IJO Far East Gem Expedition
Owner Faye Rodgers recently visited East Asia as part of the IJO (Independent Jewelers Organization) Gem Buying Trip. She talks about her experiences.
Q: How long were you in Asia with the IJO trip?
A: I spent two weeks in eastern China, Thailand and Hong Kong. When we arrived in Bangkok on the first day, the city was experiencing some of the worst flooding in recent years and there was water on all the streets. Fortunately it didn’t affect us except for having to cancel some of the tours of the Thai gem mines.
Q: Thailand is the world’s number one exporter of colored gems. What is it like for a jeweler to visit there?
A: Bangkok is a processing hub for gems from all over the world, so naturally the selection of world-class stones was outstanding. GIA [Gemological Institute of America] built a laboratory there that is one of the most advanced in the world, where we got the chance to see some of the field’s best experts at work.
Q: Where did you stop in China?
A: The tour made two stops. The first was in Shantou, on the east coast of Guangdong province. This is an important center for hand-carving – as matter of fact I got to see some life-sized gem sculptures done this way that were completely mind-blowing.
There is a Parle/IJO gem cutting factory there that employs many handicapped individuals who would have difficulty finding work elsewhere. The owner explained to us that many of the workers have been laid off as a result of the global economic crisis. Businesses have been hit hard by the recession all over the world, and in every part of the supply chain.
In Panyu we visited an excellent design and manufacturing center that uses cutting-edge digital technology to produce incredibly beautiful pieces. “Made in China” is certainly a mark of pride there.
Q: The next stop on your itinerary was Hong Kong. What was it like?
A: Overwhelming! I have never seen so many tall buildings and so many people in one place. While there we visited the facilities of Yuen Hing Hong where they process gorgeous Tahitian black pearls (which we also carry here at the Diamond Mine).
Q: The Far East has a long history of working with some of the world’s most spectacular gemstones. Did the workmanship you saw reflect this traditional approach or are Asian craftsmen embracing more modern techniques?
A: Both. There is a lot of traditional knowledge about precious stones and fine craftsmanship practiced for many centuries. But in many places this is combined with the latest modern technology.
Q: With this being your first time in the Far East, did you get to do any sightseeing?
A: Yes, in Thailand especially we toured many of the important cultural landmarks. We also visited a wildlife preserve with some amazing Asian animals – I never saw so many pandas at one time!
Q: What was the best part of the trip for you?
A: Meeting the people. Everywhere we went, in the city or in rural areas, the people were so warm and welcoming. It was fascinating to have a glimpse of their different ways of life and rich, ancient cultures.
(You can read about Faye’s diamond-buying trip to Israel with an IJO affiliate host earlier in 2011: Israel 2011: Photos & Interviews)