taking him to a gem mine out here in the province of Chanthaburi where many of the gems are mined. These are not mines in hard rock with shafts and tunnels such as most people might think of as a traditional mine. The gem deposits here are typically alluvial, meaning that nature has already separated the gem crystals from the host rock through eons of natural erosion. These crystals have washed down from the mountains and been deposited in lower lying areas through the ages. The gem crystals usually lie deep beneath the rich top soil, often in agricultural areas.

The “mine” we took Ralph to was originally a fruit farm and actually there were still a variety of fruits being cultivated in the areas bordering the edges of the gem mining excavation. It appeared that the gems were being extracted at a depth of about twenty feet below the natural grade of the land. To extract the gems, the gem bearing soil is removed with a back hoe, steam shovel, or similar type of equipment. That soil is then brought to some sort of hydraulic washing equipment which employs high pressure water to separate the mud from the gravel. Our friend, Noi, explained that there are a few types of this “washing” equipment, but they all work on the same principle. After the mud has been washed away from the gravel, the gravels traverse along slightly inclined steel plates. The relatively heavy gems will stay on the plates by the force of gravity while the lighter sediments will wash away by the current of the moving water. From that point, the gem crystals and hand-picked from the inclined plates and collected for further processing into gems or abrasive materials, depending on the quality. This type of mining is also environmentally sensitive. Once the mining operations have completed, the soil will be leveled and it will once again be planted with fruits and vegetables.

From the mine, we visited a couple of small gem cutting shops. Gem cutting in this district is typically done at small shops usually employing only a few cutters. Although it is referred to as gem cutting, the process is actually grinding and polishing. First, the rough crystals of gem quality are ground to a basic shape on a diamond abrasive wheel. Ralph actually took up a position at one of these wheels and tried his hand at rough forming a gem. After that process, the gem will go to a faceting wheel, where the flat facets will be oriented and polished to create a brilliant gem.dispatch 2 march 3 3

After the gems are cut from the rough crystals, they are sent onto the gem market. In Chanthaburi, there is an open market on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Cutters or brokers representing cutters wander through the market, offering the gems they have to sell. Buyers sit at desks and post the types of gems they are searching for. Sellers who have gems that meet those needs will stop to make an offer. Ralph spent a few days on the market with me where we looked at a variety of different gems and discussed the possibility of using them in various designs from the Trade Wind collection. dispacth 2 march 3 4

The sellers will usually ask a rather high price and the buyers offer a low price. From there, negotiations go back and forth until a deal is struck or an impasse is reached. After watching me for a while, Ralph jumped in and tried his hand at the evaluation and bartering process.

We think we have come up with an attractive selection of high quality gems that will be nice additions to the Trade Wind collection and look forward to offering them to Cross Jewelers customers as the new jewelry is completed later in the year.

~Keith

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Little Blue Star
Prince of Wales Blue Sapphire
& Diamond Ring

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Ralph arrives in Thailand

Since learning his travel schedule, I had been looking forward to the arrival of Ralph Pride, proprietor of Cross Jewelers. Myself and some friends met Ralph at the airport in Bangkok early on a Monday morning. Within the day, I could sense that Ralph had been accepted into my Thai family of friends.

Our first destination was to the west of Thailand, near the border of Burma. While there, Ralph was able to relax a bit after his long trip and enjoy the local attractions including the bridge on the River Kwai. The next day, we went in search of a sapphire mine in that province, but found that it was currently inactive. It was still an interesting day as we came across a rural workshop which was producing some beautiful metal ice buckets, pitchers, and goblets using old manufacturing techniques from times gone by. After that, we visited the impressive Temple of the Tiger where we could admire beautiful sculpture, architecture and art work.dispatch march 3dispatch march 13 4

It’s fun to observe Ralph and see his reaction to the wonders of Thailand which have become so familiar to me over the years. Thailand has a wide variety of food, much of which doesn’t exist at home. It’s interesting to see his reaction to the first taste of an exotic fruit like sala or jackfruit or maybe an unusual Thai recipe which he’s never tasted before like mangos with coconut flavored sticky rice. One evening, he ordered a dish made with ostrich which was quite tasty and was also a new experience for me. Sometimes there are foods that we wouldn’t even think of preparing back home, like fried morning glory.dispatch march 13 3

Ralph has a wonderful appreciation for natural and artistic beauty. I have watched him delight in the graceful forms and bright colors of the many Buddhist temples which are spread about throughout Thailand. He also enjoys the exotic vegetation and dramatic mountain ranges. He has a particular fondness for the lotus flower and often stops to admire and photo the many colors of the blossoms and the changing forms they take from morning to evening.dispatch march 13 2

The climate and Thai way of life seem to be agreeable to Ralph. He occasionally comments about the relaxing quality of balmy evenings as we are surrounded by the sounds of tropical birds, insects, local language, the general sounds associated with Thai life. There are also the varied scents of people cooking food along the sidewalks and the fragrances of exotic flower blossoms which add to the richness of life here.

