Saturday, September 24, 2016

Shopping for Gems, Jade and Tea in Myanmar

If there is one thing that excites me on trips, it's visiting jewelry markets. While there is always a risk in buying from unknown sources, the excitement of finding unique stones at affordable prices trumps that.

My personal philosophy is, if sounds too good to be true, it must be, and I only buy stones that aren't too expensive if it doesn't come from a well known jewelry store. Myanmar is famous for rubies and sapphires, but that is too expensive and too big of a risk for me. 

My aunt who used to work for Unicef bought a ruby set for US$2,000 more than a decade or so ago (so that was really big money then), which was such a well-made fake that the Gem Institute in Thailand had a hard time authenticating it, until they finally decided it was not real. It was only because she was given a certificate and the store owner was afraid that she would report them to the government that they returned her money. So unless you're really an expert, you do need to be very careful and only spend what you don't mind losing. 

Bogyoke Market is lined with jewelers, unfortunately we arrived just before
closing time so we only had time to visit one store that my friend buys from.

My favorite hobby is buying loose stones based on certain designs I already have in mind. It's important that you're familiar with the general price per carat of the stones you want to buy, and you have a general idea of what the cheaper stones are vs the more expensive ones.

I wasn't really planning to buy anything for myself on this trip, and just look at what is available since my mom asked me to buy something. Famous last words, but of course I ended buying a handful of stones because on the flight to Yangon, I saw a ring in the magazine that I wanted to have made.

I love it when you ask the jeweler for the stones you want, and they big out a tray of gems for you to choose from. My general observation from the one store we visited was that the stones here were higher quality than the ones sold in the market in Cambodia because the stones were not heat treated to bring out the color. I also had to carefully look through the gems and pick the ones without visible inclusions. You can read my post on Gem Shopping in Siem Reap here to see the difference.

In addition to the ring I had in mind, I also wanted to have this sapphire ring
copied in spinel. Read: Sapphire = Expensive / Spinel = Affordable
This was another style peg I found, which in my mind
I knew I could put together with loose stones I bought
from previous trips.
Once you've made your choice, they weigh it, then the bargaining begins.
Happiness is jewelry shopping.

The Bogyoke Market houses the retail jewelry stores, but the real gem trading for the serious business buyers happen along the street in the tea houses outside. Here people seriously inspect the loose stones, and serious bargaining happens. How I'd love to be a fly on the wall. I wonder how they find each other. If I have a free day next time, I will sit here and observe.

On the more affordable part of the spectrum, Myanmar is also known as a source of Jade. In fact, China is one of its biggest buyers. I'm not really a Jade fan, but of course I couldn't leave without buying some. I had to use the excuse that I was buying them for gifts.
But maybe, this one, I will keep.

The other thing people buy from Myanmar to bring home is the instant Royal Milk Tea drink. Since I am trying to cut down on sugar, I opted to buy their local loose tea instead which I really enjoyed when they served it at a restaurant.

Now I can't wait to have my new rings set. That way I will know if I want to buy more gems the next time I go back. just saying.

No comments:

Post a Comment