You often hear us talking about Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, as being the beating heart of the gem trade yet never really explained why. Well, today, we can finally help you get a better grasp over the importance of Thailand for our merry trade.
Today, we have the pleasure of introducing you to one of Chantaburi’s Lords of the Ruby trade.
Today, we have the pleasure of interviewing the owner of the titanic Gemburi company, the jovial and outgoing Phuket Khunaprapakorn!
Khun Phuket, the floor is yours!
Discover Gemburi's K. Phuket Khunaprapakorn story now as a new chapter to our Ruby Lords arc - Photo Credits: Gemburi Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: First of all, I would like to thank you for being with us today. We are glad to finally having the opportunity of giving a bit more visibility to the Thai gem trade to our audience. But before we get into the heart of the matter, can you tell us more about you? Who are you Phuket Khunaprapakorn?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: I am currently the Thai ICA Director. I was also the President of Chanthaburi Gem and Jewelry Traders Association in Chanthaburi during 2014-2018 as well as the former VP of the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association in Bangkok.
AsiaLounges: You have been in the trade for well over 20 years now and are known as one of the pillars of the Thai gem trade both locally and internationally through your involvement as Thai ICA Director and as former VP of the Thai Gem & Jewelry Trader’s Association but few know of your “birth” to the gem trade. Could you tell us more about how you first got involved in the trade? Was it a family story as it is often the case in Sri Lanka, a late discovery, or a happy coincidence as it was for us?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: It is a family business, indeed. My father started to trade gemstones some 35-40 years ago. He loved Siamese rubies from the start and was diligently getting his merchandise from the pit. He also mastered the art of sublimating the gems through cutting allowing us to have an exquisite selection of gems early on. Seeing him work the way he did gave birth to my passion for the gems and their trade as a kid.
K. Phuket Khunaprapakorn started in the trade by watching his father sublimate Thai rubies. Now, he is mostly using Mozambican rubies such as the ones in this picture - Photo Credits: Gemburi Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: Now that we know a bit more about you and your path through the trade, we’d like to talk about your “baby”: Gemburi. Can you tell us more about your company and how it became, in 20 or so years, the landmark it is no known as in the international gem trade?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: I founded Gemburi Co.,Ltd. in 2005 in Chanthaburi province, with my partner Mr. Adisak Ploychattakool, where gems have been mined and traded for decades. There, the history of gemstones’ manufacturing (ndlr. understand gem cutting and treatments) and trading has been at the heart of the province for many decades. This reputed city is well-known globally in terms of sourcing, heating, and polishing of gemstones.
Taking advantage of this geographical and historical stronghold, Gemburi is now able to distribute its products both domestically and internationally successfully. Our product of note is the ruby, both from Myanmar and Mozambique, which, again, allows us to cater to a wide range of elite customers within the gem and jewellery industry. That being said, I believe that, besides our wide range of goods (size, colour quality), our cutting quality has certainly been one of the main points with which our clientele has been able to differentiate us from our many competitors and is, without a doubt, the reason why they have been with us from the start and, hopefully, will continue to do so.
Last but not least, we are participating to the Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fairs as well as to the Hong Kong Gems and Jewellery Exhibitions which certainly helps us keep up with the demand both in terms of image and goods.
AsiaLounges: Further to that last question, we have noticed that in recent years procuring top gems has been increasingly difficult albeit the emergence of mining giants such as Gemfields. In the case of Gemburi, known for its fine quality calibrated rubies and sapphires, what is your take on this particular issue? Is the rarefaction of gem material a threat or a boon for our industry and why? How do you, as the CEO of Gemburi and, the past president of Chanthaburi Gems and Jewelry Traders Association, respond to that, how do you prepare for it?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: The rarefaction of gem material is hardly a new phenomenon. For as far as I can remember it has been the case. Now, that being said, one of the big game changers in our times, more so than the emergence of the mining giants you mentioned in the question is the rise of a phenomenal market which was, until now, dormant. This market is, as you’ll surely have figured out by now China.