It’s been rewarding and fulfilling to share these special sensory experiences of Thailand with Ralph and I’m looking forward to tomorrow when we will start to introduce Ralph to the world of Thai gems from mine to market.

~Keith

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Secret Heart
Rhodolite Garnet & Diamond Necklace

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Sharing an office

On the gem market in Chanthaburi, gem buyers are typically stationary and the sellers move about offering their treasures to the buyers. It is the reverse dynamic of a flea market back home where potential buyers move about and the sellers are stationary. A buyer can rent a desk along the sidewalk for about ten dollars a day or can sit in an office where the office owner will get a small percentage of each transaction.

If renting a desk, the buyer is responsible to keep track of his/her own offers, counter offers, and so forth. The buyer also has to supply all of his own equipment, and doesn’t have anyone to attract qualified sellers or to consult with if there is a question about the origin or authenticity of the gems he is considering.

When sitting in an office, the office owner will typically have equipment like electronic gem scales, stone shovels, plastic bags, gem gauges, stone sieves, magnifiers and nearly anything a gem buyer might need. The office owner also keeps a notebook tracking all of the offers and counter offers of buyers and sellers. Since the office owners have local knowledge of the market, they can also contact sellers that are most likely to have the types and qualities of gems the buyer is seeking. The office owner can also be a valuable consultant about gemstone origin and authenticity when there might be some doubt. If they are still unsure, they will take the gem/gems in question to a local gem lab for verification. On top of all that, the offices are normally air conditioned and the owner will normally have beverages and refreshment brought to the buyers throughout the day.

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I always buy using the office method and feel that the services offered are well worth the small percentage that an owner makes on the deals. This past weekend, I happened to be sharing an office with two Indian buyers and two Russian buyers. They must have been paying the long Rupee or long Ruble respectively, as there were over a dozen eager sellers lurking about their desks at all times and others waiting outside because there wasn’t room for them in the office. It was impossible to capture the number of sellers that were inside the small office on camera with one photo, but just looking at the shoes of the sellers that are outside the office door might give the reader a good idea.

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In contrast, having earned a reputation on the market as a frugal Yankee, I was seeing one or two sellers an hour at my desk, and reaching a negotiation impasse with about half of those. Maybe not be getting everything I desire but feel pretty confident that I’m not paying the long dollar for the gems that are bought.

~Keith

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Returning Tide
Green World Tourmaline Necklace

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Buying philosophy

Quite often, there is an imbalance between market values and market demands. Some people in the jewelry business consider my attitude rather foolish, often forgoing purchases where money might be made, but not wanting to deliver a gem to a customer which I don’t feel is a good value, nor wanting to be “stuck” with a gem that was overpaid for.

As I have written in some previous posts, it seems prudent to take advantage of what the market has to offer and not try to force a square peg into a round hole just to satisfy market demand. The bottom line is that I am the original owner of every gem used in the Trade Winds collection so If it doesn’t feel like a good value for me or the customer, it doesn’t get bought.

During the first five weeks of this buying trip, it seems that the price of fine rubies is way too steep, resulting in not a single ruby being purchased to date. The prices of sapphires from Kanchanaburi are also a bit expensive, but a very few purchases have been negotiated at fairly reasonable prices. At this time, I consider the prices of larger and finer qualities of Ceylon sapphire to be quite attractive and some of the best values on the market. I have purchased a dozen or so beautiful sapphires in the 2.5 carat to 4 carat size.

Even purchased two very fine sapphires of 6.7 carats and 8.8 carats which some people might consider to be very expensive (equal to the value of a pretty nice new car), but the new car would depreciate in value from the date of purchase while these gems will generally appreciate in value from the date of purchase.

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I am quite content to have my own money invested in these gems.

Among the other gems which have been purchased at favorable prices during this trip are bright rhodolite garnets of raspberry/pinkish hues to lavender/purple hues, spessartite garnets of intense fiery orange, and tsavorite garnets of brilliant green. Also a few very fine red spinel which have the color and purity of the finest Burmese ruby at a fraction of the cost.

Over the remaining weeks here, I’ll continue to be on the lookout for more fine quality gems at compelling values to include in the Trade Wind collection.

