Thailand working to become production and trading hub

Thailand’s first precious stones and jewelry trading center could come into existence next year as part of a concerted effort to make the country a regional jewel production and trading hub.

The center is one of the goals of Narong Thamavaranukup, who has assumed the presidency of the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association, succeeding Dr. Sunee Sriorathaikul whose term expired in early July.

Narong, 54, said that the center would be run by the association with similar operating functions as the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

The proposed center would promote more traffic of raw materials for jewelry production via bidding and auctions, he said. Details of regulations as well as supporting agencies will be settled in the next few months.

“Organizations like this have been operated in many countries, including the diamond bourse in Israel,” he said.

The government has agreed to grant about 130 million baht ($3.1 million) to set up and run the facility at a location now being selected, he said.

Earlier, the government agreed to eliminate value-added tax on raw materials imported for jewelry production to allow freer flows of gems and raw materials into the country.

Narong said the association also planned to create a “Brilliant Diamond from Thailand” image for diamond and precious stone exports.

The country has a local supply of precious stones and rough diamonds while the cutting skills of the industry’s workforce have reached the world standard.

“Belgian and Israeli cuts (of diamonds and gems) are well-known in the global market even though [raw] materials are not available locally in those countries. Meanwhile, Thailand has failed to promote a Thai or Bangkok cut so far,” he said.

“We are aiming to promote a Thai or Bangkok cut internationally and the quality is better than that of the Indian cut.”

Cut diamonds accounted for 30% and cut gemstones another 20% of the country’s total gem and jewelry exports worth 96 billion baht ($2.3 billion) last year, and the balance was jewelry exports, Narong said.

The association plans to launch an international jewelry award to attract both amateur and professional designers, who would be required to use indigenous diamonds and precious stones.

A Jewelry Fashion Institute is also planned with an estimated expenditure of several million baht. The institute is aimed at strengthening local design capacity, with 6,000 new craftsmen expected to graduate within three years, Mr. Narong said.

“We are attempting to achieve the capability to set the (global) trend for jewelry after having followed the trend for many years,” Narong said. “Additionally, we have to upgrade to compete in higher-quality markets to avoid fiercer competition from China and India where labor costs are cheaper.”

The Thai industry aims to position itself higher than China and India in terms of product quality but with prices 30-40% lower than jewelry crafted in Europe or “European quality at Asian prices” in Narong’s words.

He expressed confidence that Thailand’s jewelry exports could retain double-digit growth during the next two years.

After the industry achieved 18% growth last year, the government set a target to double gem and jewelry export value to 200 billion baht within six years from 100 billion baht expected this year.

The latest figures showed exports grew 23% in the first five months of this year to 44 billion baht, Narong said.

Further details regarding the trading base will be released during the 32 Bangkok Gems & Jewelry Fair, September 10-14.