The rapid growth of the ruby demand, driven by the Chinese market is the main reason why it appears to be more complicated to serve more “traditional” markets. The supply has increased, yes, but the demand has increased faster. It’s simple maths really.
One of the reasons behind the Chinese attraction to our lovely red gems is due to the historical and cultural significance of both the gem and the red colour in Chinese culture. Red symbolizes luck, opulence and abundance making its use in jewellery a no brainer.
That being said, while the Chinese market demands quantity, the top quality grades continues to go to the traditional markets such as USA or Europe to serve the relatively niche market symbolized by Houses such as Cartier, Tiffany’s or Van Cleef & Arpels to name only them. And this is what brings us back to your question and the threat that the rarefaction of gem material represents.
The top quality is becoming rarer by the day and quantities produced are, as we said earlier lower than the overall increase of the demand so far creating a rather dangerous and unstable situation from a sourcing standpoint which forces us as a company to explore the possibility of using material from other origins.
The rarefaction of gem quality ruby rough make rubies such as this that much more desirable and valuable in the long run - Photo Credits: Gemburi Cp., Ltd
AsiaLounges: We often hear brands and some dealers talking about heat treatment in a rather unfavourable manner. What is your take on it? Would we, as a trade, be able to survive without them? What about your company? Is it, in your opinion, a snobbish hypocrisy to refuse heat treatment in ruby & sapphire or totally justified?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: Let us be clear, the treatment of gemstones, whether thermal or otherwise, isn’t the real issue. The issue is two fold:
1. As we said earlier, the rarefaction of gem material forces us, as an industry, to make use of available technologies and techniques in order to increase the part of mine production that can be used in jewellery. This roughly, pardon the pun, goes as follow if we look at the price evaluation / market acceptance: Top gem, heat treated (“old heat”: which either heats the stone without making use of chemicals or, at the very least, leaves little to no residue of said chemicals within the stone), oiling / resining (mostly used in emeralds business but making a distinct appearance in our trade as of late), surface treatments such as Beryllium and last but not least glass filling. This scale brings us to our second issue,
2. Treatment disclosure and personal policies. Treatments have been used for hundreds of years and, are in general detected by gemlabs around the world without a problem allowing for full disclosure. The problem with treatment stems from an idea of market, while we, at Gemburi do not provide lower end material, we fully understand that silver jewellery for example cannot use the same quality than the top gold and platinum jewellery manufacturer would. It’s again, a simple maths issue, you can’t put an expensive gem on relatively inexpensive piece of jewellery…
At the end of the day, all type of gems and treatments have a place in the gems and jewellery market and will always do so long as it is properly disclosed to the end buyer.
AsiaLounges: As a large scale merchant of ruby and sapphire, I would like to hear your opinion about the importance of the origin of gems. Is it something that will, in your opinion gain importance as time goes by or, as we tend to believe here at AsiaLounges, it will become less and less important?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: The issue of origin is, again, a market issue. With the supply and demand being what it is, we are, as a whole, moving toward a less and less origin oriented market for the bulk of the ruby trade.
That being said, collectors will always exist and for them, people who are looking for the best of the best, origin will only gain importance as these gems become rarer.
Here is a selection of calibrated rubies from Gemburi's arsenal - Photo Credits: Gemburi Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: I guess the logical follow up of the last two questions would be to hear your opinion over the evolution of the position of gem labs in the market in the last 20 years? Do you agree with people saying that gem labs rose to their current position as a reaction to the lack of disclosure over treatments in the past or do you think it is due to something else entirely?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: I do not think that the only reason why the gemological labs rose to power was only due to a lack of transparency or lack of treatment disclosure for our part. I think it is mostly due to the fact that the market is expanding.
I take as an example the fact that, for most of the market, the “Leaders” are perceived as being too expensive for them to being able to use their services. This has allowed the emergence of smaller, cheaper labs across the globe.