~Keith

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The Gull
Prince of Wales Blue Sapphire & Diamond Ring

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Artistic vision

When designing jewelry, I generally start with a beautiful gem or combination of beautiful gems, looking at them in different arrangements, from different directions, using different color combinations, etc., until a vision starts to form within my mind. It could be that a certain shape gem looks most brilliant or has the most pleasing color when viewed at a certain angle and designing a pendant or pair of earrings to display the gems at that angle. It could be the shape of a gem that inspires a certain type of metal contour in a ring to compliment it. It could be offsetting a particular shape or color with a combination of diamonds oriented in a certain way. Sometimes the color of the metal or metals will help to create a mental image for me to work from. With access to beautiful materials to work with, my design work becomes simply a matter of how to show off those beautiful materials to their best advantage. Of course, there has to be practical considerations like comfort and durability, but those sorts of issues can normally be worked out through the design process.

In contrast to my work, I was incredibly humbled by what I saw on the wall of a little restaurant in Kanchanaburi last week.

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Whoever created this work of art must be an unusually inspired artist. A true artist, not just someone arranging and combining elements, as I do. He/she was visionary enough to see the potential for beautiful art in an ordinary corrugated cardboard box.

It is the type of box that most of us would bring to the dump or recycling center on a regular basis. If you look closely, you can even see the fold lines from the original box. The workmanship is beautiful, the pure creativity so inspiring, and perspectives/proportions are just so fabulously done. It captivated my attention, earned my appreciation, and I thought it might be something worth sharing.

~Keith

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Imperial Palace
Amethyst & Diamond Ring

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Animal stories

dispatch-feb-20-1As we were out and about yesterday, we witnessed some animal interactions which I found entertaining. At one point, we stopped alongside a quiet little pond with a log laying out into the water. Atop the log were several large turtles sunning themselves, as they tend to do, even back home. dispatc-feb-20-2The birds would swoop down, landing on the turtles and perching on their backs. This seemed to annoy the turtles which would slip off the log and into the water to be rid of the offending bird. The turtles would then climb back upon the log and the same scenario played out over and over again.

A couple of hours later, we were following a path down to an isolated beach along the sea coast when we were joined by a couple of stray dispatch-feb-20-3dogs. They weren’t large dogs, maybe weighing 30 or 40 pounds, and they seemed happy with our companionship. A little further along, with the dogs frolicking alongside us, we saw a group of a dozen or so monkeys in the path about 50 feet ahead. The dogs took off after the monkeys, barking and chasing them up into the trees. The dogs were outnumbered and probably far inferior in physical strength and agility to the monkeys, but their bravado seemed to intimidate the monkeys anyway.

dispatch-feb-20-4Philosophers might suggest that there is deep wisdom to be gleaned by observing these natural encounters, but I suspect that they are just mischievous animals getting some sort of twisted amusement at the expense of their fellow creatures.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                   ~Keith

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Mother Nature’s Truest Green
Emerald & Diamond Ring

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Valentines Day

Atsuko and I are enjoying what will probably be one of the most memorable Valentine’s Days for us.

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Last night we left Bangkok for a place called Mai Sot on the border of Burma, about eight and a half hours north west of Bangkok by bus. We have come here for a local gem market which specializes in Burmese jade.

After considering a few options for how to get here, we settled on what is referred to as a VIP bus. What a delightful way to travel! The double decker bus, made by Mercedes-Benz, which is outfitted with every convenience and is specially designed for overnight travel. Upon boarding the bus at about 10PM in Bangkok, a stewardess showed us to our assigned seats which were very spacious, something like the first-class seats on an airliner. Each seat is provided with a bottle of water, blanket, and little box containing several snack items.

Once the bus got underway, a movie came on a flat screen TV in the front of the cabin. Although the movie was in Thai language, it didn’t take much imagination to follow the plot and also establish that the level of acting was rather low quality, which made it all the more charming. Shortly after the movie ended, the bus pulled into a wayside station where each passenger could get a complimentary meal and beverage upon showing your ticket. It was only a 20-minute stop, so the entrees were rather simple fare. I chose marinated duck with rice and ice coffee which was quite tasty.

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After boarding the bus again, the lights were turned off and we could recline our seats to nearly horizontal, wrap ourselves in the blankets provided, and fall asleep until we arrived in Mai Sot on the morning of Valentine’s Day. There is something soothing about the motion of the bus that almost reminded me of the rocking motion of the ship back in my Navy days and I slept like a log.

The amazing thing is the cost of the bus ticket which was equal to about $17 American. We got where we wanted to go, got a good night’s sleep, with a meal and snack included in the deal. I will try to travel this way again in the future if the opportunity arises.

~Keith

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Little Mountain
Camelot Blue Sapphire & Diamond Ring

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