Saturday, January 30, 2016

Shopping for Jewels in Siem Reap, Cambodia

A visit to Siem Reap has recently been on bucket list for two reasons. While there is always the desire to see Angkor Wat, the last time we visited Phnom Penh I wasn't really into buying gems as I am now. You can read about that visit here.

Gem stones shopping in Cambodia is a bit different from gem stones shopping in Sri Lanka which you can read about here. The main difference being that in Sri Lanka, they mostly deal in Natural Colored Stones, which means that really nice stones, are quite expensive (depending on the stone of course), while for the more affordable ones, you would see the stone's natural inclusions.

All the stones used in my stackable rings here were from my Sri Lankan
Jeweller. So if you'll notice, the apatite (Blue Stones) are quite cloudy,
and looks like it has some cracks, those are the natural inclusions.

In Sri Lanka, you go to different jewellers, where everything is priced per carat (which is negotiable), then when everything is weighed, you negotiate some more.

In Cambodia, we just went to the jewellery section of the old market, where there were so many vendors.
I bought a lot of stuff from this lady.
At first, it was a complete culture shock for me, because the stones were already set in what they call "Steel Silver" - some will claim sterling silver, but reality is that it's not 92.5% (sterling) but probably a 50% mixed with something else, and the prices seemed to good to be true, or to be real.

Here is the low-down, which a few honest sellers will tell you about. 

1. Fact: The jewels sold in Cambodia are all real. In fact, the stores all have a tester that will show you if the item is a stone or real gem, or glass.

2. Most of the gems sold in Cambodia are Heat Treated. 
Heat treatment is considered to be a natural type of enhancement as it is a continuation of the processes that occur in the earth when the stone was originally formed. During treatment, the stone is heated to very high temperatures (approximately 1600 Celsius) causing inclusions, chemical elements, and other impurities to reform themselves and change the color of the stone. This color change may result in the stone being darker, lighter, more intense or of a different color. An example of this is the dissolving of rutile silk inclusions in blue sapphires, which improves both clarity and color. This heat treatment is permanent and irreversible. 

3. Just take note that Heat Treated gems, while real, are much less valuable than the Natural Colored gems.

One of the vendors in the Old Market in Siem Reap was nice enough to demonstrate to me how they heat the rubies.

Here are some tips when shopping in Cambodia to get a good deal. 
1. Be familiar with the prices. I am quite familiar with the price per carat in general of my favorite gemstones with natural color. Therefore, I expect to pay much less for something that is heat enhanced.
2. Bring a mini-flashlight. While they test the properties of what makes it a stone. A flashlight will show you if a stone has natural inclusions, as they will claim that some of what they sell is much more expensive because the color is natural.
3. Buy the stones that look "believably-real" even when heat enhanced. I normally prefer the earth colors for this, ie Aquamarine, Amethyst, White Topaz, Smokey Quartz, Citrine, Peridot, etc. I find that rubies and sapphires for example look too good to be true.
4. Think about what you want, and how you will set it, before you go to buy. It gets really overwhelming if you just go and look.
5. Buy the stones that you like, because you want them, and not because you think it's valuable. At the end of the day, you're not really investing here. Just make sure you pay the right price for the quality that you get. (ie higher price for natural stones, lower price for heat enhanced stones)
6. Don't let the steel-silver setting stop you from buying, just think of it as something that comes free with the price of the stone. I normally buy the stones I want and I tell my jeweller to just dispose of the setting.
7. Look around the whole market, and buy from the person who you liked the most from. Buying in bulk really gives you bargaining power and brings down the price really fast. When you buy pieces one at a time, they do the whole weighing routine and price per carat bargaining, but once you pick out a lot if pieces, it becomes a whole different ballgame bargaining for the best price if you take everything. If the price is still too high for what you want to pay, you can just pick the few pieces you like best, and get the pro-rated best price for that.

Here are some of my stones from Cambodia. The big ones look more natural,
I bought the smaller ones to experiment with, but you see what I mean when I
say that it looks "less real". I think they look even "less real" the bigger they get.
Compare it with these stones from Sri Lanka where even the bright stones
are natural.
The benefit of buying from Cambodia is that you can get big pieces from
5-10 carats at affordable prices, while in Sri Lanka the bigger the stone,
the higher the price per carat (esp if the quality is good).
This little girl was so patient with me, because I spent three days going back
to the jewellery market.

Here are some of the gems I've bought from both Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
Jewellery by Coley 
Single or Stackable Rings
Available Now

I can't wait to go back and buy more. just saying.

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