It’s no wonder that Madison Avenue rarely searches for its talent in Thailand. Thais tend to be stuck at the Advertising 101 course level, preferring to stick to the tried and true rather than take a chance on an innovative approach to marketing. In all fairness they’ve done pretty well honoring tradition, there’s a lot of baht flowing into, through, and around the country. But beyond their reliance for pointing out the obvious (Look, Mista! Watch for you!) they tend to miss out on what should be obvious marketing opportunities.
Consider, for example, one of the country’s best known touri experiences: the Gem Scam. Sure the locals make a mint off of unsuspecting touri who fall for the idea they can purchase quality gems and jewelry for a song and then make a killing by reselling their haul once back in their home country. But they could also easily dip into the wallets of those who are too wily to fall for that con, but who would still love to take home a glittering piece of bling. Knowledge may be power, but it’s also a good prevention against getting taken for a ride. Edumacation is the key, and for a Sex Break – unusual things to do in Bangkok between the hours you devote to getting your rocks off – learning a bit about the pricey bling you are considering buying can be both fun and profitable. Or at least you’ll find out yet another way Thais fake it.
A short tuk tuk ride away from Bangkok’s gay gogo bars, The Jewelry Trade Center on Silom is a 59-story high-rise that was the country’s tallest building when it was built is 1996; it is home to the Silom Galleria – a massive upscale shopping mall featuring jewelry, antiques, and art galleries – and the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (AIGS), South East Asia’s first educational facility devoted exclusively to the study of gemology. The Institute provides professional training for those planning a career in the gem and jewelry trade, as well as short courses aimed at expanding the knowledge and appreciation of gemstones among member of the general public. Consider yourself among the latter, and consider taking a day or a week to learn how not to become yet another victim of Thailand’s famous gem scams.
Founded in 1978, AIGS is a major training facility with a stellar reputation throughout the world, but it also offers short day and 1-week courses for those who want or learn the basics of gems and jewelry. They offer a five-day course that meets for three hours each morning called the Introduction to Gems and Gemology, a beginning-level course that provides a basic introduction to major gemstones commonly found in the marketplace. In addition to lectures on gem varieties, identification, and basic properties that affect market value and pricing, this course offers practical buying tips on judging quality and value, as well as buying gems and jewelry in the Thailand and the synthetic and fake stones to watch out for. At $280, it is not a cheap touri activity, and it does require a full week of your holiday time, but for those on an extended trip with an interest in expanding their knowledge about gems and jewelry, it’s a great way to spend your morning hours.
For those with less time, you might instead try the one-day, 8 hour Basic Ruby & Sapphire Grading & Pricing, which sounds a lot more technical in nature than it is. The important part of this class is that by the end of the day you will be able to tell the difference between excellent and poor quality rubies and sapphires – the two stones Thailand is best known for. And then can laugh at the scam dealers trying to sell you a $3 stone for a few hundred bucks. At the prices rubies and sapphires can run you, the $170 tuition is well worth the expense.
AIGS also offers am 8-hour course during which you’ll learn how to differentiate between fresh water, south sea, and cultured pearls – as well as important tips on how to take good care of one’s pearls (for the Hi-So among us). Or for the jade enthusiast, a 2-day class devoted to this popular Asian gem in which you’ll learn how to grade and identify jadeite as opposed to nephrite, as opposed to all the other crap dealers try to pass off as jade.
If you don’t have the time to take a class, AIGS also offers a gemological laboratory where for about $40 you can get a official reading on whether the jewelry you bought is real or not. Or for an additional $100, a report on what that piece of bling is really worth. ‘Cuz when you’ve been scammed it’s always good to know just how stupid you were.
It would be easy to assume that The Jewelry Trade Center – being the home to Thailand’s leading Institute on gemology as well as its lab for testing and valuing stones – would also be one of the best places in town to shop for jewelry. Or at least would be a scam-free haven for purchasing gems and jewelry. But this is Thailand. So instead it is also home to a few of the better known shops the Gem Scam tuk tuk drivers like to deliver you to. Huh. Maybe one of those classes might not be such a bad idea after all.
Not that you can’t find quality gems at The Jewelry Trade Center. You can. But you can also find poor quality stones that are being sold for ten times their value – Thailand’s gem scam is not about selling you a fake as much as it is about taking a lot more of your money than your purchase is worth. But a visit to The Jewelry Trade Center, or as it is more properly known due to its more recent face-lift, The Silom Galleria, is still worth your time. While the building’s chilly, echoing space has never quite taken off as the city’s center for its gem industry as it had hoped, it has managed to attract a fair number of art galleries.
Though not originally planned as a place for art, and while you’ll still have to climb over a lot of gem dealers to get to them, the Galleria’s basement is home a close to a dozen galleries featuring the work of local painters and sculptors. There’s also a gallery on each of the upper floors of the mall section of the building. Some specialize in traditional Thai art, others in more modern styles. And occasionally an exhibit of an international artists’ work is held.
You’ll also find high-end antiques at the Silom Galleria, though as with buying gemstones, it pays to be knowledgeable if you plan on dropping any significant sum of money. But for a few hours of window shopping – without the crowds – the Galleria can be an enjoyable place to spend some time before getting back to your main interest in visiting Thailand: its men.
The Jewelry Trade Center, the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences, and the Silom Galleria are located at the riverside end of Silom Road, next to the Holiday Inn. The building is easy to find. Or just tell any tuk tuk driver you want to buy some jewelry and there’s a good chance that’s where he’ll take you.
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