The Thai life: A steady gem supply and a history of expertise continue to attract cutters and dealers to the Asian hub.
Thailand has long served as a center for colored gemstones. Its ruby and sapphire deposits and its strategic location — neighboring the gem-rich nations of Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia and Vietnam — have enabled the Thai gem industry to develop multigenerational knowledge and skills in mining, treatment, cutting, polishing and trading.
Political turmoil in Myanmar — starting with the Japanese invasion in 1942, and later a nationalization spree by the government — led to an influx of ruby merchants and miners from Myanmar to Thailand, further enriching the latter country’s gem industry. Among the arrivals was the family of fifth-generation gem merchant Santpal Sinchawla, managing director of Sant Enterprises.
“I was three years old when my parents migrated to Thailand in 1963,” he recalls. “Most businesses [in Myanmar] were owned by Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs, who opted to leave the country. My maternal grandparents owned ruby mines in [Myanmar mining area] Mogok and had dealings with many French firms. Ruby deposits had been discovered in Thailand, and since my mother had good connections in the business, Thailand — and specifically Bangkok — was the logical choice for our family’s new base.”
Leader in enhancement
Location and historical circumstances aside, Thailand’s development of heat treatment to transform low-grade sapphires and rubies into high-quality ones was also a contributing factor to its growth as a colored-stone hub. Thai gem merchants extensively traveled abroad to bring back rough gems from countries like Sri Lanka and Australia, and later from deposits across Africa.
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