Now, the expansion of the market has also pushed the labs to develop new, more advanced, testing techniques which have had as effect to drive the cost of reports up along with drastically improving their accuracy. Note that this does not equate to me saying that the most expensive reports are necessarily the most accurate, it only says that it explains why labs featuring a wide array of advanced equipment and seasoned gemmologists tend to have higher prices than other more accessible ones. They also serve two different needs within the same market.
AsiaLounges: In your opinion, given the recent crisis of COVID and the ever increasing desertification of gem fairs around the globe (Bangkok gem show is but the shadow of its former self, BaselWorld has one leg in the grave, Hong Kong Shows are facing difficulties as well, etc.) do you think that trade shows still hold an important place in our industry? If so, how do you think that we, as the Thai trade, have to react to bring the business back to our city? Would the multiplication of fairs in the HK and China model be the solution or concentration be better?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: I personally believe the trade shows to be an essential component of our industry. Most of the people in our industry would never buy a single gem without first seeing it in real life and that is precisely the role of a trade fair. That and gathering everyone under one roof allowing for the various players in the industry to mingle, to socialise and create these all important links of friendship and trust that makes our industry the special place it is.
Now, obviously, as you are asking me these questions, we are living one of the most dramatic crisis on a world wide basis and movements or gatherings are very much limited if not cancelled all together. COVID has forced us all to re-invent ourselves as a trade, some work from home, other shut down partially or totally while others take a sabbatical in lack of better things to do.
We can also expect things to get back to normal by 2021-22 and trade shows to resume by the same occasion with, hopefully, our dear Capital City leading the way with the rebirth of the trade shows.
Gemburi is known for their wide array of high quality calibrated rubies, here is yet another example of the goods they carry in inventory - Photo Credits: Gemburi Co., Ltd
AsiaLounges: As director of ICA Thailand you are obviously aware that topics such as Ethic and Transparency are the pet peeve of the industry as of late. What is your take on this topic and how does your organization and their newly established Bangkok gem lab plan on tackling this issue?
Phuket Khunaprapakorn: Ethics and transparency are important to all industry. The International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA) is an international organization comprised of thousands of members around the world. We are trying to connect those who are dealing with color stones together by setting up congresses every two years in countries of importance for our trade. ICA also publishes InColor magazine which publicizes new information, articles, and updates to our members. With our current activities, I believe that it would be beneficial to all member to find good, transparent, and ethical sources.
For the newly established gem lab, they need to develop quickly in terms of machine, equipment, and research to provide reliable testing result. With the adequate resources, it will avoid any outside interference on the testing result.
AsiaLounges: We are slowly reaching the end of our interview and it is customary to ask our guests three advices to the young generations wanting to follow in your footsteps as well as three books that you believe any gem and jewellery fan needs to have in their library so, I guess it is now your turn to tell us what you think about it.
Be trustworthy – Basically the trust is extremely important in this business.
Be punctual – not only time matter, but also monetary matter.
Be friendly – there will be a good chance when you know more people.
My favorite books are:
Ruby & Sapphire – A gemologist’s guide by Richard W. Hughes, Wimon Manorotkul, E. Billie Hughes
Inside Out – Gemology through Lotus-colored glasses by E. Billie Hughes, Richard W. Hughes, Wimon Manorotkul
Ruby – The king of gems by Violette Editions
AsiaLounges: Last but not least, should our readers want to contact you or follow your work, where can they reach you? (Instagram, Facebook, mail etc.)
We are normally participating Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair in February and September at Impact Challenger every year. And we are also exhibiting in Hong Kong in March, June, September, and November. Please feel free to stop by and see how and what we are doing. And if there are any enquiries, please simply email to firstname.lastname@example.org
AsiaLounges: Thank you very much Khun Phuket for being with us today, I am convinced that our readers, the Loungers, have enjoyed this interview as much as we did enjoy writing these lines.
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See you again in the Lounges,