gold goes back a long way. In the past there were extensive gold
mines in Thailand. Indeed the word Siam, as Thailand was originally
called, means 'gold' in Sanskrit; the Indians called it Suvannabhumi
( Land of Gold ), and the Chinese Jin Lin ( Peninsula of Gold
). The gold trade, which stretches back about 2000 years, was
probably the first contact that Thailand had with the outside
world. Suphanburi (province of gold) in central Thailand and nearby
Utong (plentiful gold) may have been centres of the gold industry.
Gold has a religious significance for Thais. In Buddhist literature,
both Pali and Sanskrit, the Buddha is described as having skin
of gold. A golden complexion is the eleventh of the 32 characteristics
of the Buddha. Many Buddha images in Thailand are made of gold
and gold leaf is stuck onto Buddha images as part of religious
rituals. The largest buddha image in the world is the Golden Buddha,
now housed in Wat Trimitr. It is made of pure gold and weighs
over 5 tons making it worth around $61 million just for the gold.
originated from craftsmen in the royal palaces. Craftsmanship
was developed through the ages and during the Lawo period, Queen
Chammadevi journeyed from Lawo (presently Lop Buri province) which
was the center of the Khmer kingdom in the Ayutthaya bain, to
be enthroned as the Queen of Haripunchai (Lampoon Province). Her
Majesty was accompanied by 500 goldsmiths, silversmiths, ironsmiths
and othe smiths, demonstrating how important craftsmen were in
building an empire and beautifying a city.
the Srivichai period, goldsmiths knew how to make gold foil for
use in Buddhist religious ceromonies, as more and more Buddha
statues were gold plated. Of the gold ornaments produced, gold
beads were made in the South and Central regions, while in the
Lop Buri period, various objects used in religious ceremonies
and utensils were gold plated.
period (1249 - 1438)
engraved slabs at Wat Si Chum in Sukhothai, illustrating the Jataka
tales (which relate the previous lives of the historical Buddha),
show figures wearing elaborate
adornments, including necklaces and crowns. The 1292 inscription
King Ramkamhaeng specifically allows free trade in silver and
gold, although the
wearing of gold was restricted by sumptuary laws to the nobility
and free use
of bold ornamentation was allowed only from the mid-19th century,
During the Sukhothai period, more gold was beaten into flat, thin
sheets to cover Buddha statuettes and goldsmiths knew how to goldplate
large Buddha statues, for example, Prabuddhachinnarat, Prabuddha
sihing, Prasrisakkaya munee and Prachinnasri. Gold foil was used
to plate bronze and other metallic Buddha statues. Ornaments were
however simple, smooth and with minimal designs. Gold caskets
and boxes with small replicas of pagodas made of gold to contain
relics have been found. Gold utensils were rare.
period (1350 - 1767)
During the Ayutthaya period, gold played a major role in the constructions
of Buddha statues, temples and places, so much so that it was
considered the Golden Age of gold. Gold foil was used to cover
the spires of palaces, pagodas and finials on the roof ridges
and Buddha statues.
The Ayutthayan period was the high point of Thai gold jewelry
design. Nicholas Gervais, a French Jesuit missionary writing in
the late 17th century was of the opinion that "Siamese goldsmiths
are scarcely less skilled than ours. They make thousands of little
gold and silver ornaments, which are the most elegant objects
in the world. Nobody can damascene more delicately than they nor
do filigree work better. They use very little solder, for they
are so skilled at binding together and setting the pieces of metal
that it is difficult to see the joints."
Gold work was revived under King Rama I in Bangkok after the
defeat at Ayutthaya, and foreign visitors frequently noted the
enthusiasm of wealthy Thais for gold ornament. Yet this very enthusiasm
may ultimately have played a part in the decline of traditional
Thai gold smithing, for during the 19th century, when King Rama
V became the first monarch to travel abroad, a number of foreign
jewelers set up branches in Bangkok, including Faberge. Chinese
immigrant goldsmiths catered to clients with less refined tastes.
The Norwegian traveler Carl Bock wrote in 1888: “The manufacture
of gold and silver jewelry, which is
carried on to a large extent in Bangkok, is entirely in the hands
of the Chinese.”
Gold Industry Today
gold is an important part of Thailand's jewelry industry which
is the kingdom's second largest export. The main export destinations
are Hong Kong, Japan and the United States. The export jewelery,
however, is chiefly gem-set using 10, 14 and 18 karat gold settings.
Thailand is the second largest jewelry exporter in the world exporting
officially 100 billion bahts worth of jewelry each year although
this figure probably understates the true size of the industry
as a large amount is smuggled out of the country to avoid taxes.
The kingdom imports 100 tonnes of gold on average a year. The
figure could go up to 150 tonnes during an economic boom. About
20-30% of imports are for re-export.
There are 60 gold wholesalers in Bangkok and 3 outside. Thailand
has around 6000 small gold shops.
gold mines are now exhausted but a recent discovery was
made at Pichit. Owned
by Australia's Kingsgate Consolidated through
its Thai subsidiary Akara Mining, the
Chatree mine is one of the world's lowest cost and most profitable
Gold and the
Traditionally dowries, or sinsot, were paid in the form of gold
ornaments. Today the dowry may be given as cash or gold.
Presents of gold jewelry are given to Thais at all stages of
life from childhood onwards.
Thai gold ornaments
Thais use a unique unit of measurement for weighing gold, the
"baht" which is precisely 15.244 grams before the gold is
worked or 15.16 grams after. Most gold shops will display on their
windows the current buying and selling price of a "baht" of gold
bullion of 96.5% purity. Gold can also be measured in "satangs" and "salungs".
100 satangs = 1 baht and 25 satangs = 1 salung.
1 baht in approximately half an ounce of gold (1 troy ounce = 31.1034768
grams) so a rough and ready way to calculate the value is to divide
the price of gold in ounces by 2.
The baht is also the Thai currency unit which is somewhat confusing!
100% gold is considered too soft for jewelry. In the past, perhaps
40 years ago, most gold was 98% pure, with the joints and other
delicate parts being made of an alloy called nam prasam tong.
Nowadays most gold sold in Thailand is 96.5% purity which is just
over 23 karat. The remaining
3.5% consists of silver and bronze. Some is 98% which is
called 24 karat and in some shops they sell 20 or 18 karat
gold. The company Gold Master sells 99% pure gold. Prima Gold,
which is a subsidiary of Pranda Jewelry sells 99.99% pure gold;
they are also the market leader in 24k white gold. There are no shops selling Prima Gold in the US as yet, but you
can buy it through the TV shopping channels.
There is no hallmarking system in Thailand
although random checks are made periodically on gold shops to determine
the purity of the gold.
In department stores you will have to pay 7% sales tax.
However in many gold shops you will not have to pay any tax.
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