The past few years have not been easy on the global jewelry industry. Pandemic-driven economic downturns, coupled with US-China trade conflicts and the war between Russia and Ukraine have left markets in what can be described as a shaky disarray. Yet, even amidst such volatility, Thailand’s gem and jewelry scene has — near miraculously — managed to find ways to thrive, maintaining its reputation as a key driver for the national economy.
“In 2021, we exported over 6.1 billion US dollars worth of gems and jewelry around the world,” shares Mr. Phusit Rattanakul Sereereongrit, Director of the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand, “that’s over 26% more than in 2020. Even this year, in just the first two quarters alone we’ve managed to exceed last years’ exports by over 48%, and that figure hasn’t accounted for unformed gold yet.” Such figures reflect the strength behind Thailand’s gems and jewelry trade — a success that, in truth, should not come as much of a surprise.
Mr. Sumed Prasongpongchai, Director of the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT) also agrees. “The gems and jewelry industry has been one of the driving forces for Thailand’s economy. Covering the entire supply chain from upstream to downstream, we can proudly call our country ‘the world’s jewelry hub’, thanks to the skills and craftsmanship of our people. Our gemstone enhancing skills are unparalleled, so it can be said that more than 80% of rubies in the world have to travel to Thailand for quality enhancement before being re-exported to other countries. In terms of the manufacturing, our skills and creativity have launched Thailand as the OEM manufacturing bases for many global jewelry brands.”
“Thailand’s gems and jewelry trade is strong because of our reliable quality,” explains Mr. Decha Nuntanajaroenkul, Managing Director-Marketing of Pranda Group, “second is because of our coloured gemstones, which are now widely traded worldwide. We’re also recognised for exquisite local craftsmanship and a great service mindset. All this contributes to our soft power that attracts customers from across the globe.”
On this front, Mr. Kittisak Udomdangaram, President of the Thai Silver Jewelry Exporters Association agrees. “For a long time now, we’ve differentiated ourselves from the rest of the market with our superior craftsmanship, reliable quality control and honest service. Many foreign customers are impressed by the expertise of our craftsmen and a lot of world-class brands have come to set up production bases in Thailand, or ask us to help them produce. All this is a sign that Thailand is among the market leaders for gem and jewelry production.”
While Covid-19 necessitated a shift towards digital modes of interaction, the recent post-pandemic recovery has brought about the long-awaited return of on-ground events and activities. Among them is the 67th Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair, a globally-renowned event attended by consumers and suppliers alike, from all corners of the globe. Having returned after a two-year hiatus, the event took place from September 7 - 11, at the IMPACT Exhibition and Convention Center, and brought together over 700 leading exporters and 10,000 visitors worldwide.
“Trade shows and fairs are effective ways to promote our products and industry,” Mr. Decha tells us, highlighting how the Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair provided an outlet for entrepreneurs and business owners to interact and meet their customers first-hand — a key influencing factor in establishing trust and purchase motivation.
Of course, digital channels remain a valuable outlet for gem and jewelry providers, and brands are placing emphasis on continuing to build the online presence they have established. “In the early days of Covid-19, all our malls were closed and the country was under lockdown. What couldn’t be locked down was the E-commerce sector, so in a way, we can call this an opportunity in a crisis. Many startups began to focus on a new era of marketing called Omni Channel marketing. While we’re able to meet on-ground now, we should still focus on our Omni Channel efforts to support the ever-growing and evolving online platform,” says Mr. Decha.
With the return of post-covid normalcy, now marks a turning point for Thailand’s gem and jewelry industry, as brands are placing emphasis on pushing local brands onto the global stage. For Mr. Suriyon Sriorathaikul, Managing Director of Beauty Gems, the key to this is raising awareness. “Awareness is very important when it comes to promoting our gems and jewelry industry,” he says, “we need to make the general public aware of why Thailand is the place to buy gems, and reinforce the idea that Thai people can produce top-quality products at reasonable prices.”
A large aspect of achieving such global awareness stems from a blend of hard and soft power, as explained by Mr. Mongkol Maneesinthop, President of Thai Goldsmiths Association. “Hard Power is direct publicity — promoting Thailand as a hub for quality gemstones. As for Soft Power, we have to rely on all industries and sectors from education, to tourism and human welfare. It’s important to make sure we as a nation take pride in our art. From there, we can use it to build in our tourism promotions, helping more foreigners understand the value of Thai jewelry and culture.”
“I hope one day, Thailand’s gems and jewelry industry will be top of mind for everyone,” says Mr. Vibul Hongsrichinda, President of the Gems and Jewelry Industry Group, “that people will ‘Think Gem, Think Thailand’, or ‘Think Silver, Think Thailand’. Today is probably the time for this to happen. Not only will it benefit our local industry, but it will also help to drive forward our image as a country.”
As with other luxury products and commodities, the trends and preferences in the jewelry market are ever-changing, and brands must adapt to evolving market needs. “The new generation of buyers are looking for elegant, minimalist products,” Mr. Decha tells us. “They want to know the story behind what they’re buying. Where do the materials come from? Was this produced transparently, with sustainable materials?”
“The story is very important,” agrees Mr. Vibul, “Thailand is known for gems, rubies and sapphires. To add value is to create a story — to share the origins of our products so people know the true value of our rubies and sapphires, and understand how these gemstones are truly precious and rare.”
Alongside a strong brand story, Mr. Suriyon highlights the importance of considering the consumer experience, such as by having collections for buyers to look forward to. “There should be some thought and format that goes into what is being sold,” he explains, “why do brands in other countries release collections? During the Cruise season, there’s the Cruise collection, and the summer season is for the summer collection. This isn't about imitation, it’s just a worldwide trend. Thailand should be the same. We should have different collections, and focus on our marketing efforts. This is all very important to boost the image and reputation of our local industry.”
Though the past two years have indeed brought about their fair share of challenges, the future for Thailand’s gem and jewelry industry is a hopeful one. As we enter a post-pandemic era, now more than ever is the time for all industries to work together, and further reinforce Thailand’s position as a global hub for quality jewelry and gemstones.
Words by Mary Losmithgul